Is a GPS really necessary?

Do you really need a GPS unit?

We have survived full time RVing for over six years without a GPS (Geo Positioning System) unit, and we have survived quite well. But, we finally purchased one. Actually it is our second one. The first one we bought for geocaching but it wasn’t made to give driving directions.

The process of selecting a GPS unit is daunting. We looked a various manufacturer’s web sites, looked up reviews on various units, compared features, compared prices, and finally settled on a Garmin Nuvi 250. It has good features for us but is not overkill. Also, it was very important to us to be able to move it easily from the motor home to our little truck and back.

The manual is rather sparse but it’s a simple unit to use and it works great. We ordered it on the web and received it in early October when we were in Phoenix Arizona. Immediately it became very useful. During our stay in Phoenix, we had to find various places. It was easy to look up the address of most of those places on the Nuvi and have the Nuvi direct us to those locations. It we needed to go somewhere that was not in its database, it was easy to enter the address and be guided to that address. It will always get us to that address but, given traffic conditions, accidents, and construction, the directions may not be perfect. Since we are often in an unfamiliar place, that’s fine with us.

It really helps when driving unfamiliar freeways and having to negotiate complex interchanges. Shela, as we have named the Nuvi 250, will say things like: “Take ramp right, then keep left.” That small statement really helps with some of the complex interchanges. Shela will also say something like, “In 2 miles, keep right.” That helps when the left lane or left two lanes take off onto a different freeway.

The screen shows a detail map of where you are located with your route of travel marked. This is also useful. Shela also estimates your time of arrival and shows you how far it is to the next turn. A touch of the screen will give you the distance you’ve traveled as well as how far it is from where you are currently to your destination.

This is not to say it’s perfect. When we drove the motorhome from Ukiah California to Manchester California, Shela insisted that we take Mountain View Road. Fortunately we knew that Mountain View Road was a very hilly (16% grades) narrow road with hairpin turns. It took a while for Shela to realize that we refused to take that road. For about 10 miles (on a much better road), Shela would want us to make a U-turn. That’s not something we wanted to do driving a 39-foot motorhome on a two-lane road. Shela finally relented and came up with the route we were going to follow anyway.

Shela does have one problem which I’m sure is typical of all automotive GPS units. That is roads are changed, new roads are built, businesses move or go out of business, new subdivisions are built. Unless you update the software and database, any automotive GPS will become outdated. Even with an update, the GPS is only as current as the latest update, which probably won’t have the road changes that are less than a year or two old.

It short, Shela has been very useful. Shela does not replace a little research and a good map but she was definitely a good investment.