This year, don't waste any time being lost (or disagreeing on directions) while you're on vacation. Speaking of things not to do on vacation; remember that time you forgot where you left your car in a giant amusement park lot? GPS will help you make sure that doesn't happen again. While you're at it, use a car GPS, or GPS-enabled smartphone to find the cheapest gas, spot every AAA discount near your location, and look up free Zagat restaurant reviews. Read on for much more on how to use GPS to save money and time and have the best possible vacation.
1. Find the cheapest gas, wherever you are.
Wouldn't you like to know the best gas prices within a few miles of wherever you are when you're on vacation? Or even better, the cheapest gas right on your route? Both of these options and more are possible with the latest generation of connected GPS units that can do research for you while you're on the roll. The MSN Direct service, when paired with Garmin car GPS devices, offers many ways to search gas prices. TomTom has made gas price searching easier than ever with its GO 740 Live GPS. Even GPS-enabled smartphones have gotten into the act with apps like Cheap Gas! for the iPhone3G. Speaking of gas, studies have shown that you use less of the stuff when you drive with a GPS.
2. Pre-program all of your destinations.
Time is precious when you're on vacation. You want to maximize your fun time, and minimize your "lost" and "finding and inputting addresses" time. A GPS is the perfect device for this task. Most GPS devices provide ways for you to plan and program routes and pre-select multiple destinations.
Google and GPS maker TomTom have partnered to make it easier to upload destination information into your in-car GPS. By following the instructions in this how-to, you can simply click on "send" in Google Maps to upload destination addresses and locations into your TomTom in-car GPS.
GPS maker Garmin has its own version of the Google "send-to-GPS" feature, as described in this how-to.
3. Get GPS with your rental car.
Most rental car companies offer in-car GPS as an option. Prices are fairly consistent, at about $12 per day, or $60 per week. In most cases, you specify that you would like the GPS option when you reserve the car, whether you book online or over the phone. The Hertz "NeverLost" system lets you pre-plan and upload trips to your rental GPS via a USB drive. Get the full story on rental car GPS.
4. Use your GPS-enabled smartphone.
A GPS-enabled smartphone is great for helping you make the most of your vacation time (as long as you don't succumb to the temptation of checking your work e-mail). Smartphones aren't the best devices for turn-by-turn directions as you drive (dedicated GPS devices are still the best and safest option for that). However, smartphones' maps and directions features are handy when you're walking. Here are some additional apps I recommend for vacation travel:
-AAA Discounts: Pinpoints your location and discounts nearby.
-FlightTrack live flight status tracker.
-Zagat Mobi works with all Web browser-enabled smartphones.
-The Weather Channel iPhone app.
-Telenav GPS Navigator for Android OS phones.
-Garmin Mobile for the Blackberry.
5. Geotag your vacation photos.
Geotagging marks your digital image files with precise position data. A number of iPhone apps handle this task, and some high-end DSLR cameras, such as the Nikon D90, can accept GPS accessories. Even if you don't have a GPS-enabled camera, free photo services such as Panaramio can organize photos by geolocation (you click on a map to assign a location to a photo). Apple's iPhoto makes excellent use of geotagged photos and will help you create a custom travel map and story when you return from vacation.
6. Find your car in a giant parking lot (or unfamiliar town).
We all know the sinking feeling of not remembering exactly where we left the car in a giant parking lot of an amusement park or other vacation destination. Sometimes street parking locations can be forgotten, as well. Most GPS devices, whether they are dedicated car GPS units, handhelds, or smartphones, have an easy way to mark a waypoint. Learn how to do that before you start your trip. Mark your parking spot as a waypoint before you leave your car, and carry your GPS with you. Even better, some car GPS units feature an automatic waypoint save when you remove the GPS from its windshield mount. For the iPhone, apps such as "Where's My Car" make car-finding simple.