Selecting a GPS or Satnav

GPS or Satnav or whatever you want to call it

So where to start ? Well, first up, I’ll call them all a GPS which’ll make life a bit easier for my typing fingers.

We have, available to us, GPS’s that are for cars, trucks (size and weight limitations), marine use, motorbike use, etc. The are big and small, they’re built into most smart phones and increasingly the car “infotainment” system, some can have all sorts of maps loaded, some can only use the vendors maps, you can press a tablet – either Android or iOS – into service with the appropriate app or you can just give up on the whole can of worms and just use paper maps and be done with it – after all paper maps don’t need satellites or batteries or a power connection. Given that you have some sort of internet available you also have Google Maps and the like which can be very handy.

If you’re using a GPS

If you’re going to be using a GPS what are your options ? The first thing to be done is to work out what you’re going to use it for. Will you be using it solely for urban navigation ? Navigating in remote areas ? What about regional and rural areas ? What are you driving ? Heavy vehicle, bicycle, normal car  or something in between ?

There are a truly confusing number of types of GPS. If you want to be confused to distraction then have a look at the number of brands of GPS.

And now to add bewilderment to confusion some GPS’s can use different maps. One of ours has built in point to point street maps but we can add Hema maps, Ozie Explorer maps and even the Australian Survey maps to it and probably others as well but I’m confused enough, thank you so I’ll stick to what we have. Some maps are free and some maps can cost quite a lot.

You guessed it, there is a GPS with appropriate maps and facilities for you and the trick is to find it.

Finding what suits you and your usage

So, where is the major usage going to be ? If you’re a taxi driver in a large city an up to date point to point street map GPS with the ability to download traffic updates would be ideal. Just enter your destination either via the touch screen of by voice and follow the instructions that it gives you. Easy. We have an old TomTom Via that isn’t real smart but it allows us to navigate the more esoteric bits of Melbourne without a problem. It may not give us the best route but it will accurately steer us to our destination. In fact we used it today to get from Moe (Eastern Victoria) to the far Western suburbs of Melbourne and back home again with no problems. That simple, cheap and old GPS is good for what we wanted today and there are many such units on the market from the likes of Tom Tom or Garmin  or Navman or one of the whole heap of others.

They’re pretty inexpensive, serviceable and will do the required job well. Just make sure you get a unit with lifetime map updates with speed camera updates thrown in.

If you’re driving a heavy vehicle you’ll need a unit that can can avoid weight limited roads and bridges as well as height limits. Just tell your GPS how much your vehicle weighs and how high it is and the route it calculates will avoid roads with limits that you exceed.

If you’re travelling in regional areas the normal point to point GPS should suffice. Just check it out before you hand over any cold, hard cash.

If you are going to venture off the beaten track into remote areas then a mapping GPS loaded with contour maps is what you’ll probably want. We have a VMS 700HDX which has lots of maps – offroad as well as street maps. We have discovered one problem with it though. It’s a bit sensitive to heat and once it gets hot it shuts down. Seeing as it is mounted to the windscreen it spends a bit of time in direct sunlight getting hot. I think that when we decide to get another GPS we’ll get either a HEMA or use an Android tablet with a GPS app loaded.

Buying a GPS

Research, research and more research is the way to go. There is a bewildering number of GPS’s on the market to choose from ranging from cheap with very little on top of street mapping to mind bogglingly expensive with more bells and whistles than you could ever master and use in several lifetimes.

Read the reviews, talk to retailers and listen to people who use a GPS in their daily lives to try to get a handle on which unit suits your budget and purpose. Make sure that you get lifetime map updates and speed camera updates.

There are some good deals out there and your job is to unearth the best one for you.

Well there you go. I hope I’ve managed to give you a bit to consider when you’re selecting your unit.



Must have’s

This is a post of things that you simply must remember to take with you when you’re travelling. Car, camper, cooking utensils, etc. are all a given. This is about the eclectic collection of bits and pieces that make life a bit easier and more comfortable while you’re away from the home base where things are taken for granted. Well, let’s get the show on the road.

