GPS receivers are great for avoiding unscheduled detours on the road. But they can be even more helpful for planning a trip, whether it's a cross-country trek or a hopscotch tour of your routine Saturday stops. You can cut your travel time, and save money on gas, by creating custom waypoints for your GPS.
A waypoint - sometimes called simply a "mark" or "landmark" - identifies your home, a hiking trailhead, a highway rest stop, or any location you store in a GPS receiver. The waypoint might appear as an icon on a map page, but your GPS software can maintain much more information about it, such as its latitude, longitude, and elevation, and the time and date when it was created. You can even use a descriptive icon of your choice.
Most receivers let you enter a waypoint from a previously saved coordinate record or import one from a collection of waypoints, many of which you can download from Web sites offering GPS information . Each GPS receiver uses different steps to establish waypoints, so consult your manual for the details. If your GPS device lacks a 'waypoint' option, don't fret. Some units save waypoints as 'Recent Finds' or 'favorites.'
Most GPS systems have a button or menu selection for setting the current location as a waypoint so it's easier to return to. You can give the spot a descriptive name, and you can choose an icon for it on the waypoint information page, which usually pops up after you mark a location. (On some receivers, to open the waypoint information window, you must manually select the waypoint that you just created.) Even on GPS-enabled BlackBerries and other devices that do not use icons, you can give each point a unique name, such as 'Parking lot.'
Setting a waypoint for a known locale - whether it be the cursor point on a map, latitude and longitude coordinates, or even a locale previously saved as a waypoint and imported from another GPS receiver - takes a few more steps. Most current devices let you designate a waypoint by opening their Create Waypoint menu and selecting Create From Current Pos (or Position - the exact name varies). To enter precise latitude-longitude coordinates, select Create From Entered Pos (or Position). Then enter the numbers manually; latitude -33.815 and longitude 151.185, for example, sets the street address of St Leonards Railway Station next to PC World's offices in Sydney.
On the road again
Most GPS devices can store from 100 to over 1000 waypoints. Before you set out on a motor trip or hiking expedition, it's helpful to create waypoints for your starting point and for points of interest along the way (they're a big improvement over Hansel and Gretel's breadcrumbs).
Say you are exploring Royal National Park by car and foot and you have set waypoints for a car park at the start of the fire trail. As you wander along a twisting dirt trail, you realise that you aren't exactly on the trail anymore; you're lost. Fortunately, you can use your GPS device to call up a waypoint that will identify the distance between your current position and the parking lot. You won't have street maps, but you can use the compass and the directional arrows to set yourself on the right path back to the trail, your car, or the village. As you get closer to the waypoint, its icon will appear larger on your GPS screen.
When using street maps, most GPS receivers let you track and save your route as you move. By using PC mapping programs in advance of a trip, you can prebuild routes that will automatically create a trip log. You can even preset waypoints along the route, and import the fully routed trips to your GPS device.