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Turn. Left. In. One. Thousand. Feet. Then. Bear. Right.

June 29, 2010

Don't be ashamed if you have to turn the map when you turn.

Recognize these clipped words? They’re instructions from your car’s friendly GPS—the instructions for which you are alternately grateful, infuriated, or befuddled.

Would it be accurate to say that we are a navigationally-challenged nation?

Whether your current relationship with your Garmin is smooth or rocky, you probably still turn to it often for guidance, support, and comfort. And if you don’t have a digital GPS, then you probably do a lot of printing from GoogleMaps or Mapquest before leaving the house. Am I right?

If you want to break your TomTom dependence, trying getting out of the car.

I just realized that one huge thing I left off of my list of things I’ve learned by being car-free is how to read—and use!—a map.

“Oh, come on,” you say, “We learned that in third grade. I could totally read a map if I needed to.”

Are you going to wait until your Garmin dies on the interstate to test your skills?

Map-reading is a valuable skill and a wonderful exercise in independence and self-reliance, and it can be really, really satisfying. If, like me, your mode of transportation doesn’t have a cigarette lighter plug-in, you’ll be forced to discover this for yourself.

While GoogleMaps and a couple other web sites—like HopStop and MapMyRide—provide alternative transportation directions, most of them cover limited areas, and many of them do not offer truly safe and practical routes.

So, I’ve taken to using good, old-fashioned maps—and they work!

Sure, I don’t get a voice (which I can program to have an Australian accent) that tells me the second I need to make a turn. I have to plan ahead a little bit, charting out my course on the dining room table, instead of at my computer. Sometimes, I even have to jot down instructions for myself.

Believe it or not, I don’t find that map-using decreases the quality of my life.

In fact, it makes me feel pretty smart and competent, and I think it makes my dad kind of proud of me. Someone can say, “Let’s meet at Colfax and Fillmore,” and I can open up my trusty, laminated city map, refer to the index, and reply, “Be there in 10 minutes.” I don’t have to waste printer paper, mess around with a touch screen, or wrestle with garbled instructions

Side Note: Admittedly, it’s pretty entertaining listening to an English-language programmed GPS try to pronounce Dutch street names. If you’ve never experienced, I suggest you go to Belgium or the Netherlands and try it out.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, because I use maps there is never an automated voice telling me to observe the speed limit.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Wendy permalink
    June 30, 2010 2:47 am

    Are you knocking Bridgette?? That device has been priceless the past year trucking you, Lori and the rest of our family around Europe. I know, the constant “Please observe the speed limit” is a bit irritating, but that is partially my fault.
    I know what you mean about reading maps though. City walking tours aren’t just fun for the sites that you see but for the satisfaction of conquering that darn tourist map. I just had a fun weekend with Tori in Frankfurt with an especially useful, and colorful, map.
    Hope you back over here again soon, maybe we can get some maps for Vienna or Prague!?

  2. avaerewyck permalink
    June 30, 2010 3:48 pm

    Not knocking her, just poking fun. It’s just because Bridgette is the GPS I’ve spent the most time with. I did give her humor points for her Dutch pronunciation though! Indeed, I hope we get to map-read together again soon!

  3. pawl permalink
    July 6, 2010 4:22 pm

    As an ex-garbage truck/lumber delivery/newspaper delivery/foodbank/bus driver, I find those automated map things rather de-liberating. With a map, if you know how to use it, you have so much more freedom. If there’s been an accident, or a traffic jam, orsuddenly your route is under construction, you’re kinda stuck. If you have some time to kill between deliveries and can afford to take the scenic route, does that get programmed in to the device?
    Even now, if ever I am in need of a map, I just stop in to a convenience store, there’s usually a rack of area maps right next to the door for your perusal if not purchase.

    But if you find yourself on a bike and don’t want to take the shorted, most direct route that gmaps is suggesting you can always pull in to a bike shop where they will likely have bike-friendly maps.
    I’m not sure if google is working on bike routes with its infinite mapping data, but last I checked works pretty well if you live in milwaukee, wi or portland, or.

  4. avaerewyck permalink
    July 7, 2010 4:47 pm

    I love your sentiments, Pawl, and I’m sure all the Milwakeeans and Portlandians appreciate your suggestion of

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