Why We Still Use a Dedicated GPS for Navigation

How minimal is too minimal?

Since we started our fulltiming family adventure in 2010 we’ve used a dedicated Garmin GPS for navigation.  We nicknamed the GPS “Ferguson” in the manner of Mark Twain’s use of the name for ever-changing local guides in Innocents Abroad.

We’ve talked to other fulltime travelers who just use their smartphones and wonder why we - as self-proclaimed minimalists - would keep a single-purpose device around when we already owned a multi-use device?

We didn’t think much about it. We had Ferguson (and had named him even), he didn’t take up much room, so we kept on using him.

Stolen GPS

However, Ferguson was recently stolen (ironically, not too far from the like-named city in Missouri) so I’ve been forced to rely on our iPhone.

It’s been a mixed success and we plan on replacing Ferguson soon.

Here are our top five reasons for using a dedicated GPS:


Most travel days, I am working out our route on the GPS while Mike responds to emails and other work related things on his phone. Or I’m using campground-finder apps and then calling campgrounds on his phone while he follows Ferguson for navigation.

Without Ferguson we find that we’re both reaching for the phone at the same time and having to play “task triage” for who goes first.

Yes, an additional smartphone would be an option here but that would also add more monthly fees and another device to manage.

In-Transit Visibility

With the GPS we are able to see further ahead than while using the smartphone. This lets me anticipate upcoming intersections/turns/traffic/etc and communicate those issues to Mike while he’s driving.

We are also able to see more side-to-side, handy for figuring out ‘where’s the river now’ on our trip down the Great River Road.

Turn by Turn Timing

With our iPhone running Google Maps turn commands come later than the Garmin.

If we are just driving the truck we can usually adapt but with the RV in tow we need a few more seconds warning.

Recalculating Options

Yesterday while using our iPhone & Google Maps we missed a turn as the directions on the map were unclear.

Google wanted us to make a U-turn at large intersection in downtown Memphis rather than routing us around the block.

It wasn’t even a move we wanted to do in the truck in slow traffic. It would have been impossible with an RV in tow.  The Garmin seemed to be smarter about rerouting us around the block.

Other Data

While enroute Ferguson would show us additional data that was useful. We learned that “time to arrival” was too agressive to rely on, but have used “remaining distance” to help us predict when we’ll be done for the day.

The biggest bit of information that we miss is the current speed limit. There are times when some traffic is moving faster, some traffic is moving slower, and no speed limit signs are in sight. We just like to know that we’re obeying local speed limits.

Which Option Is Right?

I don’t think there is a definite right or wrong. Each traveler will have to figure it out for themselves.

For us, a dedicated GPS unit is the right choice (along with paper atlases and occasional use of the iPhone and Google Maps).

I can’t wait until we get a new Ferguson.

Which Do You Use?

Do you use a dedicated GPS or a smartphone for navigation?


We purchased a Garmin Nuvi 2698 and are quite pleased with it as the new Ferguson.

5 Comments Why We Still Use a Dedicated GPS for Navigation

  1. Picture of kevin kevin November 10, 2015

    I hate the iphone for navigation. My android is better :).
    But part of what I dislike with a GPS unit is that I can’t seem to zoom in to get the info ahead of time like i can with just a map (without navigation)

    I like to see the route when we’re in closer proximity to our destination:  exit #23, take right, first left, then right again.  - It helps me know what to expect instead of relying on the timing of the GPS or phone.

    I’ve had several GPS units recommended to me,  but I’m not sure the differences - some are just for RVing, but I’ve heard bad things about them too.

    I also want to add the low bridge database (just in case) but not sure how easy/hard that is.

    The rig we bought had the back-up cam, radio,dvd, and GPS all combined into a single unit and I hate it, because you have to use onscreen buttons to switch between things. How do you do that when you’re driving ? so I haven’t even *tried* to use it.

  2. Picture of Michael Boyink Michael Boyink November 11, 2015

    If low clearance data is easy then add it - but I wouldn’t sweat it much otherwise. In 5 years we’ve had divert ourselves unexpectedly twice in two years for low clearance spots and they were both well-signed with easy ways out.

    Just remember that you aren’t any taller than semis, delivery trucks and fire/rescue vehicles and most roads are designed to accomodate them.

  3. Picture of Rick Garboden Rick Garboden November 11, 2015

    I certainly have to agree with you about the GPS uses other than just a map. Our just failed the past weekend on a trip to and from the Oregon Coast. Could I find where we were going. Yes, but it would have been so nice to have been sure if the turn was. Instead we have to turn to the smart phones and that uses data that the GPS doesn’t. I also agree that I use the speed limit feature, miles to go, and time left on our trip. That and having a 40’ coach with a toad behind I just like to have an idea what the corners are like on the road ahead. We will be getting this fixed or replaced as it is just to important to me as a tool for travel. That and it keeps down the grumpy moods between us as we don’t have to through blame for missing or taking a wrong turn.

  4. Picture of Michael Boyink Michael Boyink November 12, 2015

    Ah - a GPS scapegoat! ;) 

    Thanks for stopping by Rick.

  5. Picture of Drmasteg Drmasteg March 01, 2016

    We are newbies and our o board GPS and Rand from Good Sams never match.  After posting on one of our membership sites we received valuable advice and help making our unit from Good SAMs better.

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