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International: GPS vs iPhone with T-Mobile (Free International Data)

Wife and I will be driving from Alaska to Southern tip of Argentina. We are considering purchase of a GPS as they are generally easier to work with...and don't take any data, which can be costly for international trips.

However, my wife is using an iPhone with T-Mobile, and they offer free international data with her plan.

The trip will be 1.5 - 2 years as we explore each country.

With GPS, a 1.5 yr trip could mean the maps are out of date quickly...and I'd have to download a new map for each region we enter. With phone, no downloads necessary...unless we do the offline maps (we were planning on using Google Maps...haven't checked on how to do offline maps yet)

What's the advantage of a GPS over iPhone with free international data?


  • sussamb 959 Points
    If you have free data with your iPhone that's probably the easiest route for you, but you'd need to ensure you download maps for areas where there wouldn't be cell coverage.
  • Boyd 2044 Points
    Have a look at the TomTom GO mobile app for your iPhone:

    You can download maps of the whole world for free, and they are installed on your phone just the same as they would be on a dedicated GPS. They let you drive 50 miles for free to test it, then IIRC it costs $20/year fo fully unlock it. That's a lot cheaper than buying a GPS and it's one less thing to bring on your trip.

    Personally, I use the Garmin StreetPilot app which makes your iPhone like a Nuvi GPS. It only provides maps of North America however and it's rather expensive when you add the in-app purchases. But again, the maps are stored permanently on your phone so the is no cell service required.

    There's also the HERE WeGo app that will store the map on your phone and is inexpensive. Have not spent much time with that one, but HERE is the company that provides maps for Garmin.
  • alanb 557 Points
    edited January 2018
    If I was planning such a trip, I would probably want to have both my phone navigation AND a Garmin automotive GPS (nuvi or Drive series) with North America maps and South America maps. On this long of a trip it would be good to have a little redundancy as a backup. And as sussamb said, there will certainly be areas without cell service. With the Garmin maps there are some coverage gaps (check the coverage maps on Garmin's web site for NA and SA maps). You may be able to find additional maps to download to cover these missing areas.

    I personally wouldn't worry too much about the Garmin maps getting out of date in two years. There are bound to be some map errors due to new construction, road closures, etc and you will have to deal with that as you go. If you are in an area with good Internet access, you could consider doing a map update a time or two as the maps age.

    Note that Garmin does market a few Drive series models designated as "World Traveveller Edition". These models include download/update subscriptions for most of the world maps. Unfortunately, I don't think these are available for sale in North America, but maybe you would be able to order one from a European seller.

  • Boyd 2044 Points
    I always carry one of my older dedicated GPS units in my car as a backup. For a trip that long, I'd probably want several layers of backup. :)

    But this is another advantage of using phones, the apps you puchase can be used on all your devices, and you can also add others using the family sharing feature. So, for example, if your wife's phone is the main navigation device, also bring your own iPhone and install the same apps. Most apps allow you to sync data between devices with iCloud as well.

    To save money, your phone wouldn't need any cell service or data plan, but it could still use the apps I mentioned because the maps are stored directly on the device. And if your wife's phone was broken or lost you could just activate your phone and restore it with iCloud to be exactly like hers was.

    So, I bring an old GPS unit along since I already HAVE one. If I didn't have one and was going a such a big trip, I'd get a backup phone. It could be an older or less expensive model, as long as it has sufficient internal memory for your apps and supports the required version of iOS.
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