December 10, 2016

The Humble Road Map: Your Road Trip’s Best Accessory


It’s probably one of the worst tech fails in the past six months: a bug in the Apple Maps GPS packaged with iOS systems last year  sent unsuspecting drivers way off course in rural Australia. A few cases involved drivers who’d gotten so lost they needed rescuing.

I don’t have Apple Maps; I’ve been using the Google Maps app on my smartphone from day one and I love it. As a solo traveler, using a GPS  is incredibly handy since I can’t drive and look at a road map at the same time. However, the Google Maps’ promise that you’ll “never carry a paper map again” isn’t exactly foolproof.

Occasionally, the system will misdirect me, particularly in rural areas. Once, when driving around western Connecticut, my GPS directed me to drive off the side of a road and down an unpaved hillside. Nuh-uh. Not happening.

Even when your GPS isn’t flawed, your network might be. Imagine my surprise to discover I couldn’t get any coverage while driving through parts of California’s Big Sur this summer. Luckily, I was following a single road north (Pacific Coast Highway, baby!) or I might have been up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

Even in cities, things can go awry. I had a hell of a time trying to find Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles last summer when my GPS kept leading me to the nearby Los Angeles Zoo. Thankfully, the Los Angeles tourism bureau had the good sense to include a pullout street map (above) in the free city guide.

So, let’s say you have no connection to your network–no phone and no GPS. You can always ask a passerby, right? Wrong. My big solo cross-country road trip took me through parts of South Dakota and Wyoming where there was no one else for miles. And miles. And miles. Being from one of the most densely populated of the states, I wasn’t prepared for the reality of being alone and not even being able to ask for help.

The takeaway: GPS is great but not foolproof, so when road tripping, always plan to take a road map. Every year, I purchase the most recent edition of the Rand McNally Road Atlas –it’s pretty inexpensive and can be a great memento of a memorable road trip.

If the idea of using paper maps has you seeing red because it’s not green, think of all the fun ways you can reuse your maps when they become obsolete. The possibilities are endless!

GPS, map, or both? Which do you take on a road trip? 

5 Responses to The Humble Road Map: Your Road Trip’s Best Accessory

  1. Jessalyn says:

    I’ve always preferred paper maps for finding my way around a new city on foot, but after my solo road trip on New Zealand’s South Island last year, I’m an even bigger fan! I had written down Google Maps directions between all of my major destinations but, since most of the South Island is rural, Google Maps turned out not to be that much help. On my second full day of driving, I ended up on a narrow gravel road, on which I saw my first-ever “FORD!” sign and shortly thereafter ended up fording a stream in my rented Corolla. Kind of a fun misadventure, but after that I ditched the Google Maps and relied on a paper map of the South Island I’d bought for backup!

    When it comes to what you do with maps you aren’t likely to use again, I like my brother’s solution: wrapping paper!

    • claire says:

      I used to sit firmly in the paper maps camp and be a bit old school but I am really buying into the gps/mobile device/cloud storage lifestyle now and I dont think I could go back

  2. Alouise says:

    Great post. I don’t have a smart phone, but I do have a GPS in my car. Still I know it’s always good to have a real map on hand. A few times I’ve found my GPS has gotten confused because of new road construction and sometimes I ended up getting more lost than before.

  3. Kim says:

    I find for driving the old map is the best (although I have previously used GPS which works well), but for exploring towns/cities I have started using my smart phone and find it quite useful

  4. Rhona says:

    Long time no update. lol. So, what are your summer travel plans?