Because I could get lost in a closet, I bought a GPS for travel. Used it last year (in Virginia) and worked just great. Now, I'm going to rent a car in France. Probably get off in Rennes ... and later, return car to Caen, for ferry to UK. My question - (I drive in the LA area so I know traffic) ... if I use a GPS in France ... I'll get the GPS maps for Europe ...will this be "enough" to not get lost? I'm driving alone, so nobody can be reading the map and pointing. Any recommendations re: GPS's, preferable rental agencies, cars (I drive stick). I'm a careful driver - no accidents since 1972 ...
That is why GPS was invented. And it is wonderful staying on track in Europe.
Shute, some of my best stories and most fun was getting lost and finding the little pub in the little town, eating a great lunch with locals, finding Holy Island on a whim, etc. If you are not to stressed out and have to be there at a certain time, getting lost is part of the fun of driving in Europe.
If driving alone, best to have a GPS that gives verbal instructions. Occasionally, the GPS will route you on back roads. You'll think you're lost, but it will always get you where you need to go. I was nervous the first time it routed me on unexpected roads, but quickly learned to relax and enjoy the back door experience.
It is good to have maps as a backup in case you cannot figure out where the GPS is taking you. If you don't have what you need, try mapping your itinerary on viamichellin and printing out those maps. I have had good success with a Garmin Nuvi 275t, but any GPS with European maps would probably work as well. Nearly everyone here will recommend AutoEurope, gemut or Kemwell, but compare prices online with the major companies (Hertz, Europcar, Sixt, etc.) before contacting one of them. You cannot expect them to match the best price if you don't know the best price. I personally avoid Thrifty and Budget because of so many complaints against them, but others seem to trust them. I also avoid companies that are not major players in European market. If you do go with one of the consoidators mentioned above, make sure they compare apples to apples to make sure you are getting the best deal. And, just matching someone else's price is not enough for me; the price should be lower or I will go with the first company.
Be sure to get a quote from www. gemut.com before you reserve. They are a US based agency that guarantees the lowest rate. Have them get you a quote for a car with GPS.
I would have a map just in case of a problem with the GPS, and sometimes when she (mine is the British girl complete with her cute accent) routes me off the beaten path and I don't think I want to go that way I will just stay on the main road and it will 'recalibrate'. I drive alone alot over there and only had a gps on one trip, so it can be done with just a map and the signage. I did get lost a lot but eventually found my way...its usually only reallly stressful if I am on my way to the airport.
I usually rent from major company... Hertz, Avis, Budget, but may try one of the consolidators based in the US. I just read a few bad reviews about those so I have stayed away from them.
GPS works great on the road for getting in and out of unfamiliar cities and towns and for navigating back routes along country roads. It's also useful for alerts re fixed speed cameras. My Garmin also tells me about changes in speed limits on auto routes. And if you get off the route you'll get the "recalculating" message followed by new instructions. For trip planning, though, a GPS sucks. Nothing can replace a spread-out paper map where you can see A and the options on how to get to B. The route you choose may not agree with your GPS. So get the appropriate Michelin map. With that and your GPS, you'll be set. Garmin and TomTom are the units most often mentioned for European travel. As for agencies, Autoeurope is highly regarded. In my experience, Sixt has been cheaper. Driving solo, go with what you think you would like to drive. We once had a Peugeot convertible (diesel) and liked it a lot. It was fun to drive and got great fuel mileage.
You guys are great! I'm going to check into detailed maps of the two areas I'll be in. The longest trip will be the one to Caen, for the ferry - and even with that, I can catch a later ferry, so ... I think once I get over there, and 'get a feel for the place (like, "geeze, they have the same clouds as us! ... those trees look mighty familiar! ... oh NO! a mcdonalds!...") I'll have fun. The up side of driving is accomplishing the task rather than fearing it. Thanks!
One thing that often gets overlooked on this website... in Western Europe, there are so many road signs to direct you where you need to go that often it's just easier to follow the signs than the GPS instructions. I fiddled around with a GPS when I first moved here, but stopped using it after too many instances where the GPS pointed me in the opposite direction of the road signs, or it pointed me to drive through a forest trail or tractor path. And if road construction alters the flow of traffic through the narrow one-way streets of a small city, a GPS is useless.
I had the same apprehensions before I was convinced by posters on tripadvisor.com that driving in France was the best choice. They were right!! I bought a Garmin nuvi with Europe maps preloaded and learned to use it in the US. I then looked up addresses of hotels, sights along the way in Normandy and Brittany, and even used GoogleMaps to get the coordinates of our rural B&B. I saved them all into "favorites" and it was a breeze to call them up and drive right to them. I also bought a Michelin map on advice of others because the GPS might direct you down a cowpath instead of staying on the 4-lane road. One more tipas we left the backalley entrance to the rental lot in Caen (yes, we came over on the ferry) I pushed the auto icon to mark that precise place and saved it and labeled it. Days later in a rush hour and a driving rainstorm, I called up the saved location and drove right to it!
