My father-in-law ran his own business for more than 40 years, roaming the Eastern Seaboard and beyond visiting candy companies. Back then, he could read a map as easily as a menu. But now he uses his GPS every time he gets in a car, even to get to the airport in his hometown. "I'm used to it," he says.
That's fine--until it doesn't work. On a recent overseas trip, my GPS led me through a tangle of dirt roads, each slightly less passable than the one before, until I ground to a halt in a field. I'd asked it for the shortest distance from here to there, and that's the route it was determined to take--without differentiating between a four-lane blacktop and a goat path. When I was in Seattle recently, my GPS must have needed a jolt of caffeine, because it couldn't catch up to where I was. Driving on Pike Street, I heard it urging me to turn left … onto Pike Street. By trying to follow it even as it was following me, I ended up miles out of my way and late for an important meeting.
Like with any technological device, you can have one of two relationships with your GPS. You can manage it, or it can manage you. Use it all the time, I've found, and not only do you never really know where you are, but eventually you lose the ability to figure that out. Still, I can't count the number of times it has saved me. Like when I'm running late and need to get gas before dropping off my rental car, or when I want a decent lunch within a mile of the interstate, or to navigate the thicket of one-way streets in an urban center. Best of all, when I make a wrong turn and get lost, it will get me back on track immediately and efficiently. And it doesn't pass judgment.
These days, I bring my GPS along on nearly every trip. I type in where I need to go, but I also make sure to eyeball the route on a map beforehand in case something goes awry. And every now and then, I get there the old-fashioned way: I ask for directions from a concierge or a receptionist and follow them, step by step, with the GPS switched off. Just so it knows who's boss.
Plot the Course
If you do turn to technology to keep you on the navigational straight and narrow, here are three of your best GPS options
DeLorme Earthmate LT-40 plug-in GPS with Atlas ($50)
For 50 bucks you get a plug-in GPS unit and North American street atlas that turns your laptop into a navigation powerhouse. Yes, you will have to adapt your notebook PC for car use and get used to firing up your laptop to navigate. But for business-oriented route planning, absurdly great street detail and a blissfully large display, the LT-40 is a heck of an option.
Garmin Nuvi 3790LMT ($400)
This navigation device is about the size and shape of your smartphone, but made to not only impress your clients, but also get you to and from them. The nuvi 3790 is a slim, multi-featured stand-alone GPS stuffed with biz-ready features like 3-D mapping and sophisticated points of interest. If you still can't find your way with this tool, you have larger problems than your GPS.
Explorist 710 from Magellan ($550)
If you absolutely, positively cannot get lost, the eXplorist line is for you. Almost punishingly pricey at $550, the unit pays for itself by providing detailed navigation anyplace where you can see the sky. Factor in the simply indestructible enclosure, and if you can get by the outdoorsy looks, the city series of map data will give accurate by-turn instructions anywhere, anytime and anyplace.
-- Jonathan Blum