In the early days of consumer navigation aids, we had all those expensive dash mounted GPS devices from garmin and the likes.  They’re easy to spot and I also remember that they were generally shunned by my friends and anyone else who remembers the world before the internet.

We all knew that they almost always lived up to their reputation of leading you through buildings and routing you through “Unnamed Road for 5 miles.”

There’s probably no shortage of fun stories about how gps navigation has lead you astray.  I personally have had navigation direct my car full of people to drive over oceans, through Harry Potter-esque walls to neverland, and around infinite loops.  As my little brother Ben once exclaimed along our second trip through the toll roads leading up to Logan Airport: “I want off this ride.”

Fast forward to 2015, and I find myself strangely dependent on gps enabled Map apps on my phone.  Getting around town, etc… I’ve somehow stopped trusting my instincts and instead deferred it all to GPS… essentially letting the blind lead the blind.

And in the course of our RV Road Trip, currently about a month in with a month left to go, we’ve had GPS fail on us.  And it usually fails when you need it the most.

Better way of using GPS: Annotate a physical mapBetter way of using GPS: Annotate a physical map

The most common things that we’ve encountered were:

  1. GPS gets our location wrong and re-routes based on wrong location, screwing up the currently good location
  2. Navigation apps will calculate route based on navigation databases and least distance, disregarding the myriad of other factors (like road conditions, width of streets, unsafe merges, confusing splits, unmarked or illegible road signs, etc) which are just as important
  3. Navigation apps assume that all roads are marked and legible.  In our experience, a lot of times streets are poorly marked or even missing.
  4. Navigation apps make you think you have more time to get into the proper lane than you really do.  On maps, a turn requiring you to be in the far lane may look like it’s minutes away when in reality, it’s just seconds away.
  5. Navigation apps give you way too much of all information and not enough of the right information.  It’ll sometime list private driveways that will appear like the street you’re supposed to turn into or it’ll represent the world in a way that’s now what a driver actually sees on the road due to obstructions, etc.  So more often than not, you end up missing your turn.
  6. You lose your mobile data connection from whatever reason and now Maps is steering you blind.  These reasons include bad network coverage, weather conditions, and your network cutting you off because you’ve reached your data limit on your unlimited data plan.
  7. Your phone dies.  GPS and Maps consumes a lot of battery power.  A quick 15 minute trip can easily consume 15% of your battery.  When you’re in a pinch where using your navigation tool will drain it faster than you can get there, every little bit of juice counts and it causes all sorts of anxiety.

SO, with that in mind, a change in how we do things is in order.  And we’re lucky enough to have bought a road atlas to help us… interesting that 8 years later, we’ve come full circle – right back to a trusty spiral bound road atlas.

The new system is quite simple:

  1. When we have good wifi or data, stop and research our route.
  2. Pull up our Road Atlas (thanks, Rand McNally Road Atlas 2015)
  3. Annotate the Road Atlas using information from Maps

Pretty simple.  And if you think about it, it makes more sense.  Instead of throwing away something that worked for ages and replacing it with something completely new, we’re improving an existing tool (physical map) with a new tool (GPS and Map Apps).

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