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.
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!
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.