By on July 28, 2020

2017 BMW X5 xDrive35i iDrive Navigation, Image: © 2017 Jeff Wilson

Listen, we don’t want to hear about that summer after high school… unless it involved a road trip requiring precise and detailed navigation!

That’s right, today we’re talking about finding one’s way through life in the most literal sense. Charting a course. These days, reaching your destination usually involves a pre-programmed route, satellite linkup, and a detached female voice ordering your every move, barking commands at every turn.

Do any of you still hang on to the old ways?

We’re not talking about a sextant and compass, though the latter can really come in handy if you’re out in the middle of nowhere and have a general idea of where civilization lies.

We’re talking about maps. As a kid, and continuing to this day, I loved maps. Topographical ones, ordinary ones, atlases, online satellite views, you name it. I’m mad about maps, but most new drivers only see such a thing when it’s displayed on their car’s infotainment screen. Maybe a portable GPS unit entered their older car’s equipment roster soon after purchase. They make pretty good companions, assuming they’re on the ball. Perhaps your phone is all you need, plus an Uber-style mount.

Whatever the aid, it makes that old stack of real, honest-to-goodness paper maps an antiquated thing of the past — useful only for campfire kindling after you break down (or “run out of gas”) far, far away from the bright lights of the big city. Many of us still possess such a stack. But how much use do these non-digital pieces of pressed wood pulp get?

If you were heading out on a typical road trip to a somewhat unfamiliar destination, would they even come along with you?

For that matter, does your glove box even contain a map? And if it does, does it ever see the light of day?

We want to know. Has your map life gone wholly digital?

[Image: Jeff Wilson/TTAC]

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39 Comments on “QOTD: Trouble Finding Yourself?...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Oh, hell no. When I was a kid I could spend hours pouring over maps and atlases, I just had a thing for them. Now, between my phone, car GPS and google I haven’t looked at a paper map in 10 years. What for?

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Same here..I’ve got my iPhone with at least four apps which could be used for navigation, plus the built-in Garmin-based system in the car. So I’ll use that, and cross-check against the phone.

      I could print out Google stuff, same as the Maps, too.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      In my part of the great white north, any time I wander off the main highways I quickly get outside of cell tower range. I can store some maps on my phone so the GPS will give me a location but the map sometimes does not store in a format that allows me fine enough detail. I’ll print off a map to bring. Occasionally i’ll bring one of my old school maps with me.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Probably a good idea. Fortunately I usually wouldn’t stray too far from an Interstate Highway here in the US, which has decent coverage along most of the system anyplace east of the Mississippi River. I’m not sure about coverage in the mountain West and the Southwest, and where coverage drops off east of the major cities on the West Coast. It may also get a little spotty in parts of the Upper Midwest and away from the major cities in the Great Plains.

  • avatar
    bullnuke

    Rand-McNally Road Atlas. I still have a couple lying around for cross-country trips. I should get a new one as they are around 20-years old. A better “big picture” of the lay of the land than that on a much smaller digital screen. Rand-McNally probably won’t lead me to a dead-end logging road in the mountains on a snowy winter night with a dwindling fuel supply…

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      If you’re driving cross-country, buy the latest one. I’ve driven from west coast to east coast and vice versa over a dozen times, and all I used was the Rand-McNally. Well, I had a little booklet listing cheap motels, but I’ve actually stayed in the same places 2-3 times.

      There’s one caveat. The interstate signing is great, but I took a cab to an aiport, and the driver was using an electronic voice setup. I thought he was going to the wrong one of three terminals, but he got me to the right one – the airport road signs were wrong! Once you get off the interstates, beware of local signs.

  • avatar
    ScarecrowRepair

    Used to have all the Thomas guides my door pockets could handle. Recently cleaned out some old desk drawers and found 30 year old maps which were my reserve for road trips because I had too many maps to get them all in the door pockets at once.

