Navigating while driving overseas

At one time, it was really hard to drive in any foreign country unless you were a genius with both memorizing maps and reading foreign alphabets. Google Maps has changed all that, with turn-by-turn directions and live traffic everywhere from Bangkok to Mumbai. Plus there is the entertainment value of listening to the Google Maps narrator mispronounce foreign street names.

Of course, getting access to Google Maps on the road can be expensive. Unless, of course, you are on Google Fi, which I highly recommend for anyone who travels a lot. The Google phone gives you access to data at the same rate you would pay at home in over 100 countries. It’s life-changing.

That said, the Google phone doesn’t always work. It doesn’t work in China, but then you can’t drive in China anyway (unless you have a Chinese license). It didn’t work in Kazakhstan, even though it was supposed to work. (Then again, it did work in Cuba even though it wasn’t supposed to.)

If you’re not willing to switch from your iPhone to Google’s version of Android, you can usually buy an overseas data package for your iPhone, although you have to keep tabs on your data usage (stay off the Instagram!). Or you can usually rent a GPS from the rental car company (which will often have access to live traffic, although the fees tend to be expensive).

There are also navigation apps you can use off-line. I have used Navigon a lot; I have fond memories of using it on my hacked “jailbroken” iPod with a dodgy GPS connected via USB. That’s not necessary anymore, and Navigon’s display while driving is actually a lot better than Google Maps. That said, Google Maps is usually better at figuring out optimal routes.

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Google maps: life-changing. Photo by the author.