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  #1  
Old 7 Aug 2010
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Why take a GPS?

'How can I simplify and how can I minimize' are the two questions I ask myself when planning for a trip.

I went to purchase a GPS yesterday, however Amazon won't deliver to my address. While searching for a website that will deliver to a military address, I got to thinking.

Why take a GPS?

Most travelers will have papermaps. Getting lost and serendipity are part of the fun. You can ask locals for offroad tracks and fun routes to ride.

You really don't even need a GPS to geotag. One can manually embed photos and be almost as accurate for epic pictures.

The only draw backs are if you use lat/long coordinates provided by other people for repair shops, hotels, camp sites and if you use the GPS for distance/altitude. I suppose geocaching would be more difficult, but adventurers may enjoy the added challenge.

So now, I see a GPS as a $300 hunk of plastic w/ a $50 mount just waiting to get stolen or broken.

What made you decide to take a GPS? Was it because all the ride reports mentioned a GPS or because you truely need a GPS?
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  #2  
Old 7 Aug 2010
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There are about a million threads on the GPS vs No GPS debate..

The end result is usually that a GPS is a handy tool to suppliment a good map/compass combo but never a replacement.

I use my GPS all the time and I have no shame about that... I don't like being lost and stressed in foreign cities.. Riding around in circles for hours in the baking heat. For that it's BRILLIANT.

Do you NEED a GPS !! No, of course you don't..

Does it make life easier, less stressful and give you a sense of security ! Yes it does !

Now, a GPS is only as good as it's maps, and if you're travelling outside of Europe, you will have to "aquire" or pay for these and they still will be NO WAY as good or accurate as the western maps.


Get on ebay and look for an older unit. I use a Garmin 2610 which cost £100 and has lasted many overland trips. Crashed, smashed and still gets me where Im going. It does everything a modern Unit does apart from 3D mapping and bluetooth, mp3 etc ! Gimmicky crap anyway.

It will show me hotels,hostels nearby and also petrol stations, toll bridges etc etc. It shows me how far iv come, how far I have to go. It tell me my altitude and detailed long/lat. Very cool to know when you are sitting on the equator..



My GPS saved my ass when I got lost in Patagonia. I only had enough fuel to get to the next fuel station with no margin for error. When the road forked into 3 tracks which wern't on the map.. It pointed me in the right direction. I can't read a map like a Bomber Command Navigator nor can I be bothered learning (My own failing I know) so it really helps me.
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  #3  
Old 7 Aug 2010
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The truth is you don't need a GPS or it's flashy upstart sibling, Sat Nav. Neither do you need a bike - people have been using donkeys for travel for years and if push came to shove you could ditch the computer and use a pencil. In reality these are all decisions you make as to where you're going to pitch things - what do I need, what can I afford etc

Electronic navigation in its various forms hasn't been around that long - I bought my first gps in '98 but I've been been bike touring since '68. Many of my early eurotrips were done with pages ripped from a school atlas and my first trip in Morocco was done without any maps at all, just depending on signposts and asking locals.

GPS and satnav doesn't really change this, it just makes it slightly easier in the same way that upgrading from a donkey to a scooter has made life easier for millions in the third world.

My first gps would just give me lat/lon and once I'd got over being blinded by the technology I started wondering exactly how that would help on a long trip. The obvious way was to navigate as usual by map until I got lost, stop and switch on the gps to get my lat/lon and use that to figure out where I was - a kind of hi-tech version of what years in the scouts had taught me except I wasn't using a back bearing from a church with a spire, it was radio signals from space.

The other use was to be able to tell the rescue services exactly where I'd broken down! - except that the one time I did try it they couldn't use lat/lon data and still wanted to know what road I was on.

My eyes were opened though in about 2002 when I was staying in a campsite in Mauritania. Some other overlanders were sitting at a table with a laptop on which they were displaying an IGN map of another part of Mauri. They were plotting a route through the desert (using something like Ozi Explorer) and explained how plotting waypoints would keep them on the piste and give them a "you are here" moving display. OK, they were in a convoy of 4x4's so running a laptop wasn't the problem it would be on a bike but they did plot a tricky section I was going to do and download the data to my gps.

That gave me 3-4 mile waypoints to follow and made routefinding so much easier - especially when the piste forked and you had no idea which way to go. Again it was nothing I couldn't have done by trial and error but as I'd made quite a number of those over the previous few days, it made a huge difference to my stress levels.
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  #4  
Old 7 Aug 2010
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gps

It came with the bike (2nd hand)

But we really like it because it can lead you to nice small backroads, if you put on the "avoid highways and tollroads" button.

But we also take maps.
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  #5  
Old 7 Aug 2010
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Can't beat a good map.

But I would take a GPS to help back track to my hotel or some other location I've been. Mine doesn't support international travel very well if not at all. Delorme is way behind Garmin on this.

You may be given a set of coordinates by someone for a place to meet up at. If the GPS doesn't cover the area well, you can still work your way there using it and a map.

