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Travelling in Italy with Google Maps and Verizon Data Plan

My wife and I recently (Oct, 2013) spent three nights in Venice, then rented a car and drove around Italy without having advance plans for route or lodging. Our only constraint was the date and time of our return flight from Rome eight days later. This type of trip is not for everyone, but I wanted to report my good experiences with Google Maps on an iPhone 5 and the Verizon data plan. By signing up in the US you get 100 MB of data for $25, and when you use it up you are charged another $25. Since roaming data in Europe is something like 20 Euros per megabyte, I had a hard time believing that this offer from Verizon was not 'too good to be true.'

Now you shouldn't be playing music or downloading videos or photos to the phone (or uploading them either). Those are data-intensive operations and you'll eat up the megabytes in a hurry.

I did consider getting a Garmin with the Europe software and researched it extensively, but finally decided to just give the iPhone a try.

We used the phone for email, text messages ($0.50 to send one, $0.05 to receive one), checking the Rick Steves site :-), searching for B&B's in our next city, calling the B&B's to make reservations, and Google Maps turn-by-turn routing. We drove between 4 and 6 hours per day, visiting Ravenna, Ferrara, Firenze, then a long drive to Positano, back to Pompeii and finally to Rome where we dropped the car at the airport and took the Leonardo train into the city for two nights.

Google Maps was running the entire time we were driving, but each unit of 100MB of data lasted us between 2 and 3 days. My total data bill upon returning was $100, less than the amount that was picked from my pocket on our last night in Rome. :-( I cancelled the roaming data service the day we got back.

Even more miraculous was the accuracy and reliability of the Google Maps routing and spoken turn-by-turn directions. Even on the back roads of Tuscany reception was fine, and we were never mis-routed. One B&B was in downtown Ferrara where the center is a ZTL, zone of limited traffic. Google did not know about this but the owner warned us in advance so by giving the name of the B&B to the policewoman we were able to drive through. It took us to our B&B in Positano, which we visited based on hearing about it right on this site (thank you whoever made that post!) If it can navigate Positano, it can do anything. We brought paper maps and looked at them only to figure out where to stop for lunch.

One more story. My wife likes her bagels. On our last night in Rome I found mention of a new restaurant called the Bagel Bar on the web, so I asked Google Maps how to get there by train. Not only did it know which subway line to take and where to get off, it knew when the next streetcar would arrive, at which stop to get off and how to walk the last few blocks. Mmmm - dinner was a toasted bagel, cream cheese and lox. And of course a glass of red wine, a first with bagels for me. (But I'll stick to coffee with bagels now that I'm home.)

So I hope our experience is helpful and says thank you in a small way for all the help this site and community provided us.

Posted by
2081 posts


Great an interesting report.

i have a couple of questions.

  1. Why say..."This type of trip is not for everyone...". what was negative about it?

  2. how did they pickpocket you in rome?

  3. was the turn by turn navigation able to keep up with you BEFORE you made the turn or did you have a miles worth of traffic behind you since you were driving slow so you didnt miss a turn? i ask becasue my cuz got one and when we were trying it out, it keep on telling us turn back and go a different route even miles after. alos, the turn recommendations were slow to the point of misssing turn w/o slamming on the breaks to make them and this was in city driving.

happy trails.

Posted by
3 posts

Hi Ray,

All I meant by "not for everyone" was that many would prefer to plan their itinerary in advance. My dear wife likes the unplanned approach so that's how we did it.

In Rome I stupidly had left 120 in Euro bills in my shirt pocket when we got on the train to Barberini, and forgot it was there. Well, it wasn't there when we got off the train, no surprise I guess. But I was careful with everything else, always in a carrier around my neck and inside my shirt, so I think my lesson was learned pretty cheaply.

Yes, the turn-by-turn was always well in advance of any change of direction, in fact it usually started warning me 2 or 3 km before the turn or exit. And if you miss a turn, it calculates the new route quickly, unless you are really going in completely the wrong direction - then it does insist on a U-turn, and rightly so I suppose.


