Ask LH: Can I Import Google Maps Data Into My GPS?

Dear Lifehacker, I'm planning a trip to Europe later this year, and part of my journey involves a road trip along the famous German 'Alpine Road' at the base of the Bavarian alps, which unfortunately for me is not actually a single road to be followed but in fact a fairly complicated route including many different roads and highways. I was lucky enough to come across someone who has mapped out the actual route on Google Maps, but I'm wondering if it's possible to import that data into a GPS.

I have been searching and asking anyone I know if there is any GPS device out there (I have an iPhone, iPad, Navman S50 GPS, and TomTom that I have access to) that has the ability to import this Google maps route so that I can follow it specifically; however so far I have been unsuccessful. I was wondering if you or your readers had any ideas on how I can get this done?

Granted, I could use the traditional map and eyeball technique, but I'd rather be driving and enjoying the scenery as opposed to worrying about getting lost and reading maps! Cheers, Roman P.

Dear Roman,

The results of my searching came up with largely the same conclusion as you've already reached: there's lots of people wishing for a way to integrate Google Maps routes into their GPS, but not many obvious ways of doing it. The one option I did run into was the GMapToGPX bookmarklet, which converts Google Maps data into GPX files, which can be imported onto some GPS devices via PC software. It doesn't sound ideal for your purposes -- it has a limit of 10 waypoints, which might be low for your route -- but it's something you might consider testing. (If any readers have tried this in action, or know different and better methods, then please let us know in the comments.)

In a way, it's not surprising that GPS systems don't routinely offer this feature. Their whole selling premise is that they can tell you how to get from A to B without you needing to know anything: allowing the data to be customised rather goes against the concept. The most customisation you can generally get away with is specifying that you want to go from A to B via D, and even then sometimes the only way to make that happen is to start driving towards D and watch a lot of frantic route recalculation take place. And then there's the question of map data: each GPS manufacturer licenses their own set of maps, which wouldn't necessarily match up with Google's data.

With that said, you can't necessarily assume that the GPS device you choose is going to do a terrible job of covering the same terrain. I travelled through Europe with friends last year using a GPS (an experience I've detailed in the Road Worrier column before), and tended to take a two-pronged approach.

For each place we'd head to, I'd often have done a rough Google Maps check the day before, so I knew roughly what we'd be expected to do and the names of key streets where hotels and attractions were located. For the most part, the GPS could find all this data itself and map out the route just fine itself, but if it didn't have the right attraction listed, we had additional street names and other information which we could enter.

The same approach could work for you: note down the key factors for each stage of the route (either print them before you go or look them up if you have Internet access), and then enter the first destination into your GPS and check where it plans to take you before you actually start driving. If it doesn't work, enter a place along the way and keep trying until you do get the particular roads you want. That saves on most interruptions when driving, but ensures that you cover the route you want. It's not as neat as importing the maps data directly, but it's an OK substitute, and it helps reinforce key road names in your head before you start the day's driving.

Whichever solution you adopt, make sure your GPS device has the appropriate maps for Europe loaded before you head off, and make sure the settings are appropriate for driving in an unfamiliar country. Enjoy your trip!

Cheers Road Worrier

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman gets nervous when he feels like the GPS might be getting it wrong. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


Comments

    Not directly related to the topic, but I had an unusual experience in the UK last year.

    I was driving to a Premier Inn outside West Chesterfield in The Peak District, which I'd booked a few days before. The address on their website didn't have a street number, only the street name and town.

    The GPS took me to that street, and I drove along it for several miles, looking for my motel - no luck, and the surroundings were getting to be very countryside-like and not at all urban. I did two lengths of the road (back into town again) and then pulled over and wondered what to do.

    Luckily I had a copy of my booking email on my laptop (available for offline use - no wireless in the middle of nowhere!) and so I booted up the laptop and checked again... and the email luckily also contained GPS coordinates in addition to a street address.

    So after I'd entered in the coordinates into the car GPS (not an easy task, but doable), I followed the driving instructions and found the motel - it's about 10 miles out of the town, and was /just around the corner/ from where I'd initially thought "this is getting too rural" and turned around.

    So... not only should you make note of street names and POIs, but if it's somewhere which might be out of the way, make note of the Lat/Long coordinates as well, you might need them :)

    What about Google maps on a phone, can that import the route?

      Why not just use Google Maps on a phone, the Huawei Ideos 8150 is only $160 or something!
      Pre-load the map so you don't need to rely on network coverage or data usage...

        Which app do you use to pre-load maps on your Android? I've used a couple but they were less than ideal... e.g. could not automatically load maps without scrolling through the entire route.

        Google Maps pre-loads... (it has done so since late 2010)
        You don't need any special software.

      @George: I thought that myself! It'd be fantastic to be able to create your route on a PC then send it to Google Maps Navigation on your android device (similar to sending websites with chrome-to-phone).

