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For those of us who are “directionally challenged” (you couldn’t pay me to tell you which way is “north” at any given time), having a map available when we travel can be essential. But reading a map isn’t always easy – especially when you don’t know where you are! It’s a little like trying to look up a word you don’t know how to spell in the dictionary.

It’s situations like this when free GPS maps can come to the rescue. If you’re looking for a resource to help you get around more easily, a GPS map may be just what you need.

One of the biggest purveyors of GPS maps is, of course, Google. Through Google Maps you can access easy to read maps of pretty much any point in the world. While some of the directional information may be a bit limited in more remote areas, how often are you going to find yourself trying to navigate the outer reaches of Mongolia (although, if you need to, you’ll be please to know that Google’s service does provide information on the one road you could take –
for a ways).

Another option for free GPS maps is MapQuest. Here you can enter directions for a starting and ending point and receive detailed directions from point A to point B. Some find the directions a little TOO detailed (i.e., turn left out of your driveway and proceed 1400 ft. to the nearest road), but they are very usable.

Many of us, however, don’t have the time or organizational skills to figure out where we’re going before we leave the house. Going to a website on your home computer and printing out directions seems so, well, 20th century. That’s where free GPS maps that you can download to your portable device can come in handy.

If you’re lucky enough to have a GPS device, such as a Garmin Nuvi or a Magellan Roadmate, you can download free GPS maps and software through your computer and straight on to the device. The Maps GPS Info site provides an up-to-date listing of 97 different sites that offer free GPS maps software.

You also may have a GPS compatible phone or PDA, such as the new iPhone, the Helio drift or the HP Smartphone, which, when combined with free GPS map software and downloads, can help you access maps and information about local sites and businesses while on the road.

Unfortunately, like many things that are “free” these programs come with some caveats. Often, some of the best features of the software are disabled in the free version, or it may be free for only a limited time. If you’re really in need of quality mapping information and resources, at some point it may be time to abandon the “free” options, and look at some of the low-cost paid versions of GPS software. Ranging from $40 to around $200, you can likely find one program that will meet your needs.

For those just beginning to explore the world of free GPS maps, though, there’s no need to start shelling out the cash. In fact, with the options noted above you can use your computer to explore planet earth, for free!

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