Nappy wipes or baby wipes or whatever you call them. Two packs of eighty – one for the car and one for the camper/caravan. My wife keeps a packet on the passenger side floor under the seat. Dirty hands from coupling up in the morning ? Nappy wipe. Crumby, greasy hands from eating crisps ? No showers and can’t be bothered getting the hot water service out and connected ? Cleaning bugs off the windshield ? Nappy wipes. There’s a thousand and one uses for them. Keep plenty of them handy.

Cable ties. A packet of a hundred in various sizes. The uses are endless. I’ve used them to hold wiring up out of the way when the originals have broken. They’re good for stopping you from losing the “D” shackles on the camper suspension limit chains. They can also be used to hold plugs and sockets together.

Duct tape. That grey stretchy stuff about five centimetres wide. Again, the uses are almost endless. One great use is taping up doors and vents to stop red dust from getting into your camper / caravan. We forgot once on the Oodnadatta Track when it was dry and it’s safe to say we’ll never forget that again. Use it to tape a bit of 3-ply over your rear window to stop it from getting broken by rocks and stones ricocheting off you camper/caravan. We’ve even used it, and a couple of ring/open end spanners, to splint a broken hoop pole in the camper after it was broken by a severe wind gust at Yalara.

A camera or two or three. We take a Fuji pocket camera, a small Olympus pocket camera and an Olympus SLR camera. Of course we have our phones too. Make sure that you have plenty of memory cards too – you just can’t have too much storage. Seeing as we both take Windows tablets with us we also take a couple of 1TB SSD drives with us so we can put all of our photos on them so we never run out of memory cards.

Chargers for phones and laptops and cameras, etc. I started looking around for 12V chargers for everything and it soon became apparent that it was going to cost a fortune. I ended up getting a 150W pure sine wave inverter and a six socket power board so that we could just use our existing 240V chargers.

Batteries. Check to see what sort of batteries things use. You’ll be surprised at the number of types that you’ll need. We use 9V square, AA, AAA, 21700, 18650, D cells, C cells and probably others. If some of them are rechargeable you’ll need to take chargers too. As above just take your 240V chargers. Cameras, torches, e-cigarettes, alarm clock, whatever, make sure you have them all covered.

Of course you’ll need a few car spares and a set of spanners and sockets. No need to carry an entire spares department or a mechanics toolbox with you. I’d suggest a set of hoses and hose clamps as well as a serpentine belt as a minimum. Most modern engines only have few real show stoppers. A burst hose, broken serpentine belt, a dead electric fuel pump and the crank position sensor. Learn how to change them and you should be right. Check out your local dealership and ask if they can put a hose kit, a fuel pump and a sensor in a box for you and only charge you for what isn’t in pristine condition when it’s returned. Even if you have no mechanical or diagnostic abilities a fellow traveller may be able to assist if you have the required parts.

Some sort of roadside insurance. If you do end up with a show stopper you’ll need to recover the camper/caravan or vehicle to a place of repair. When we lost a camper wheel we needed to get the camper recovered to Hawker (SA) for repairs. Our insurance policy for the camper stated that we had roadside assist and recovery to the nearest place of repair but buried in the fine print there was the ability for the insurance company to wriggle out of it. Check you insurance policy to make sure it actually covers what you think it covers. Ours didn’t and we paid for it.

All of the above should be covered in a checklist that you make up. Put all of it on the list. When you’re packing to go away drag out your trusty list. It goes without saying (almost) that the list is getting updated constantly with things that you didn’t have but needed as well as crossing off things that you took and didn’t need.

And last but far from least. Probably the most important. A healthy attitude. Accept that things won’t go to plan and that there will be breakdowns and other stuff-ups either of your own making or by things that you can’t control. Don’t travel just hoping for the best or fearing the worst. Just accept that, as an old boss of mine used to say, “it is what it is”.  If it all goes decidedly bad then you have a few great stories for family and friends. If it all goes well you’ll have a few good stories for family and friends. Use the trip to add to your life experience and make the most of it.