If you’ve ever spent a day driving in Philadelphia, you’ll agree that making it home in one piece is a challenge. That said, driving in a completely different country may not be something you would even consider. But honestly, the freedom to explore at your own leisure is the best way get around outside of cities.
To be honest, fifteen years ago, when we first drove internationally, we were a bit nervous. Not so much with the actual driving because, again, we’ve survived Philly. But more with the logistics. Things like navigation, paying tolls, and even how gas stations work gave us pause. Nowadays, we rent cars all the time without a second thought. Sure, our driving frequency has helped instill more courage, but really it’s the technology that has given us the confidence we once lacked.
When renting a car these days some rental companies will give you the option to add a GPS and even a toll device. In Portugal their EZ-Pass system is called Via Verde. It was €1.50 per day plus the actual toll costs. The tolls were frequent on the highways and not cheap. Having the Via Verde tag saved us the trouble of attempting to speak Portuguese to a toll operator or carrying around a wad of cash.
Renting a GPS, however, might not be the best way to go for navigation. In Belgium we spent 20 minutes in the parking garage trying to figure out how to change the language from Dutch to English. Additionally, renting a unit isn’t cheap. In Portugal the going rate was €125/week.
There’s a better way to go if you have a iPhone. It turns out, iPhones don’t require data usage for a GPS position. They only require data to pull maps from the internet as you move. But if you download the maps in advance, then you can navigate without using data or being dependent on wifi. We downloaded the Tom Tom app with the Southern Europe maps before we left the States. There was a one time cost of $59 for the app. When you get abroad, just launch the app with your data turned off and you can navigate for free.
Additionally, you can use the app to help you get around on foot when you reach your destination. Another neat function the Tom Tom app offers is to navigate by photo. Any photo you take on an iPhone is GPS tagged. Pass a great restaurant or town you want to hit another day? Snap a photo as you pass it so you can find you way back to it at a later time. Forget the address of the place you are staying? Dig up a photo you took of your new digs when you checked in and the app will help you get back. It’s a game changer for navigation and since maps are sold as areas, should you go anywhere else in the area your maps cover (say Germany, in our case), it won’t cost you a dime.