      @StevoTheDevo: There's a few limitations with Maps Mobile. The smaller screen isn't conducive for viewing large scale maps, and Google Maps mobile doesn't allow you to customise a route via specified locations. Not exactly handy if you have multiple destinations or a preferred route.

        Heh, just answered my own question:

        - create a route on Google Maps,
        - email yourself the maps link,
        - open the link, then select to open in Maps.

        Voila, custom route tip in Google Maps / Navigation :D (I'd presume this works in iOS Google Maps too)

        Even better, just save the map to My Maps and open My Maps from the Layers menu in Maps Mobile

    It's a shame the author didn't mention that ANY cheap Android OS, GPS-equipped smartphone would allow that user to import Google Maps routes into that smartphone, allowing the reader to do exactly what they want. Yes, you need to spend more money on a phone and likely get a local data plan on a local SIM card, but that's the only way for perfect, trouble-free importing of Google Maps data to a GPS device. Kudos to the author for being diligent and thorough, but it didn't answer the question at all in any "it makes sense" kinda way. The cost of all the "checking Google Maps the day before" and other BS that the author mentions is far, far greater than just getting a dirt-cheap GPS-equipped Android phone and then just getting on with it. Time for a new site: Sensehacker.

      Charmed, I'm sure. Rudeness and ignoring what was written aside, I'd challenge your suggestion that checking Google Maps in advance of your trip is more expensive than using a local PAYG SIM. There's a lot of free Wi-Fi out there in Europe for starters.

    http://mymapsmobile.com

    This site will allow you to load saved maps from your Google account into the maps application on your iPhone/iPad.

    It logs in through the secure Google API.

    It will at least let you access the route on your iPhone/iPad, and give rudimentary directions.

    Although originally designed for motorcycling, a GPS is a GPS. This free software "TYRE" (Trace Your Route Everywhere)
    http://www.janboersma.nl/gett/index.php
    interfaces with Google Maps to create TomTom & Garmin files that can be loaded into your GPS - so long as your GPS allows same .... Itinerary Planning feature on TomTom.

    On a semi-related topic, does anyone know if it's possible to replace the software on a GPS unit with another OS?
    Ostensibly, you could buy any unit, root it, and run a prefered OS. Or have maps that are updatable without ongoing subscriptions.
    Something like Android for GPS...

    This TYRE program as above looks very promising! Will check out. some great suggestions above :)

    would roman be willing to share the route with me
    regards
    Fast

      Fast,
      I believe this is the alpenstrasse route in question: http://goo.gl/T2spo

    You need:

    Netbook or laptop

    + inverter (12V DC to 230V AC) or converter (12V DC to whatever DC voltage your PC uses) to run PC in car

    + MS Autoroute 60 day free trial for Europe or Streets and Trips for N America (Use a virtual PC if you need more than 60 days)

    + USB or Bluetooth GPS for ~ $32 from eBay

    + Xport (free) or Franson GPSGate (pay) to convert baud rate of GPS from say 38,400 bps used by some GPSs to 9600 bps that is all that Autoroute will accept

    + downloaded POI (point of interest) files of locations of hotels, Macdonalds for free wifi, hypermarches for cheap fuel, tourist sites, etc

    This combination beats any PND (portable navigation device) or smartphone. I travel in Europe and N America 7 months each year using this system. I can't imagine how I ever managed to use paper maps.

    If you want to use Google maps use:

    Google2ttMaps1.0 to download the maps and create a .map geocoords file in Oziexplorer format

    + Oziexplorer to display the downloaded maps.

    Note that this system does not provide routing. It only shows you where you have been and where you are. It doesn't tell you where to go. You need a live navigator to do that.

    Fortunately, I have one of those that tells me where to go all the time!

    The sentence below:

    Note that this system does not provide routing.

    should be:

    Note that the Google maps / Oziexplorer system does not provide routing.

    It can be done. Not as a route, but you can easily send the individual waypoints. Click on a POI balloon, then click More > Send > GPS and elect your brand. Rinse and repeat.

    I have just put in a rather complicated route in my tom tom and i used the itinerary planner it takes you to the end of each leg then you can tell it to take you to the next leg, i am doing this in the bush in around south east Queensland where some roads are not even mentioned. So far the tom tom has picked out 90% of the roads i could see in google maps, i will be testing this in the next few weeks when i go on my trip hope this works and you can change some of the minor points back to way points so all it does it mark it off as you pass through the town.
    Hope this helps
    Stewart

    I'll let you all into a wee secret - as long as your GPS has either a USB connection or memory card slot (i.e, some way of actually getting data imported onto it), then MotoGoLoco Maps lets you create, save, share and export routes onto TomTom/Garmin GPS's for free.

    Link - https://www.motogoloco.com/map/

    It's built using data from Google Maps, so it's about as accurate as one could hope for but much, much easier to use than the likes of Basecamp/MapSource and Tyre etc.
    Enjoy!
    Rx

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