Posted by
3 posts

Nope, can't be sure I didn't just lose it, but none of the papers I carried in that pocket ever fell out during the 11 days in Italy. And there was a guy bumping me in the subway as the car moved around, both my wife and I thought about it later and realized he was probably the one. No proof though...I'm just glad it was money and not passport or phone.


Posted by
2081 posts

@ Tedblank,

Thank you for clearing up my questions.

Right now i do the plan it ahead travels. One day i will do the "wing it", but for now im happy with my results.

Its unfortunate the $$$ was lost either way. On my most recent trip i had a guy try to pick pocket me. My first time too. but he wasnt successful. I usually dont let people get too close unless necessary and i walk really fast (high school training) so it would look funny for someone trying to keep up with me.

Also, the info on the Turn-by-turn appears to have matured to what it should have been years ago before they released it. Glad to know since its hard to navigate and drive at the same time and im sure i will be doing it sooner than later on my travels.

hope your next trip is less expensive.

Happy trails.

Posted by
6950 posts

T Mobile just offered a $50 Simple Choice Plan with no extra charge text and data in 100 countries (including Europe). Voice calls within the 100 countries and back to the U.S. are a very reasonable 20 cents per minute. That makes megabit hungry programs well worth using.

T Mobile is definitely going after sophisticated travelers and incremental business that have been using other carriers.

Even considers this a bargain.

My wife and I are now very proactive in our security, especially when in crowds and lines. We do not accept being bumped into and tripped as will often happen. And being 6'3" and 230 pounds, they don't mess with me.

Posted by
252 posts

My two cents: while Google and Google Maps are a terrific resource both at home and while traveling, they rely in web access and I prefer a GPS with downloaded maps. Currently, I use an iPhone with Co-Pilot Live or Navigon. The apps were ~ $29.00 and the maps were ~ $39. Whether driving or walking they've provided excellent aids to our annual trips to the EU. The use of data roaming can be tricky and costly so I always turn it off (phone and tablet) and only use wi-fi (which has become so ubiquitous). Lastly, I always plan for a hardware malfunction and bring along Michelin maps. Safe travels.

Posted by
33 posts

This is EXTREMELY helpful! Guidebooks can't talk about such things because they change so fast, but I was trying to decide about this today. I don't have a smart phone, but am leaning toward an iPhone5 using Google maps for driving on this trip. The AT&T international data plan is $100 for 800 Mb of data for 1 month, and based on what you said I think that would be enough. I only plan to have Google on navigating maybe 3 hours a day (not 6). Other than that I would use it like you said, checking web sites, calling for confirmation, etc. I also want to check into Skype to call back to the US and FaceTime, and see how much data those take up, as I might use those instead of calling normally back home. Has anyone had experience with those?

Posted by
28127 posts

Although this is an old thread from last year, the question is good.

I don't see why people use $$$ of data to use goggle maps or even appel maps when for free, or next to free they can use a free app like NavFree Italy where the maps are all downloaded (big maps, do at home) on wifi and the result is very similar to built in machines.

I use it and my Garmin side by side and get virtually exact results. Cost (in £ because I live in the UK) is £zero for the app, £5-£10 for the various extras you might want. I plug in the charger in the car and run it on an iPhone 4S. Works well for walking out of the car too.

I tried and tried to find a restaurant in Rome last year and walked in circles. Pulled out the fone, fired up the app and bingo was at my goal straight away.

Sorry to hear about the money in the pocket.

Posted by
676 posts

Hi Tedblank, I can only admire how adventurous you and your wife were. There is excitement in spontaneity of travel like what you did. As for me, things has to be plan .Perhaps as I travel more then I might loosen up. I have an iPhone under Verizon and use google map here in the states . I have never used it internationally nor have signed up for roaming . Can I ask if you sign up for roaming, then your airplane mode is off right? Is there a way to just use email and text and call out But not received calls from home as I do not want to pay international long distance fees? Can I still take picture with my phone or will it eat up on my data plan ? Thanks a lot for your help.