Regarding models and price...here in the USA we have pawn shops. You might try some where you're at.

daryl
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  #6  
Old 7 Aug 2010
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Originally Posted by HillbillyWV View Post
What made you decide to take a GPS? Was it because all the ride reports mentioned a GPS or because you truely need a GPS?
While wandering aimlessly has its charm, when you need to get somewhere in a major city (hotel, garage/mechanic) the GPS is not only more useful than paper maps, I believe that its safer. I have a Garmin Zumo 660 mounted just behind the windscreen on my VStrom 650 so I can see it without taking my eyes off the road. It gives advance warning of upcoming turns so that you can take your time getting into the correct lane. When you miss a turn it recalculates and immediately gives you an alternate route. Maps don't always tell you things like one-way streets. On the open road I find that it gives a much more accurate speed reading than my speedometer, and the features like "distance to destination" helps me to pace myself along the road. Its has also been helpful in finding gas stations in remote areas. I have maps for North America and Europe and for the time saved and safety aspects, they were well worth the money. It doesn't always give you the optimal route, but I have never failed to get to where I was going. When I wiped out on the remote Dempster Highway in northern Canada and broke my ankle, I was able to give the police (who I called on a satellite phone) the exact GPS coordinates so that they could come and find me. I wouldn't leave home without it.
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  #7  
Old 7 Aug 2010
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For me it is simple. Three reasons to own a GPS. The first I have relied on plenty, the second, unlike Ted earlier, I've never needed and hope I never do whilst the third can simply be handy to have:
  1. With the appropriate maps and data loaded finding your way around a major foreign, town, city or capital is easy, as is finding your hotel, a garage, etc.
  2. Getting yourself out of a sticky/dangerous situation if you are lost in unforgiving terrain
  3. Easy exchange of information with other travellers, eg" there is a great hostel/camping site/view/monument etc at coordinate.XXXXX XXXXX"
You'd no doubt manage points 1 and 3 alone, but a GPS makes it a lot easier, and whilst being no guarantee of getting out of situation 2, a GPS tips the odds in your favour.

Those are my reasons for one.
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  #8  
Old 7 Aug 2010
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To an extend it also depends on where you are going. The GPS alone (without maps & data) is practically worthless. It gives you two numbers (lat/long) which at best you can write into your diary. Ok, maybe you have a map with a lat/long grid, and if you're lucky it's the same format as your GPS spits out, but that's more academic than useful in most situations.

So, first of all, if you're going to places where there is no (or only bad quality) mapping data, then there's no point in a GPS whatsoever. Now it also happens to be that in many undeveloped places the mapping data is sparse, but so are the major road networks. E.g. there aren't many roads traversing Kazahkstanz, there is only one Karakoram Highway, and you'll find it without any form of navigational device anyways, so for me there the GPS is also next to worthless.

The big advantage in my opinion are builtup or densely populated areas IF you have detailed mapping data. Naturally this is the case in Western Europe and North America, other parts of the world vary. You might want to find a sight, a hotel or a mechanic in a place where you can't read the signs and are busy enough with traffic to not even have time to read them. Even in your home country, it can save you a lot of time getting to a friend's place in a large city that you don't know your way around.

This, plus maybe finding the one and only water well/petrol station on your solo Sahara crossing on which your life depends, for me are the only scenarios in which the cost of a GPS is really justified, and it really makes a difference. Sure it may be nice/gadgety/whatnot in other situations, but so is having a foldable chair if you see what I mean.

So ask yourself where you are going, if you can get good mapping data (and factor in the cost/time of getting in) and what the use will be for you. Don't get it because everyone else seems to have one.

One last but not least: a GPS does not under any circumstances replace a good quality paper map. It's more of an added bonus.
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  #9  
Old 7 Aug 2010
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Another thought: whilst I do love having a GPS and making use of it when time is limited, I feel it can deprive you of some of the best experiences when travelling. Yes it's great to directly roll up at the famous site, take your pic and roll on. But if your navigation is too good, you'll stop less, get lost less and in turn meet and ask less people. And to me, that mostly is a bad thing. Meeting people is one of the most fascinating parts of travelling, and you usually find great friends and other nice surprises when you least expect it. Now I'm not saying a GPS repels people, but if your travelling efficiency is too high, you'll simply meet and interact less, reducing the chances of having those wonderful encounters. And it might trick you into high speed travelling, only zooming from waypoint to waypoint, rather than enjoying the journey between them. So take it along, but don't get trapped in its bubble. Just food for thought ...
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  #10  
Old 7 Aug 2010
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I don't use a GPS, although I've got one at home waiting for me, safe in its cute little box.

In Europe or North America the GPS advantages are clear....but then again, it's easy to find good paper maps and easy to ask directions. The times I've really craved a GPS were at night in Italian cities looking for specific hostels--at such times a GPS could've saved me hours of frustration and irritation.

In places without good mapping, as others have said, the GPS advantages come into play only if you've collected good information from other travelers. If so, you can follow their tracks, and if that corresponds to having a good time for you, so be it. If you don't have tracks....well, I've now followed a couple of GPS users through big Latin American cities, and without adequate mapping it's a lot easier (and more fun) to just ask locals for directions every couple of blocks.