    I miss them …. not much. That old desk also had a bunch of old backpacking brochures, which I guess is how I bought things pre-internet. Bibler tents from Colorado, illegal in California. I cannot tell you now how I researched such things — magazine, store clerks, I suppose; but I do not remember. Now it’s google search and amazon, and I have zero interest in going back to whatever antedeluvian methods I used then.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I can do.maps because it was one of those things the Light Infantry drilled into you, but I’d rather have the little voice telling me which way to turn any day of the week. Sometimes progress is good.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      If the “little voice” starts coming from inside your head you might want to get get that checked :)

      • 0 avatar
        Old_WRX

        @Lie2me,

        FYI: schizophrenics hear voices coming from outside; DID (dissociative identity disorder — formerly, multiple personality disorder) hear voices from inside.

        I usually use my primitive desktop computer and the internet to find my destination and then print it out in glorious (slightly) darker grey on (slightly) lighter grey. I wonder how many people have died trying to read one of these internet map printouts while driving.

        Old paper maps, world atlases and regional road atlases were fun, though.

        • 0 avatar
          tankinbeans

          In days of yore I would search up my destination and then write down the turn by turn on a sticky note. The sticky note would then go smack dab in the middle of the steering wheel or on the dash. It…usually… worked fairly well. Now, I have an Australian lady directing me, though I wish she’d cut in a little less frequently. #firstworldproblems

          I honestly don’t even know where I would find a map or atlas.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    When our family took a cross-country camping trip in 2010, we brought maps as backup to the GPS. Sure enough, the GPS led us astray a couple times, and the paper maps were invaluable. On this trip we were pressing to reach a specific reserved campground by nightfall every single day, so missing it wasn’t really an option.

    Today’s GPS’ are certainly better, but for a very long journey in unfamiliar territory I’d still bring a paper backup. Good paper maps also give contextual perspective and nearby areas of interest, better than pressing a button titled ‘nearby destinations’.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    How many times did you almost hit something while trying to read a map? Happened to me quite a few times.

    I don’t miss paper maps one bit. Sometimes tech really is for the better.

    • 0 avatar
      Old_WRX

      @FreedMike,

      Never crashed reading a map, but did do somewhat more than a 180. I was looking at a map on a narrow back road, going too fast (of course), and looked up just in time for a sharp corner; miraculously I stayed on the road — no damage at all just squealing tires and pictures of my new car wrecked in my head.

  • avatar
    Rnaboz

    Still use maps. Always consult them before heading off to new locations. Currently have my state map in both cars. I get a new atlas every 2 years, but they are not as user friendly as in the past. Helped us out 3 years ago when a storm closed the highway between West Virginia and Kentucky. GPS just told us to make a legal U-turn.

  • avatar
    MQHokie

    No paper maps, but given the time I will often choose my own route rather than relying on the GPS. If you carry a tablet with you it’s simple to download a local area so the maps are available without a data connection, so it’s easy to use the tablet as you would a paper map. Of course this is possible with a phone also, but much easier to read a map on a 10+ inch screen.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    We use maps at every national park we have visited which is numbering 32 from when we started a few years ago. For getting there we generally use a GPS unit.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    When all you have a house number and a misspelled street, too new or other fail, nothing beats a paper map for backup.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    I drove for a courier service as an independent contractor for a few years starting around 2005. Much like Uber and Lyft, the company supplied the work, you supplied everything else. I initally tried using an atlas/paper maps to find my way, but that was tedious and sometimes dangerous (asking for directions in an ugly part of town for example).

    I found a refurbished Garmin Colormap on Ebay for either $800 instead of the $1200 it cost new because in-car GPS was still quite new. It was about as big as a clock radio and just sat on the dash. As long as you kept it updated, it would get you where you needed 90% of the time and close to your destination 95% of the time.

    Rural areas and fast growing areas with lots of new development were an issue and of course, wrong info programmed into the maps. But that little box saved me a lot of time and made me some money because I was one of the few drivers that could get anywhere reliably quick and dispatch loved me.

    In my career as a pilot, I’ve seen the transition from only ground-based navigation to GPS. The small airline I fly for only made the transition to iPads for charts and manuals in the past two years. I never, ever want to go back to paper charts and maps, land or air.

