GPS in Europe

We plan to drive in Italy, Austria, Switzerland and Germany. Especially in Italy, should we depend on a GPS to get us properly to where we are going, or are our maps sufficient? I know there is a lot of traffic, and Italian drivers are sometimes unruly. Thank you
Elizabeth

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4877 posts

I've driven without a GPS and with a GPS. I would never drive without one again. Why? Do take paper maps as back up and so you have some idea where you are going. The problem in much of Europe (at least where I have driven) is that roads are poorly marked. That's where the GPS comes in handy, letting you know where to turn.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17783 posts

Elizabeth, While you can certainly use only Maps to get around, having a GPS will make life a lot easier. However, I'd still recommend taking a good Map for "backup". Also, don't rely on the GPS implicitly as they DO make mistakes, and it's important to enter the destination details precisely (sometimes it's hard to know the correct local spelling of names that the unit is programmed for). It's a good idea to double-check the directions they're giving with road signs, local landmarks, etc. Some points regarding driving in Italy..... EACH driver will require the compulsory International Driver's Permit, which is used in conjunction with your home D.L. Failure to produce an I.D.P. if requested can result in fines on the spot! You can obtain I.D.P.'s at any CAA / AAA office for a small fee. You'll also need to be aware of the dreaded Zona Traffico Limitato areas, which are becoming increasingly prevalent in Italy ( especially in Florence but in other towns also). Passing through these zones will result in expensive fines, which you won't know about until several months after you've returned home. Recent posts here would seem to indicate that authorities in Italy are becoming more aggressive in collecting the fines from foreign drivers by using collection agencies, and there may also be charges from the rental car firm for providing renter information to law enforcement. I vaguely recall that GPS units that provide warnings of speed cameras may be illegal in some countries, but I'd have to do some further checking on that. Happy travels!

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8758 posts

I am a good navigator and I am very good at reading European road signs. Nevertheless, whenever I am on roads I am not familiar with, and often on longer trips that I know backwards, I always have a GPS on the dash. In addition to the road directions, it also gives me the weather on my route, traffic ahead, reroutes me if the traffic gets bad, warns me of road closures, and a load of other services. It also tells me where that restaurant/rest area/filling station (with updated prices)/station/hotel is. Without me touching it. And it blue tooths to my phone too for a hands free. Best of all, it shows me the next several hundred metres of the road so I know what the curves and bends will look like. And it has photo-realistic pictures of the exit signs. Always sense check it though against a good map to be sure it and I have the same idea.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7211 posts

I had driven all over without a GPS and never felt I needed one - until I went to Italy. Somehow we survived but lost too much time asking for directions (how's your l'Italiano?) and taking wrong turns. In towns/cities there are almost no street signs - so it's nearly impossible to place yourself on a map, let alone know if this is the street you need to turn on. A GPS knows the street names even when there is no sign. On the Autovias, there are no signs that say "next exit A5 west" or even "Florence" or "Rome". Instead there is s sign AT the exit with the names of a few small towns you never heard of. Unless you have memorized every town along your route, you will probably miss multiple exits or take the wrong ones. Each missed turn results in a loss of 15 to 20 minutes because the toll road only has occasional exits; you have to get off, pay your toll, find a way across the road and an entrance to get back on. In Austria, Germany and Switzerland you can do fine with a good map. In Italy, a good GPS is worth its weight in gold.

Posted by Michael
Seattle, WA, USA
5770 posts

We just rented a car in Verona and got the GPS option. It came in handy but too often when we needed it, it would be "recalculating". Part of the problem, I think, was that it hadn't been d in 27 months (as it reminded us periodically). Thank heaven I was familiar enough with where we were going and with how Italian highway signs work that I was able to get us where we were going anyway. I say get the GPS but don't assume you can rely on it 100% when you need it.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4877 posts

I think it's easier to bring a GPS from home that you are familiar with, rather than trying to use a new one at the same time you are trying to figure other things out.

Posted by marilynne
Victoria, BC, Canada
19 posts

Hi: We had never used a GPS until Italy and it sure came in handy even tho we had good maps. We brought ours from home and when we go again this year we will make sure it is updated. Get one.

Posted by Sheron
Alta Loma, CA, USA
1202 posts

We also bring our GPS from home and carry a map as a back-up. While the GPS is not foolproof, it sure comes in handy & there's no way my husband or I would consider driving in Italy without one! Even if the passenger is a good map reader and navigator, a GPS makes for a much more relaxing ride so as to be able to enjoy the scenery and not be preoccupied with the map.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8758 posts

NavFree. I'm just this minute trying to work out where to get a gig and a half so I can load up Germany. Anybody got a spare gig? Ed?

Posted by Elaine
Lake Mills
26 posts

The Graffiti board community has convinced me that it's time for a GPS. Wondering if the GPS on my husband's Iphone (which he never uses) is sufficient or if we should purchase a GPS device to take?

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7978 posts

Elaine: What's the intended use? Driving? Walking?

Posted by Rose
NYC
922 posts

The original post indicates driving. If you use the iPhone, it's critical to use an app in which you can download in advance the current map for the required region so you can turn Cellular Data off. If you don't, there will be gigantic data roaming charges. Some people prefer a GPS with a larger screen than the iPhone has. Also, good GPS apps for the iPhone don't come cheap. Also, keeping the GPS active for a lengthy trip can impact battery life. So hopefully you'll be able to plug into the cigarette lighter to charge the iPhone en route. You would need an iPhone travel adaptor that fits the cigarette lighter on one end and has a USB port on the other end into which your iPhone cable would connect.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8758 posts

good GPS apps for the iPhone don't come cheap. Hmmmm.. Mine was free and I like it very much. It is as accurate as my Garmin and actually has more detail as I drive.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7978 posts

Elaine was not the OP so her needs might be different. I took Nigel's recommendation on the GPS a while back and quit hauling an automotive unit around. The only drawback I've found is having to pick it up to look at it when night driving solo.

Posted by Rose
NYC
922 posts

Sorry, Ed - I missed that you were answering a question from another reply inside the thread. Nigel - do you mind saying which GPS app you're using?

Posted by James
Kimberton, PA, USA
7 posts

Last year, I drove around Italy for about 3 weeks using nothing but the Navigon GPS app on my iPhone. It worked great, it even directed me around the ZTLs. However, be careful, if you give it a destination WITHIN a ZTL, it will warn you that it is in a restricted zone but it will still direct you there (that was a year ago - maybe they have corrected that or added an option). Also, by setting the GPS to pedestrian mode, it was awesome for walking to the various sights. It was also great for just wandering aimlessly until deciding on a specific sight or returning to the hotel when you can just pull up the address and get a quick route back. Finally, I was also able to use it to find nearby sights, restaurants, parking, etc. Jim