There is something just a bit odd about heavily-laden overland bikers--who already look like recent arrivals from another planet--riding around fascinating foreign countries with eyeballs glued to a wee little screen mounted to handlebars. Even when functional, I think this detracts from the essential Be Here Now experience. But maybe that's just me.

Mark
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  #11  
Old 7 Aug 2010
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Originally Posted by markharf View Post
I don't use a GPS, although I've got one at home waiting for me, safe in its cute little box.

In Europe or North America the GPS advantages are clear....but then again, it's easy to find good paper maps and easy to ask directions. The times I've really craved a GPS were at night in Italian cities looking for specific hostels--at such times a GPS could've saved me hours of frustration and irritation.

In places without good mapping, as others have said, the GPS advantages come into play only if you've collected good information from other travelers. If so, you can follow their tracks, and if that corresponds to having a good time for you, so be it. If you don't have tracks....well, I've now followed a couple of GPS users through big Latin American cities, and without adequate mapping it's a lot easier (and more fun) to just ask locals for directions every couple of blocks.

There is something just a bit odd about heavily-laden overland bikers--who already look like recent arrivals from another planet--riding around fascinating foreign countries with eyeballs glued to a wee little screen mounted to handlebars. Even when functional, I think this detracts from the essential Be Here Now experience. But maybe that's just me.

Mark
This pretty much sums it up for me as well. I actually enjoy getting lost and stopping every few blocks to ask for directions. In Xela, Guatemala I asked for directions and the fellow happened to be the Guatemala BMW Club president. On 4 orther occasions locals with various bikes simply volunteered to lead me out of the city for nothing but a smile and a thank you in return. Now how cool is that?

But I do agree that a GPS might be useful in certain situations, especially when it starts getting dark and you need to get somewhere without getting lost.

Anyway, we all managed quite well before the invention of this technology. But to each her own.

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  #12  
Old 7 Aug 2010
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A GPS can be quite handy even if you don't have GPS-maps for the area.

With simple navigationskills you can find your position on a map, this is not necessarily easy to do the "old way" when you travel in a desert where a (paper)map says there are no road or there are more tracks then your map shows.

Some people will say that knowing your position on a map only has academic interest, but I don't agree. If you know where you are on a paper-map you can figure out distance and bearing to your destination (or viapoint) and make a waypoint. If you select to go to the waypoint(s) in offroadmode the GPS will update bearing and distance as you go.
Even with the big-scale Michelinmaps for Africa this works nice.

Another thing is the backtrack-feature if/when you get lost.

It's easier to use a GPS if you have electronic maps. The coverage is pretty good and it will be better.

For me a GPS (with or without a map) reduces navigation-errors and this reduces the need for extra fuel and water and I'm available to go places which earlier was out of limit for my fuel/water range.

But I always carry a map and a compass and I know how to use it.
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Old 7 Aug 2010
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Another plus for me is the having a log of where you have been together with time stamped photos it really helps me plan another trip and remember the trip better months later.
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  #14  
Old 8 Aug 2010
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Originally Posted by HillbillyWV View Post

So now, I see a GPS as a $300 hunk of plastic w/ a $50 mount just waiting to get stolen or broken.

What made you decide to take a GPS? Was it because all the ride reports mentioned a GPS or because you truely need a GPS?
Wrong device?

I can pick up Garmin E-trex type devices (or plug ins for palm tops) for about the £80 mark in the shops, half that on E-bay. Usually US prices swap £ for $, so cheaper still. No mount required, slot it in the tank bag map pocket. This will give Long/Lat in any part of the world and so gives the option to follow a direct path to that shed full of petrol in the middle of the Gobi when needs must. Leave it in a pannier when the maps are working.

I own and use a TOMTOM rider to solve the "Hotel in Naples at 3 am"/"where's the blokes house who sold me his second hand tyres on e-bay" type problems. It talks to the intercom and is a lot easier to live with than Mapcurse and waypoint generator and unlock codes and wires and....

The fact that these devices don't pop up in the expensive shiney aluminium bits catalogue and won't give the boys at the GS club any form of "satisfaction" is an entirely different debate, they do seem locked in expensive ten year old ideas about needing a Garmin and shiney mount. You won't find me more than 100 miles from home without a GPS, but which one depends what you are doing and why, just like you select your other gear.

Andy
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  #15  
Old 8 Aug 2010
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Originally Posted by Threewheelbonnie View Post
I own and use a TOMTOM rider to solve the "Hotel in Naples at 3 am"/"where's the blokes house who sold me his second hand tyres on e-bay" type problems. It talks to the intercom and is a lot easier to live with than Mapcurse and waypoint generator and unlock codes and wires and....

The fact that these devices don't pop up in the expensive shiney aluminium bits catalogue and won't give the boys at the GS club any form of "satisfaction" is an entirely different debate, they do seem locked in expensive ten year old ideas about needing a Garmin and shiney mount. You won't find me more than 100 miles from home without a GPS, but which one depends what you are doing and why, just like you select your other gear.

Andy
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