As chief navigator for our RVing lifestyle, my biggest worry is accidentally leading us down a narrow dead-end road with no way out but a long, slow, backward creep. Most RVers will admit to living out this scary scenario, just as my husband and I have done on two stressful occasions. Looking back, I’ve often wondered if a GPS unit could have saved us from those dreadful RVing encounters, but I’ve never bought a unit because 1) I’m cheap, and 2) I’m afraid of driving my vehicle into the ocean because the GPS said that’s where the road was supposed to be.
Our navigation tools of choice have always been paper maps and a smartphone, but recently I had the chance to test Magellan’s newest RV-friendly GPS, the RoadMate RV9490T-LMB. I’ve always heard these RV-centric GPS units are helpful because they provide critical itinerary information about low bridges, weight limits and such, so I thought it would be worth a try. A few months ago I took Magellan up on its offer for a free test unit and looked forward to seeing how it would benefit a novice GPS user like me.
Magellan’s RoadMate RV9490T-LMB is a sleek little tablet-style device with a 7-inch crystal-clear screen that weighs practically nothing but packs a wealth of helpful information. Once you program details about your RV’s class, size, weight and length, it remembers these facts when choosing a tailored route that’s free of hazardous situations like dead-end streets, low bridges and steep grades.
Particularly useful for RVers are the interface’s “content squares” featuring destination tips to inform you about things like:
•?Nearby fuel stations and their prices
•?Road construction zones and traffic delays
•?Speed limit and red light camera alerts
•?Weather activity and forecasts
The GPS also serves as a campground atlas and city guide that identifies RV traveler resources like dump stations, rest areas, local points of interest, Good Sam approved RV parks, restaurants and even nearby Walmart locations for those occasional blacktop boondocking nights. There’s also an integrated browser and hands-free phone integration that gives you instant tools for on-the-fly trip planning (connecting to a Wi-Fi network is required to use many of these functions). As an unexpected bonus, I was happy to learn that owners of this device get free lifetime map updates.
Last November the RoadMate and I built a close friendship during my family’s annual snowbird migration from Colorado to Texas and finally Southern California. Learning how to use the device was trial by fire, but within the first 50 miles of heading south for the winter I started to enjoy having it along for the ride. We were taking an all-new route, which was giving the unit a real workout through urban and rural driving conditions.
Poking around the RoadMate’s multiple layers of features revealed an exciting assortment of trip planning options and map screens available to me, but to be honest, at times I became frustrated with the learning curve required to use these features to their full advantage. My full-timing friends who’ve used GPS technology for years don’t have this complaint about their units, so I’m guessing my frustration is simply because I’ve gotten used to charting our destinations the Google way. I wish the trip-planning interface was as intuitive as Google Maps, but like any unfamiliar technology, I realize that the longer you play with it, the better you know how to use it to your advantage. Eventually I know I’ll get to this point.
As the miles rolled on, I found that the RoadMate came in handy for helping us find gas stations and campgrounds. I also appreciated how it indicated the best freeway driving lanes for RVs, a feature that’s a real lifesaver while driving into the massive concrete maze of urban freeways. While driving on side streets, the “Landmark Guidance” features helped us many times with a female voice that vocalizes street names and includes obvious landmarks in driving instructions (i.e. “in 300 feet, make a left turn at Shell station”). Our new “passenger” does her best to be helpful, but it took us some time to train our ears for her directions.
By the time we arrived in California, my GPS experience got me thinking about the best and worst ways that technology has become part of most people’s RVing experience. On the one hand, having a device like the RoadMate is a surefire way to help you avoid or get out of bad situations, like running out of fuel on a lonely stretch of highway (I wish we’d had this gizmo when we ran out near Green River, Utah, at 6 p.m. on a Sunday!). But on the other hand, we can surrender so completely to the device (or any technology for that matter) that we miss out on essential road-trip experiences, like spontaneous turns with unexpected surprises around the next bend. A GPS can sanitize your road trip experience to the point of only showing you the most RV-friendly routes and four-star campgrounds, which usually means traveling on a generic Interstate highway and staying in franchised RV parks. What I concluded was that the ultimate price that GPS-dependent travelers sometimes pay for this technology is missing out on the true character of our great country that’s only found along back roads and byways.
In the end, my Magellan test run proved to me yet again that technology is only as helpful or detrimental as you allow it to be. As modern vagabonds we must walk a fine line between using new gadgets to enhance our experience, while having the courage to put the device down, go exploring and let some spontaneity seep into our adventures. But should that second approach create too much stress when you’re towing a rig through ugly driving conditions, I say to heck with adventure; let the RoadMate get you there as stress free as possible so you have more time to kick back and enjoy the RVing lifestyle.
Rene Agredano is a full-time RVer who works from the road as a writer, jewelry designer and advocate for special needs animals. Follow her full-timing travels at LiveWorkDream.com and her blog, “The Full-Timing Nomad” at rvlife.com.