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Has anyone recently used Google maps app for navigation in Italy?

Hubby & I can't agree on whether to bring our Garmin GPS with us or use the Google maps app on my IPhone to drive around Tuscany on our upcoming trip to Italy. My brother just returned from Ireland where Google maps worked flawlessly but hubby is apprehensive. I am trying to minimize packing the Garmin because it's one more thing to take up space and since I will activate the international plan on my IPhone and have data usage, I think we should just use my phone for navigation. Does anyone have recent experience using Google maps (or a similar app) in Italy and how did it work?

Posted by
22 posts

Hi Sheron! I have not but would love to know what others have to say. We will be traveling soon and driving around Tuscany as well!
I did notice with the place we are renting our car that you can add on GPS for $15 to the car. That might be something to consider!

Posted by
158 posts

Bring both. You don't need to go to Italy to realize both can be helpful. In driving down the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles, there are sections where you lose cell phone service for long sections yet this is never an issue with a GPS system.

The Garmin doesn't take up that much space, you can tuck it in a shoe or wrap it in something. So, if you bring it as a back up or main source you will always have navigation. By the way, even with an international plan, you are still using data. I know some plans do limit the amount of data, so the Garmin can be a savings as well.

Posted by
792 posts

I brought both but used Google maps the most - easier to zoom in/out and much better detail

Posted by
1657 posts

Bring both. The GPS is far superior while driving and you'll be looking stuff up on your phone while navigating with the GPS. I think it is way safer to have the suction cup holder as well so the driver doesn't have to look down to see the GPS.

Posted by
175 posts

I concur. Just did a two-week driving trip in May with the Garmin and google maps on my iphone. You will need them both. The goal was to minimize extra data charges on the iphone because on Verizon's international plan, there's not much data.

In fall 2014, we ended up with $50 extra data charges ($25 twice for overages) on a trip in Cambridge so this time, we changed the settings on our phones to turn everything off and then used the Garmin as our primary navigator. Sometimes it didn't make great suggestions so then I'd turn on my iphone for google maps. Even still, we ended up with an extra $25 in data charges.

I read there is some way to download a google map of an area so you could reference it while driving without the data charges, but am not exactly sure how that works. Maybe someone else can chime in. This would be useful.

Posted by
966 posts

I do not know if it is a problem of mine: Google maps works flawlessly on my iphone, but it drains out its battery in a relatively short time.

Posted by
15285 posts

I found Google Maps to work well in Italy and used them in conjunction with paper maps (no other GPS).

Posted by
8 posts

i know that you want to use your garmin and your handheld device in italy, both of which are designed to get you from point a to point b. however they are also designed to make you dependent and helpless in that you don't know where you are in relationship to your environment and geographical surroundings and what the alternatives are i.e. "oh, look, we can visit abbazzia san antimo on the way to montalcino"! in other words, you don't learn anything from them and have to start back at the beginning on your next trip and toscana will make you want to make a next trip.
everyone says that a gps/smart phone is all you all you need but but they are wrong. take them both, but speaking from real experience driving in toscana on multiple trips, it is always necessary to also have a good map and the ability to read it. the best maps are those published by the "touring club italiano" and they are easy to read, easy to fold and unfold, and are tough and don't fall apart. they show all of the back roads, including the dirt roads, of very rural toscana and are priceless when there is road construction and your garmin/google doesn't know what to do.
i found mine on amazon and recommend the" italie centrale" and the "toscana" maps. you'll be glad you have them.
ciao e buon viaggio

Posted by
1444 posts

Thanks for the input. As for data usage, the international plan I'm going to activate is newly offered by Verizon and I get to use my normal plan (including my normal amount of data which I never exceed in a month) for an additional $10/day so I'm not too concerned about running out of data or incurring additional data charges. The google maps app seems to be as if not more comprehensive than my Garmin.

@ travelguymiami, I thought the GPS app uses the satellite and is not necessarily dependent on cell site availability but perhaps I'm wrong. There are a lot of navigation apps which operate solely off the satellite which is why you can put the phone into airplane mode and not worry about using minutes &/or data and therefore cell coverage. Am I wrong about this?

@ jajoday, I totally understand what you're saying however I can not navigate using a map while my husband drives as I suffer from very bad motion sickness and the act of looking at a map for even a few minutes will result in trouble for me. This is our 2nd trip to Tuscany and I know which towns I want to visit and don't foresee wanting to stray too much from the plan but I appreciate your input and get what you're saying. I actually have a good paper map for Tuscany and will tuck it into my luggage in case we need it but really need to use a GPS or nav app of some sort to avoid triggering sickness.

Posted by
792 posts

That Verizon plan is horribly expensive $10 a day on top of your regular plan....7 days = $70....a huge ripoff

Posted by
1444 posts

Yes, it is expensive but you only pay for the days you use the phone or data and I plan to keep it in airplane mode most days. I looked into getting an international or Italian SIM card but I need to be able to be reached by the assisted living facility where my mom is in case of emergency and I can't expect them to dial an intl number or even a different U.S. number as I'm worried that any changes will create confusion for the staff. It's worth it to me to pay $10/day for the peace of mind that my mother, siblings or the facility can readily reach me as I'm the primary decision maker for my elderly mother.

Posted by
3 posts

I just did a trip earlier this month where we drove for a week in Tuscany and another week on the Amalfi coast and we only used the Google maps app. Even though a dedicated gps is small, it's still another thing you have to worry about. The trick with the Google map is, you can now download an area of the map and make it available offline, both on iOS and Android. Subsequently no cell connection is necessary to use the navigation feature while in this mode. All the points of interest are also downloaded. However, if you're going to drive to multiple areas like I did, you'd have to download the maps for those areas separately as there's a maximum size for each download.

