Using a GPS on the road to its full potential (TomTom, Garmin, Magellan, Nuvi)


I work in California, and live in Tennessee, therefore, I am not familiar with the area. Second, I travel as much as I can. Lengthy trips on weekends when I can. So, I am collecting Points of Interest (POIs). Now, how can I use that data to me best advantage?

I use Microsoft Streets & Trips (MS S&T) to plan my routes. So, I download, from Sites like POI Factory, all the POIs I feel are relevant to my interests. From now on, I will be speaking about how to do this with a TomTom and MS S&T. But, what I say should translate favorably to owners of other GPSs.

The TomTom acts like a hard drive when connected to a computer. If I have files in the right format, I can copy them to the TomTom and access them from the TomTom.

I upload these POIs, by Category, to United_States-Map directory. TomTom limits the number of Favorites, but not the number of POIs or Categories. For Example, let’s call Baskin Robbins a Category, and all their Locations would be POIs. I do not advise dumping them all into one Master Category for reasons you will read later.

To upload these, and be able to see them later, the Category with the POIs in it, need to be in the right format. Name it anything you like (that is not already in the United_States-Map directory), but it must be in Longitude, Latitude, Name format. TomTom likes Degrees (as opposed to Degrees, Minutes or Degrees, Minutes, Seconds or UTM format). Second, it needs a BMP, that is 22x22 pixels with the same name as the Category (like Baskin Robbins.bmp and Baskin Robbins.OV2).

How do you get these? For the Category file, you download something of interest from POI Factory or other source. Download GPSBabelGUI from’s website (do a search for GSPBabalGUI). It comes zipped with other files, but the only one you need is GPSBabelGUI.exe. It will not install. You Click on it, and then answer Run. I save it to my Desktop for easy access. I also made a donation via PayPal, and suggest you do the same, as you will find this tool invaluable. Next, you enter the file type into the first line on GSPBabelGUI, and point to the file on the second line. On the Third, you tell it what kind of file output you want, and what you want to name this file on the last line. In the case of POIs TomTom users want a TomTom OV2. Then hit Lets Go. It will create the file you named in the directory you named.

Then, go into Microsoft Paint (under Accessories), and select Image, Attributes, type 22 x 22 and select Pixels and OK. The screen will have a small box in the upper corner, into which, you can put a Text Box with initials representing your Category, or copy and paste (and shrink) something. Then save it as a BMP (Save As). Might be good to save it in the same directory as the OV2.

Copy both these files into the United_States-Map directory on your TomTom. On the Menu you can have the TomTom beep when it passes one of these POIs (by Category). So you could select Gas Stations, Hotels, and Dairy Queen (getting the idea I like ice cream?). As you follow your route, it will signal you when you get close to one of these places. I think you can figure out the value of this. If you use yours on a motorcycle like I do, Gas Stations are scarce in some places and with a 4 gallon tank, I need to know where they are.

Now, how about Routes? Be sure you downloaded 1.3.5 of GPSBabalGUI, earlier versions reversed the way TomTom wants to see Lat/Lon (which is Lon/Lat to the TomTom). Also, remember that Longitude in our part of the world, is a negative number. Back to Routes. I use MS S&T to plan my routes because it is much easier than Google or TomTom, and I am sure easier than Magellan and Garmin, due to their small screens. So how do we plan our routes in MS S&T and get them into our GPSs? I like to use Push Pins, because I can name them something I understand, rather than using what comes up it I just click the map. The other reason is, I can name them 01 blah blah, 02 blah blah. That comes in handy when they are imported into the TomTom, in case it thinks I want to go a different way than I really do. I can use the numbers to remind me which waypoint is first, second and third, incase TomTom routes me 01-03-02. I can fix it in the TomTom. One comment, TomTom uses Tele-Atlas as its base map and MS S&T uses MapTeq (or something like that). Anyhow, they are different. And, their route engines are different. So, sometimes more (waypoints) is better than less.

So, we have created a route in MS S&T (you missed that??). And we are ready to upload it into the TomTom. Here, we only need the one file (ITN) not two like Categories. We fire up our trusty GPSBabelGUI and tell it we have a MS S&T File (now, there are three selections, the first two work, the third doesn’t, and, I have not tested newer versions of MS S&T. You may have to go to Amazon or E-bay and get the 2002 version). On the second line, point it to the file (est). On the Third and forth likes tell it we want a TomTom ITN file (or Garmin or Magellan), and name it something. Hit Lets Go, and it creates the file for us. You can open it in Notepad and see that the format is |longitude|latitude|Name|#|. An example is:

|-118.12345|33.12345|Cold Stone Creamery|0|

The zero tells the TomTom whether it is a start/end/waypoint. GPSBabelGUI will make a file with all zeros. Zeros are waypoints. I think, 3 and 4 are Starts and Ends, but I don’t know. The TomTom will say the “Destination is a Waypoint, Change it to a Destination?”, Say Yes, and you are ready to go. Copy this file into the ITN directory on the TomTom.

On the TomTom, go to Itinerary Planning, Options, Load Itinerary and pick it off the list. If it says Navigate there now, say no, or if you say yes, you can pick your HOME as a starting point, if you like. You should review the order of the waypoints, on screen, which is tricky finding them, to be sure it is in the right order. Select a waypoint and press the up/down arrows on the right.

Now, with the Categories set to buzz you when you get near one, and the route in the TomTom, you are ready to go exploring.

For you terminal hackers, there is a program on the web that will add a menu item called reverse the itinerary, or something like that. I have downloaded it and it works. Follow the directions that come with it. It will copy the ITN to “Copy of blah blah reversed” or something like that.