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Which GPS device is best for international travel?

Which GPS device is best for international travel?

If you're looking for the best international GPS device for your next worldwide adventure then the first step is to find the perfect place to start. But if you want to continue finding yourself in the ideal place, then you may need one of the big names in GPS devices that are built specifically for globe-trotting. However, if it's a road trip you're planning, then you may want one of the best car GPS trackers (opens in new tab) instead.

Sure, your smartphone has maps now and sure, these do work in many countries. But with data connection sometimes proving an issue and plenty of countries still not fully on board with Google Maps, your safest travel companion is still a dedicated international GPS device.

A GPS device has the maps loaded on it, meaning all it needs is a satellite connection to get your location and guide you. So there's no need to pay for data or worry about having an internet connection in other countries. Another positive of these devices is they have a battery that's built for one use only, meaning you don't need to worry about your phone dying as you listen to music on your travels when it's also your only guide.

Since this is still a relatively niche market, there are three big names that rule the international GPS device world: Garmin, TomTom, and Magellan. But which is best for you? Read on to find out.

Garmin vs Magellan vs TomTom

Image of Magellan map coverage 

Magellan's devices don't come with maps of Mexico, and there aren't many additional maps for purchase on their website. In fact, the only international map you can buy from Magellan is a map of Europe. Without maps for any other area of the world, Magellan isn't the manufacturer for the world traveler. Magellan devices also don't support any third-party maps, which renders the devices useless outside of the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

If you don't plan to venture outside of North America and Europe, a Magellan GPS might still serve your needs. From their RoadMate line of car navigators, the only product that comes with European maps is the RoadMate 5045-EU. If you decide on the RoadMate 3120-MU, be aware that it doesn't have a map of Canada. And the RoadMate 2035 is missing both Canada and Alaska. If you plan to download the European map, make sure to check that the unit you buy is listed under the compatible units for the download.

Canada as well as a solid network of connecting roads and large cities in Mexico. Additionally, you can buy a detailed map on the TomTom website for navigating the roadways of Europe. There are also available maps that cover large portions of Africa, South America, Oceania and the Middle East.

TomTom's Asian maps are surprisingly sparse, leaving out major countries such as India, China and Japan. TomTom doesn't allow you to add any third-party maps to your device, so if they don't have a map for the region you plan to visit, you might want to look into other brands.

If you want European maps, we'd advise looking into the GO 2535 TM World Traveler Edition or the XXL 540 WTE models. They both come preloaded with comprehensive maps of most European countries and partial maps of others.

One important distinction between TomTom and Garmin is the price difference between their maps. Although Garmin sells maps that cover more countries, their individual maps each cover fewer countries. For example, although both companies have similar map coverage in Africa, Garmin requires you to purchase two or three maps for the same coverage you get with one map from TomTom. This makes TomTom the more affordable choice if you need maps for multiple areas of the world.

the U.S., Canada and Mexico, and the Nuvi 2475LT is also preloaded with a detailed European map.

Compared to TomTom's map selection, Garmin covers more of Central and South America, more of Africa and the Middle East, and much more of Asia. Surprisingly both TomTom and Garmin have no maps of Japan, but Garmin has TomTom beat with coverage of India, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. You'll find you have to purchase individual maps for certain countries, but it's well worth buying a map of India or China if you plan to navigate the roads there.

Which GPS device is best for international travel?

The GPS device you should go for depends on where you plan to travel. If you're sticking to the US, Canada and Europe, then any of the three big brands work. But step outside of those areas, and right away Magellan is useless as its maps won't support you.

That leaves Garmin and TomTom, but which is better? TomTom is great for road mapping and does cover a lot of the countries you may visit. But if you're heading into lesser-known territories or off-grid, then Garmin is for you, as it has the most maps and also supports third-party maps.

Whichever option you decide to go for, be sure you've downloaded all the maps you need before you head off, so you're all set as you arrive in each country.