I’m going to explain why I did something I never thought I would do again: buy a Garmin GPS unit for use in my car.

Back in the day before we had navigation apps in smartphones it was a lifesaver having a standalone GPS unit. The first one I ever had was unbelievably clunky by today’s standards but when going from only having paper maps it was a huge improvement. As the years went by the units started getting better and better. When navigation apps on smartphones came on to the scene many people understandably started migrating to using those instead. Once I got a car with Apple CarPlay I thought that would permanently be the end of GPS units in the car for me. After trying to adjust for several years I’ve realized that’s not the case. It’s almost 2022 I just bought a standalone Garmin GPS unit for my car again.

I’m sorry, what?

Look, when I’m driving around town Apple Maps is great. I just put in my destination and head there. I love the natural language instructions (“go past this light and turn left at the next light”) and it serves my needs just fine. When I’m visiting another city Apple Maps is just great. I can scroll through my favorites that I’ve saved for that city, pick one, and navigate to it. It’s when I want to take an hours long road trip that I’ve taken several times before that everything starts to fall apart.

I want to absolutely stress that I am NOT singling out Apple Maps here for criticism. Google Maps and Waze don’t fit my needs either. I mention Apple Maps a lot in this post because I use it constantly when I’m doing my day to day driving.

So what’s the problem?

If you’ve taken a road trip in the USA you know that some pit stops can be absolutely horrific. My “favorite” (at a very well known chain) was the dirty bathroom that not only didn’t have soap, but the soap dispensers had actually been forcibly ripped from the walls. Fun! Some chains are consistently great and I’ll go to them without question if I’m near one. But some chains are wildly inconsistent. Some of their locations can be pretty good and some are in the “never again” category. What do I do when I find a good one? I save it to my list of favorites.

Our interstate system has road signs that will show you what gas stations, hotels, etc are coming up at the next exit. But there’s a huge catch. Sometime’s you’ll stop at an exit and the place you’re looking for will be right near the exit. You can be back on the road in no time. But other times the place you want can be miles down the road from the exit, with multiple stop lights to add insult to injury. You can waste a painful amount of time with one of these stops. What do I do when I find a nice place located near an exit? I save it to my list of favorites.

So when I’m driving on a trip I’ve taken many times before and think “Hey, I’d like to make a pit stop” I want quick access to my list of favorites near this route to navigate to. This is just not a thing that today’s top navigation apps let you do easily and safely while driving.

Wait, can’t you already search on your route?

I already know what you’re thinking. “Can’t you already search for something up ahead on your route with smartphone apps?” With Apple Maps and Google Maps while you are already navigating you cannot see or search your favorites. You can only see or search general categories. That doesn’t handle most of these scenarios:

  • Inconsistency - Is this a good or bad version of a chain? I have no idea. I don’t memorize the locations of all the breaks I’ve made on previous road trips. They all start to blur together because they can be so similar.
  • Multiple Categories of Stops - I learned long ago that stopping at other things besides gas stations can be way better. Restaurants such as Cracker Barrel are right by the interstate usually and have clean restrooms. Grocery stores are also usually nice and you can pick up a wider selection of snacks. I don’t shop at Walmart but some of them are open really late and also have clean restrooms. So potentially I could be searching through three or four different categories trying to find a stop. This is not realistic/safe while I’m driving.
  • Distance - Is this candidate close or far from the exit? I have no idea. I don’t want to be doing mileage calculation while I’m driving. I want to be looking at a navigation screen as little as possible and thinking about something other than driving for as little time as possible. To their credit both Google Maps and Waze will show how much time stopping at each potential choice will add to the trip.

Waze does let you access your saved favorites while navigating but it’s far from ideal and not useable (to me).

Here’s how the big players handle finding a pit stop while you are navigating as of November 2021. The CarPlay interface might be a little difference because I’m listing how the iOS interface works. Believe me when I tell you the CarPlay interface for these apps doesn’t meet my needs either.

Apple Maps

  1. Touch the up arrow at the bottom of the screen.
  2. Touch “Add a Stop”. There doesn’t seem to be a way to do this via Siri. When I said “Hey Siri, Add a Stop.” it thought I wanted to stop navigating.
  3. There’s no access to saved favorites. I can pick categories such as gas stations, convenience, etc. No choice for grocery stores.
  4. Addresses aren’t shown for each candidate.
  5. No indication of how much time will be added for each candidate.

Google Maps

  1. There’s a magnifying glass button that takes you directly to search or a button to activate Google Assistant.
  2. There’s no button to access to saved favorites. I tried saying “Saved places, saved, and favorites” to Google Assistant but those don’t work either.
  3. From search I can pick categories such as gas stations, restaurants, etc. and they do offer grocery stores as a category.
  4. Addresses aren’t shown for each candidate.
  5. The estimated time each candidate will add to the trip is shown.

So basically I would have to do a bunch of searching through stops in multiple categories while crossing my fingers that I’ll pick a good one. All of this would be done while I’m driving, which just does not seem safe at all. It’s just so frustrating when I’ve got a list of favorites available that would negate the need to do this but is not accessible.


Waze is the only one that let me access my saved places while navigating.

  1. There’s a button to activate Google Assistant but it won’t let you pull up your saved places.
  2. Touch the bottom of the screen. Scroll up until you see a magnifying glass and touch it.
  3. Touch ‘Saved places’. While this does bring up my saved places there is no order whatsoever to the list. The top entry in my list is 49 miles away, while the fifth entry is 4.8 miles away. If I had to guess I would say that the order is based on the date the saved favorite was actually added, which is completely useless in determining whether a potential stop is near/far or ahead/behind me. While the address is shown the distance away is not.
  4. From search I can pick categories such as gas stations, restaurants, etc. They do offer grocery stores as a category if you touch the three dots to go to a submenu.
  5. Addresses are shown for each candidate.
  6. The estimated time each candidate will add to the trip is shown.

So I do have access to my favorites, but not in a useable way.

So how does a Garmin GPS unit do it?

This screen on my new Garmin DriveSmart 65 is what I’ve been desperately missing for years. It shows a simple list of my favorites (which shows each address) sorted by distance from my current location. The arrow under the distance points towards the favorite and it instantly tells me if I’ve already passed it or if it is ahead me. Also, if the distance is going down I’m obviously getting closer to it.

My list of favorites.

Even better, you can use voice commands. My unit from over five years ago could also do this. So here’s how I used to handle wanting to stop for a break while I was driving on a trip.

  1. With my eyes still on the road I can say “Hey Garmin. Saved favorites. View list.”
  2. Do a quick glance at the nearby ones which are numbered and sorted by distance. Let’s say I’m interested in the third one. I would say “three”.
  3. It’s going to ask for confirmation. Say “Yes. Add stop.”
  4. The end. Now I’m navigating to a pit stop that I already know is good. I can do this rapidly while barely taking my eyes off of the road.

It completely astounds me that a smart favorites list like the one Garmin provides while navigating isn’t available in the top smartphone navigation apps. If Garmin has a patent on it then that’s completely understandable. Otherwise this is a huge omission (to me) and something that I would hope that the top navigation apps would consider adding in the future. Waze is SO CLOSE to having what I want but its current implementation of saved places isn’t usable for me. I think the problem stems from the fact that with the top smartphone navigation apps favorites are treated as a list of final destinations. However, for people like me favorites are both final destinations AND stops along the way.

I waited for years for things to get better but I realized I miss how I used to travel too much. Maybe one day I’ll be able to get this functionality by traveling with just my phone but until then I’m back to having a Garmin unit guide me when I need to take a familiar road trip. Hey Garmin, what’s a good pit stop?