    Yes, the nostalgic part of me misses the paper a bit. The part of me that had to spend 30 minutes to an hour every time there was a revision updating paper charts doesn’t. As long as there’s WiFi, I press update and in 2 minutes it’s done. If I need to look something up, keyword search or whatever finds it way faster than I could, even with my manuals and charts tabbed for quick access.

    Now my debate is whether to keep my tiny Garmin that sticks to the windshield or bin it because of phones/Apple Car Play. The Garmin is 10 years old at least and the battery pretty much useless. But phone based nav isn’t great where you don’t have a good signal. First world problems.

    • 0 avatar
      Greg Hamilton

      gear,

      When flying do you have to have backup charts, or do you have to have a backup iPad in case the iPad crashes or battery dies? Or do you not need a backup?

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Great question!

        I’m not a pilot, but know just enough about enough facets of it to be dangerous, and I could swear I’ve seen the answer to this, but I’ll let the actual holder of a ticket answer the question! (Wanted to go for a PPL a few years back, but I’m on two medications that would disqualify me from an initial 3rd-class medical certificate required by the FAA to start training.)

      • 0 avatar
        gearhead77

        Our iPad is to be charged to at least 90% before we duty on, which is a company rule, but I imagine others are similar.

        We the first officer( aka copilot) and I also have backup batteries. Nothing special, ours are Ankers that you can find online but they were approved by the FAA for our use. We aren’t allowed to use other kinds.. Most airlines use iPads, some use other tablets and most of us use the same software.

        Both of us losing an iPad or having them both fail is very remote. I’ve yet to have a single problem in two years of flying with them. We don’t carry paper charts at all anymore. Usually the important info can be found in the FMS or flight management system. In dire need, air traffic control can give you whatever information you need over the radio. All that fails and you’re just having a really awful day…

        • 0 avatar
          Greg Hamilton

          Gear,
          Thanks for the response. I haven’t flown since our daughter was born and was wondering how things have changed. I must admit I was lost once and ATC (Air Traffic Control) helped me on my way. (This was before widespread use of GPS.)

  • avatar
    MKizzy

    Although I rely on Google Maps these days, I have an old atlas I use to highlight the roads I’ve taken during road trips for prosperity. I would still bring the atlas with me on road trips in case I lose my way and my phone.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    I thought you meant use your own senses to pick your way, not cheating with a map of any sort.

    While I used to always carry a Thomas guide back when I did the mobile auto repair business between that and my years as a sales rep I usually just used my internal compass and went for it.

    A few weeks ago I even went for it in an area I’ve not driven in in at least a decade. I just took turns as they came and I did find my way back to civilization. Sure it wasn’t exactly where I thought I’d end up but hey I still made it to where I wanted to go w/o pulling up the maps app and w/o a paper map.

    Speaking of those Thomas guides I used to pickup a new one every year at Costco as our area was growing rapidly when I was doing the mobile auto repair business. They would filter down, out of the work truck into the other vehicles. However I reached a point where I started throwing the older ones away and I now regret it as it would be cool to grab one of those from the 90’s and compare to today’s.

    For those that are into maps check out historicmapworks.com. Lots of old school maps, many Metsker county maps which where were the go to map for back roads in my state back in the day. They have quite a few for my area. A lot of those are based on assessor maps so the owners of the parcels are often listed. Looking at them showed me the land the family owned that the local road was named for.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I prefer paper maps although I also bought a box full of Garmins and use those when on road rally & trips .

    I don’t want it to talk to me, I just want to know the name of that often poorly signed road coming up fast before I over shoot it .

    Paper maps are no where near as good as they once were, the fonts are harder to read and the paper is worthless, they fall apart after a few foldings .

    I have 70 year old gas station maps that are still easy to use if useless because of road changes .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      My Grandmother worked for AAA of Michigan back in the day, so she was always providing my family with maps, TripTiks, TourBooks, and all manner of other sorts of travel trinkets.

