Image Gallery: Essential Gadgets
Image Gallery: Essential Gadgets

It's a good idea to plan your road trip out on paper before you upload it to your GPS. See pictures of essential gadgets.

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For many drivers, using a GPS to point the way to a new destination has become a matter of course. Even if your car isn't equipped, you can always pull out your smartphone and figure out the basic idea -- even when you're not in the most highly blanketed WiFi areas. A GPS device, since it uses satellite technology, can often be more helpful and reliable than phone service, and in any case, it's designed specifically for this use.

Or at least, that's the hope! If you're familiar with the little guys at all, you know that things can sometimes get awfully complicated, even when you're in your hometown. Once you imagine getting into an obnoxious GPS situation on a road trip, it can be a little intimidating.

There are tons of software applications available for planning out a road trip and programming it into your GPS, all of them with specific advantages and drawbacks, and all of them depending on what model GPS you have.

Many systems now give you the capability of programming the trip directly into the device itself, plotting different legs of your journey as separate, linked trips. With a Mac or a PC, you can use RoadTrip or BaseCamp before setting out, depending on what kind of GPS you use (so make sure your equipment is compatible before buying anything).

But that's only part of the story, because you're also going to be improvising and changing your priorities as you go. Part of being flexible means being able to change plans on the fly, and it's essential that you remain flexible, or you'll find yourself sternly forcing your family through what was intended to be a fun, relaxing time together.

If you're not comfortable with disobeying the GPS on the road -- and it can be scary, especially at night, to even think about that -- you could find yourself in over your head when it doesn't do the right thing.

While the technological aspects of the question depend on those specific details, and the final options you use will depend on your needs and budget, there's another important question that we sometimes forget to ask, because we're so used to relying on our GPS devices closer to home:

Just because you can use a GPS to plan your road trip, does that mean you should?