RoadTrip, by Garmin

Posted: 15-Dec-2008

4 out of 5 Mice Vendor: Garmin Type: FREEWARE

Reviewer: John Gebhardt Class: UTILITY


Garmin RoadTrip is an application that allows you to transfer waypoints, tracks, and routes between your Mac and Garmin device and manage your data using your Garmin maps. RoadTrip provides the ability to search for points of interest from your Mac and then send the locations to your Garmin GPS. MapManager copies maps and unlock codes into the right place to be accessible by RoadTrip and MapInstall. These Garmin software products have been built specifically for OS X and are free and available at the Garmin website. For those of us that have been using Garmin products for a number years and lamented the fact that Garmin only supported the Windows interface, this new software is a welcome relief. The software works with most all of the newer Garmin products that USB interfaces. It does not work with older devices that have the Garmin serial interface, even with a USB adapter.


  • Intel-based or PowerPC G3 or later Mac
  • OS 10.4 or later
  • 512 MB RAM

Recommended Requirements

  • Intel-based Mac
  • OS 10.5 or later
  • 1 GB RAM

Test Machine(s)

  • Dual 2GHz G5 OS X 10.4.11, 1.5 GB RAM
  • PowerBook G4 1.67 GHz 10.5.x, 2 GB RAM


The set up process is typical for Mac Software. You download the application as a disk image (.dmg), click to mount it, then click on the installer package (.mpkg). A typical OS X installation window opens and you follow the normal steps for the install. This process applies to RoadTrip as well as the associated utilites, which must be downloaded separately. The other utilities that are needed include MapInstall whiach allows you to install maps on your Garmin GPS device and POI Loader which allows you to load custom points of interest (POI) into your unit. If you have Garmin maps in PC format, you will also need MapConverter for Windows to make the map information useable by RoadTrip. MacConverter is also a free download from Garmin.

In Use

If you have used Garmin's MapSource on the PC or virtual PC, the basic format and navigation of RoadTrip will be familiar. RoadTrip includes a Basemap (US Basemap v2) so it can be used even if you do not have any other Garmin map software. The Basemap includes all primary, most secondary, and many major streets, as well as some Points of Interest like major airports. Even though it is called a US Basemap, it also includes roads and airports in many other countries. In order to get very detailed street, marine or topographical information, you will need to purchase the desired Garmin mapping software for the specific area of interest. If you have a copy of MapSource or any other Garmin Maps for the PC, you can transfer them to your Mac using MapConverter, and then display and load them to your GPS device using RoadTrip and MapInstall. Take a look at the screenshots below of World View, Germany and SF Area for examples of the map images.

Garmin Map - World View example

Garmin Map - San Francisco Area example

Garmin Map - Germany example


The process of converting your maps is fairly direct, but does involve several steps. In my situation, I have always used the PC version of MapSource via VirtualPC running on a 1.67GHz PowerBook. This was the only Garmin Map product that I had to convert (and only for the POI information). This is a good thing, because the performance of VPC on the PowerBook is tedious at best. Those of you with Intel Macs or real PC's won't have this problem. The benefit of using VPC or one of the newer virtual machines for the Intel Macs is the ability to write the converted files directly to a location on your Mac's drive. If you use a real PC, you must write the converted files to some form of removable media or a shared drive that the Mac can access and read. Garmin does provide very good instructions for this process on their website.

Once you have converted mapping information, you can load it to RoadTrip for viewing or further download to your device.

The application works very well for it's intended purpose - creating routes for download to a portable Garmin GPS or importing and reviewing or saving tracks recorded with a Garmin GPS. If you are not familiar with GPS terminology, there are three primary "objects" that carry the GPS data. The Waypoint is the most basic object. It is typically a specific point established by its latitude and longitude and sometimes elevation. Waypoints can be associated in groups to form Routes and Tracks. A Track is essentially a string of waypoints recorded by the GPS as you travel from one location to another.

Garmin RoadTrip - Track example

Track information information contains a lot of information for each point that is recorded. This includes latitude, longitude, speed, elevation, time and direction. This information can be displayed by right-clicking (or Control-clickingg) the name of the track in the lower left title frame of the application window.

Garmin RoadTrip - Track Detail

An interesting feature is the ability to display an Elevation Profile of a track. Using the same right-click (or clicking on the icon at the bottom of the Track Properties window), RoadTrip will generate the elevation profile for the track. Different colors can be selected to be displayed for individual routes and tracks.

Garmin RoadTrip - Elevation Profile

A Route is typically a planned course or path that you create using an application like RoadTrip or using the "auto-routing" function on many GPS devices. RoadTrip supports the creation of routes using a click and drag type of interface. You click to create a waypoint and then drag the line to the next point an click again until you complete the desired route.

Garmin RoadTrip - Route example

Routes, Tracks and Waypoints can all be exported for use in other GPS applications.

In several of the example images, you can see a list of folders in the upper left frame of the application window. When you click on these folders, the content is displayed in the lower frame. You can create and name custom folders. You can also create "Smart Folders". The Smart Folders can be set to hold Routes, Tracks or Waypoints or to hold information added during a specified date range. This way your GPS information can be organized in ways that are similar to Albums and Events in iPhoto.

I have used RoadTrip for planning both on- and off-road (hiking) routes. The on-road planning is quite simple do the built-in base map. Because I don't have any Garmin topographical maps, I have created routes in various other applications and imported them to RoadTrip for upload to my GPS.


RoadTrip for Mac users is quantum leap over trying to use the old MapSource for the PC. The interface is very Mac-like and was apparently developed by experienced Mac developers rather than being a clunky port from the PC version. It does exactly what it is intended to do without a lot of extraneous bells and whistles. It works very well with the newer Garmin USB compatible hardware and transfers data at very good rates. It gives you the ability to store copies of your trips and download a variety of more detailed mapping information to your GPS. Although it only works with the newer USB Garmin devices, if you have one of the older Garmin devices with a serial connection, you can still use RoadTrip to create routes and review tracks if you use a utility like Hiketech's Link2GPS and GPSWrite for connecting your GPS and transferring the data. If you are an avid or even casual GPS user who wants to go beyond what can be done with portable devices alone (i.e., enter a destination address and say "take me there"), then I highly recommend that you try RoadTrip.


  • It's FREE!
  • Good Mac-like user interface
  • Performs well of a wide range of Mac hardware
  • Fast data transfer


  • Works only with newer, USB Garmin devices
  • Transfer of older, PC only maps is cumbersome

Overall Rating

4 out of 5 Mice