      I probably wouldn’t want to see maps put out by AAA today, since as you noted, they’d probably crinkle into illegibility after unfolding them twice!

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        Auto Club TripTiks ~ YEAH ! .

        When I decided to buy a junked VW Typ II and drive it to Guatemala City in 1976 they made me a TripTik by copying an old road mp a lawyer in Guatemala sent me, he said his route avoided all the trouble spots in Mexico and we had a fun trip .

        -Nate

  • avatar
    Fred

    About 4 years ago I planned a trip from Houston to Sacramento, using a combination of a Route 66 book, tourist books from TX, NM and AZ. I had all the locations marked in Google, but you can’t transfer the map from the computer to your phone. I ended up printing all the locations, and then input the location into my Garmin. It was kind of pain because we wanted the scenic route.

    In the old paper map days, AAA would mark out the route and you were all set to go. Is it really that hard to do electronically?

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      I thought that in Google Maps, you could click and drag on a waypoint, like a turn, to semi-customize a route. Maybe it’s in another application or site, or Google Maps no longer gives that capability.

  • avatar
    JMII

    I keep a few paper maps on my boat, only because a complete failure of electronics is possible (in theory) and such an event would be extremely worrisome. Plus the charts have recommended fishing areas and wrecks marked so they are good reference material. But in the car? I haven’t used a paper map since I got an iPhone a decade ago.

  • avatar

    My friends and family always accuse me of being a Millennial with an old soul, or that I grew up in the wrong decade.

    I still use maps for road trips. As recently as April, I purchased a Rand McNally road atlas in preparation for a 2,400 mile road trip.

    I don’t own a smart phone, having never seen the need for one. And my newest car, a 2015 Chevy Sonic, has a traditional radio without a screen. The most high-tech I get is printing the directions from Google Maps, mainly on international trips when renting a car.

    Having a navigation screen or smart phone blurting out directions takes the fun away. It would make my every turn feel robotic. Relying solely on a sense of direction and paper map forces me to learn more about an area and appreciate the distances. It keeps my mind sharp and I won’t forget how to get to that same place again

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    In Namibia, this past February, we researched and were advised that cell coverage was surprisingly good on most main roads. When we drove out to Sossusvlei we relied on Google maps.

    BIG — MISTAKE.

    The directions were wrong and would have taken us to our death in the fog deserts of Namibia – literally. When we altered course there was no cell coverage. About 30 minutes later we got coverage back, got told to “reroute” and I quickly realized it was back down the closed road (think about how bad a road has to be in Namibia to be closed) and certain doom.

    Had just enough cell signal to scroll around on the map, and did directions old school from there.

  • avatar
    Dan

    I don’t have time or spare attention to get lost on the daily errands of life but having a general heading and taking the interesting turns along the way is one of the things that I love most about road trips

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      This is true, but also why I will leave the destination in the GPS , allowing it to reroute endlessly, or grudgingly put the destination it
      in after I realize I’m not where I thought I was.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Another possible QOTD. What no longer produced, or more than 10 year old, make/model do you most often see on the road?

    For me Chev Astro/Pontiac Safari vans. I see these still regularly being used by contractors.

    Toyota Echo. Lots in school parking lots and being used by delivery drivers.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      There used to be an Echo driven in my neighborhood. It’s been replaced by a clapped out 2003ish Camry. During the winter if go into seething fits of take when I’d see it because its driver and I left for work at the same time, and the driver was of the sort where a credit card sized aperture in the front window was sufficient to see. Every other window? Covered with snow and ice.

      Also, perish the thought of merging onto the highway behind him. You’d better keep the power boiling in third so you can rocket past at the bottom of the ramp, or risk getting creamed by a semi.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    Like someone else mentioned, if I am going to a new place I use the AAA maps and make a “cheat sheet” listing the turns and some landmarks along the route.
    Have not used the GPS Nav systems much. 10 yrs ago people trying to find my house got lost using the electronic nav. Got many panicked phone calls. Had to figure out where they were, by description, at night. It has improved since then, but…

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