Where Are We Going? GPS, Maps and Old-Fashioned Common Sense

Lisa Fritscher February 1, 2011 No Comments

Mapping Routes for a Road Trip

Getting oriented in a new area can be a challenge

Those who are adults today remember the ongoing road trip debate: do we ask for directions or not? It was often portrayed as a competition between men and women, with men refusing to stop and ask. Today that debate, once ongoing fodder for sitcom storylines, seems almost quaint. Now the more relevant question is: should we believe the GPS?

Pros and Cons of GPS 

Only a few years ago, GPS was heralded as the technology that would end the age-old tradition of getting lost. Just type your destination into the unit, and you will receive turn by turn directions both onscreen and helpfully narrated by a friendly computer voice. While GPS certainly has its place, it didn’t take long for hapless users to realize that the GPS doesn’t always have our best interests at heart. 

GPS for Road Trips

Your GPS can, at times, be your best friend and your worst enemy

Have you ever put your faith in your GPS only to stop short when you realize it’s guiding you onto a one-way street…in the wrong direction? Or had the unit repeatedly order you to make a U-turn in the middle of a busy highway? The problems are magnified when driving an oversized vehicle such as an RV. The GPS has no way of knowing that your vehicle is too heavy for that tiny bridge or too tall to fit underneath the upcoming overpass. 

On the other hand, GPS can be wonderful at helping us get out of confusing situations. Whether you made a wrong turn or just can’t remember how to get back to the interstate from that lovely café, GPS can be invaluable at walking you through the situation step by step. While solely relying on GPS can be a mistake, so can turning your back on the technology altogether. 

Pros and Cons of Maps 

RVer's Friend

The RVer's Friend details big-rig friendly services across the US and Canada

Many frequent road trippers still consider maps to be the gold standard. A map allows you to look at all available options and plan out the route that makes sense to you. It also allows you to locate major points of interest and weave them into your overall route without having to plot out each portion of the route separately with the GPS. Even if you rely primarily on your GPS, a map can be extremely useful for those situations in which your GPS insists that you go in a direction that simply doesn’t work. 

However, map reading is an art that not everyone is skilled in. From the time I was very young, I was in charge of the map for our family vacations. Dad was busy driving and, while Mom was quite intelligent and competent in almost every way, she simply didn’t have the knack for finding our current location and direction of travel on the map and narrating where we should turn. If you plan to use maps, have everyone in the family practice reading them well in advance of your trip, and give the job of navigator to the person with the best innate sense of how to handle the map. 

If you travel by RV, consider investing in a trucker atlas and the RVers Friend. Dad and I use both in our full-time RVing lifestyle, and have found them both incredibly helpful. The trucker atlas gives detailed information about weight and height restrictions, bridges and tunnels, and other important data for large vehicles. The RVers Friend, updated each year, provides information on big rig-friendly gas stations and restaurants, campgrounds and other important amenities along highways throughout the United States and Canada. 

Old-Fashioned Common Sense 

Road Side Attractions Make the Ride Fun

Getting there is half the fun, if you know where you're going

Perhaps the best way to navigate a road trip is to use good old-fashioned common sense. Sit down well in advance of your trip and put together a route. You can do this with a paper map or online using MapQuest, Google Maps or a similar program. Consider the time of day you plan to travel, where you plan to stop along the way and your personal driving preferences. Sometimes interstate highways are best, and sometimes the scenic route is a lot more fun. 

On the day of your trip, go ahead and punch your destination into your GPS. If there is a major discrepancy between the route you planned and the one that the GPS suggests, try to figure out why. If you are driving an RV, check your truck atlas to make sure that the roads can handle your vehicle. Working back and forth between the GPS and traditional maps is a bit more time consuming, but can ultimately produce a safer and more efficient route that is best for your family. 

Related Articles:

Discovering Roadside Attractions
Planning Ahead for a Family Trip – Tips and Advice
Staying Connected on the Road: Internet Options for Travelers
Family Travel Planning: Dining and packing for small travelers
Are We There Yet? Keeping Kids Entertained on the Road

avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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