You should also enter and save the places that you want to go to before you leave, so you won't have to fumble with the phone while driving.

If you're interested, I recommend you try this at home first to see if you're comfortable with it. You can always delete a downloaded map afterwards.

Posted by
3 posts

My warning would be not to trust 100% any GPS based app in Italy - probably anywhere, come to that.

We travel to Italy a lot, and use our Garmin - but it's the old 'garbage in, garbage out' problem.

We have had several interesting escapades where the sat nav has got us nearly stuck up narrow alley ways, or hurtling down cart tracks which started out as credible roads. We have a reasonably up to date paper road atlas as well, and use that and the GPS, along with a fairly heavy dose of scepticism.
However, its worth using the Garmin to hear the English-oriented computer generated voice mangling Italian place names!

Posted by
291 posts

We also only used Google Maps on our phone (we'd bought an Italian SIM card when we landed, so data wasn't an issue), and it worked well enough and we'd do it again. I would highly recommend inputting the next destination when you're in a city, so it's cached before you start driving and hit a dead zone and aren't able to pull up the info. That happened to us a couple of times, but most intersections had directional signage for the hill towns, so it was still pretty easy to pick things back up. An American couple who lives in Tuscany part-time gave us a paper map b/c they thought we were crazy to only rely on GPS, but the paper map didn't have the level of detail that we needed for every fork-in-the-road we encountered. Just remember to bring your car charger so you don't run of juice while mapping!

Posted by
788 posts

Google maps now has offline capability so you can download the area of interest at your hotel on wifi and save data fees on your cell. I found the GPS only good for specific addresses and for locating yourself on a map if you get turned around. They are absolutely a hindrance around ZTLs. Buy a good book of maps at 1:200,000 when you get to Italy. Details of numerous cities are included in many and you can benefit from the notations of landmarks and scenic roads.

Posted by
1198 posts

We always use google maps when we travel and we only use the free wifi in hotels or restaurants. We make sure we have downloaded to area map when we have wifi and mark the places we plan to go before we leave our free wifi. We have never had trouble following the route on the google map, even in Belarus. We never take GOS. Of course I also have a good road map, mainly to get the big picture. For Tuscany, I also used the suggested routes in the DK Eyewitness Backroads Italy book. I borrowed the book from the library. The show the most scenic routes and great sites aling the way. The also told us about the great restaurant in Lamole in the Chiant area. It's up a long route but the food is great!

Posted by
338 posts

I downloaded the 'Here' application to my iPhone and bought their detailed digital map of Italy, which allowed us to have navigation and not use our phone plan. The app had several positive mentions on the RS forums so I decided to try it. The navigation directions on the Here app was great; rivaling or better than Google maps, particularly in those pesky traffic circles (turn now!). This allowed me to leave the Garmin at home and not have to worry about downloading area maps since I had a map of the entire country 'on board' the phone. Google Maps is better on POI (Points of Interest) and restaurant locations, however, so we sometimes used Google Maps while in a city. Agreed that a paper map is great to have as a backup and to get the big picture.

We used it for the entire 14 day trip to Italy. We landed in Venice and drove from there to Florence, Saturnia, & to Rome. From Google Maps to Google Translate. It worked in the middle of nowhere Italy when there were no street signs. It was GREAT in Rome. We just typed in where we were headed and it told us what train to get on, how long the walk was. I have to admit, I was overly panicked about traveling with such small maps, and our Tom Tom GPS. Google Maps worked when the other two didn't. We won't travel abroad without it again!

Posted by
792 posts

Google Maps work great - in Venice - in the dark - when you're lost

Posted by
34 posts

I took both, but our Garmin broke almost before I got to use it. Google maps worked very well. I'd still like to have the Garmin though and yes, paper maps too.

Posted by
11067 posts

Either one works 'most of the times' (but not all of the times). Sometimes those machines really send you off the wrong path, or at least not always through the fastest way.

A paper map will come handy for planning your trips. Mark the sequence of the towns you will be going through in your planned trip, then look for the signs for each successive towns. I use all of the above. But if there is a discrepancy between road signs and GPS, the road signs always take precedence in my reliability ranking.

Regarding renting the GPS from the rental car company, be aware that the $15 or so charge is probably per day.

Posted by
1444 posts

Curious as to whether Google Maps works in Venice while walking. Does anyone have experience with Google Maps in walking mode in Venice?

Posted by
29381 posts

I've used Google Maps for walking in some cities, and it seems to work fine. What I normally do is switch "on" cellular data until the the map sorts out the directions on where I am and where I'm going. After that I switch data "off" and the built-in GPS follows my progress on the map in real time.

Posted by
792 posts

Sheron, yes Google Maps work great in Venice in walking mode. I used it at night to find my way around. You can drop a pin on the map and it will show you the direction to walk.

Posted by
338 posts

Another nice thing about the Here application for navigation. It chimes intermittently when you are over the speed limit. Since we were sometimes completely focused on driving and navigation it was nice to have the speed limit minded by the app.

Posted by
1444 posts

Thank you for all the great input. I've never heard of the Here app and will have to take a look at it.

Posted by
1444 posts

Thank you for all the great input. I've never heard of the Here app and will have to take a look at it.

Posted by
22 posts

We are in Italy now and wish we had activated the cellular data to be used overseas. It would have helped us so much in Rome. We did we wifi when we could.
We are now in Umbria and did a day trip into Tuscany. Without our GPS that we rented, we would have not been as successful. Rent the gps, it's worth it in our minds.