Two or three times in the last couple of months, I've heard from people who "just got totally turned around" while relying on GPS to get them to a destination. Their situations prove, in capsule form, why you should not rely on GPS to do all the lifting when you're trying to find your way.
Susan rejected my verbal suggestions on the phone for the best way to find my house. "Oh, I'll just use GPS," she said. But she sang a different tune when her GPS thought I lived on South K Street, when in fact it's North K Street, a couple of miles away. South is where all the drive-by shootings happen, and as she cruised up and down that block looking for my house number, all she saw were hostile-looking folks standing on their front steps, glaring at her. Unnerving, for sure. I'm only surprised she couldn't find a police cruiser to approach for help. Local law enforcement has taken up a semi-permanent position on that block, in hopes of curbing violence. She was extremely relieved when I talked her, block by block, to the right destination.
Joe and Joyce came up for my husband's birthday in late August. I had emailed the address of the restaurant where we were to meet, as well as the map from the web page. They could have taken one of two exits off the interstate and it would have been a pretty short drive along secondary roads to get there. But Joe was sure his GPS would take care of everything. However -- whoops! His Garmon lost its screen image. All he had to work with was the friendly voice saying "In a quarter mile, make a left at..." Apparently, it wasn't sufficient because I got the inevitable panicky-sounding call, asking if I knew where such and such a street was. And of course I hadn't heard of it. I had to hang up, get the map going on my phone and look it up. By that time, they had found their way to a main intersection that I did know, and it was just a matter of asking them to tell me if they saw a particular grocery store and where it was in relation to them. From there it was easy to talk them over to us. And they did get back home OK, though of course we worried.
Eileen and her kids hoped to pick apples in a rural town in the northern part of the state. She keyed in the address, and her helpful GPS guided her to the southern end. Hours and hours of driving, and no apples anywhere. Her GPS did send her to the right town...at least the name was right. But plenty of states, such as Georgia, have incorporated towns as well as unincorporated, unofficial "wide spots in the road," and her GPS only knew of the other one.
GPS, Mapquest and Google Maps have promised us that they will offer us a more streamlined, efficient and accurate way to navigate, doing away with written notes and printed maps. But you know what? They lie. The one advantage they have is helping us keep our eyes on the road, turning where they say. This is most helpful at night or in inclement weather, when you can't see. But relying on digital apps to know everything about your trip is a big mistake.
Here's how to plan a trip and use GPS to its best advantage:
Get out a printed map or look up your destination on Google Maps from a location other than your car. In other words, don't wait until you're on the road before you start wondering where you're going. Just as you would have done before the Internet age, plan ahead.
If you don't have a printed map to carry, then you need to take notes.
If you know where you are now, and where you want to go, the map should give you a reasonably good estimate of how long the trip will take. It should also give you an idea of whether you'll spend more time on interstates and other major highways or on secondary roads, and which major towns you can expect to pass through. Check the map and see if there are notable landmarks, monuments, etc. on the way. All major highways will find a way to mention these points of interest on road signs, because states rely on tourism and are not looking to keep these moneymakers a secret. In short, studying the map should give you a rough estimate of direction, distance and time.
If you start from home, the first part of the route should be reasonably familiar, since you travel it frequently, just getting to work, or to the store, etc. You should be calling the shots during this phase of the trip. Try to keep to those familiar routes as long as you can, until you reach an area that's new to you. That requires a leap of faith, and if you're not quite willing to make it (and you shouldn't be), then grab the map (the one you should always bring with you!) and focus your study on where you are now, in relation to where you're about to go.
If you don't have a printed map to look at, this is where written notes come in handy. If it looks like you'll be getting off the southbound interstate at Exit 58, Jenkinsville Road, and then going east for 20 miles, be sure to write all that down in your planning, and check the map for some important landmark just before that exit. "Exit 58 looks like it's right after that outlet mall where I go Christmas shopping every year." Making a note of that will help you to stay oriented, since interstate highways have a tendency to all look alike after awhile.
Along the secondary roads, check the map for something, anything, that is likely to have a prominent sign. If you know that from the time you get off the interstate, to the time you get to the apple orchard, it's 40 miles, look for something, like a Holiday Inn or a truck stop. Estimate how many miles between points. Once you are on a less-traveled road with less-than-reliable signage, this is where you need your trip odometer. The odometer will only work if you have already decided it's 15 miles to the Flying J, then another 25 to the farm. You use it to check and see if you're still in agreement. It's also not a bad time to start letting your GPS do some of the work. But don't let your guard down. You and your GPS should be in some form of agreement at least half the time. If GPS starts mentioning roads that you don't see, don't assume it's right and you're wrong. And if GPS didn't agree with you about that very first turn off the interstate, this is an excellent time to question where your GPS thinks it's going! It may know of a better route, but if the destination it gives looks completely different from yours, it's better to find out now who's right, before you're off on a rural road with darkness approaching.
Remember ... "we" invented "them." They're smart but they don't know everything. Don't surrender control to a gadget.