There are books on Amazon all about driving in France you should get. It's full of do's and don'ts, rules of the road, and how and where to buy fueldiesel is gazole, not all stations are manned, many close early and open late, and US credit cards won't work in automated pumps. Check out tripadvisor.com, Normandy forum or Paris forum and search for "driving in France". There are many experts that will answer you and assuage your fears about driving in Europe.
Trust what the natives are saying. Tom is absolutely right about many signs pointing the way. My husband and I have driven all over Europe throughout the years armed with only a road map. We have never been seriously lost. I've also done it alone with no issues either. There have been some interesting detours due to road work, but we eventually got to where we were going. Just make sure to study up on road signs before your trip. The big mistake folks do is listen only to the GPS and not really look at road signs. Even the most current GPS does not take in consideration construction or new routing.
My experience has been the opposite of Debbie's and closer to that of Tex: "GPS works great on the road for getting in and out of unfamiliar cities and towns and for navigating back routes along country roads." The same is true whether you are traveling in Europe of in the U.S. Maps proved a waste of time in Bonn and the little town of Sinzig, Germany, as well as Birmingham, Alabama, which I thought I knew. A GPS, however, was a great blessing in Munich and throughout Bavaria, as well as Knoxville and Atlanta. It also helped reroute me around stalled traffic on the the interstate; nobody wants to sit in stalled traffic all day when there are alternatives. If a technology works for you, use it, but don't rely solely on it.
Tom brought up a great point; the signage in the EU is awesome! BUT...I always bring our GPS and a small fold out Michelin map of the country that we are going to travel in. Even with the GPS you will make the wrong turn. Even with my wife and the GPS telling me where to turn, I miss a turn. But it no big deal. The GPS recalculates, and so can you. Don't rush..don't worry...be happy...and enjoy. I found that the phrase" You can't get there from here." is really NOT true. France is so much fun, and we found the French to be very helpful when we had any problems.
I can see there will be several factors to consider before heading over there! I'm not good at catching road signs, so the GPS will be less stress. And when (not if) I still am lost, that map will come in handy! Thanks!
All GPS units are not created equal. Go into the settings button and tell it what sorts of roads you don't want to be routed on and what you prefer. Set the voice to be best for you. Set up the bluetooth. You can't just take them out of the box and be good at it. You need practice and taking the time to understand.
I have a specific question regarding the quality of GPS systems. I went with TomTom last year, mainly because I liked the larger size of its display - a smaller one would have been essentially useless to me - and it worked fine in Virginia. But I've heard that the G... (brand) is better. What characteristics of a GPS make one brand better than another?
I have had difficulty reading the signposts at night - Bring a good flashlight, although this was before GPS. I still am more comfortable having good maps in the car
I would say that Tom Tom and Garmin are the two leaders of the band with most others being also rans. I guess it depends a little on what you are familiar with. I've been using Garmin since my first Sat Nav about 8 or 9 years ago. I'm on my 4th one as they develop and about ready for the next. I find the voice on mine particularly good, the sound excellent, reliability excellent, and the directions clear. It recalculates very quickly and the bluetooth works well. The screen is not huge but everything is large and clear. As I slow down it shows more detail, as I speed up I only see the important stuff. Its very easy to load favorites on by PC and map updates are easy. Traffic services are accurate and easy to use in most places. On all satnavs German law prohibits use of traffic radar databases. I have the 765T, can't speak for the benefits or otherwise of Tom Tom.
Sandy, take the one that you know how to run! I have used my TomTom extensivly in the EU, and for cross country US trips. It handles all with aplomb. Garmin and TT are rated very highly. The most important feature is text-to-speech. It speaks the street names, and alerts you with voice commands prior to your next turn, etc. Sometimes I never have to glance at my screen; I just listen to the commands. (kind of like listening to my wife..except I can't tune this one out...) Consumer Reports has a nice little summary of useful features:
If you want to do something fun before your travels, on the Garmin you can change your language to Italian, German, Chinese or what ever. So we changed it to Italian on a 2 hour drive last weekend. It was pretty funny, but now at least we know how to say right, left, miles, and recalulating in Italian. But unfortunaly, we didn't completely understand what Garmin was saying and missed a couple of turns. I think we'll set the voice to English in Italy. Also, ditto others, use your GPS at home before your trip and preprogram your destinations into your GPS.
By all means use a GPS in France but buy the latest map as well when you get here. Roads get built all the time and are often not on even the latest GPS maps - for example, the new A65 autoroute from Bordeaux to Pau.