Before there was GPS, before there were navigation apps, there were maps. I’m talking about paper maps that you kept in your car’s glove compartment or stuffed behind the seat. You could get a pretty good map for free at a rest stop or buy one for a quarter at a gas station. Or you could join AAA and get all the maps you wanted, including TripTiks, which my parents relied on for years.
Maps seemed mostly a guy thing. Guys pored over them, plotting the best route. If a bunch of guys got together, they’d look at the map and brag about all the shortcuts they knew.
When I was a scout leader, all of the dads would gather around the hood of someone’s car, and we’d spread out the maps. First came the roadmaps, then a hand-drawn map of some remote campsite that was off the beaten path. “Not to scale” took on new meaning as we followed the map onto unmarked roads, wondering all the while, “Is this right? Surely, we should have seen the next turn by now.”
Maps were a guy’s excuse for not asking for directions. Better to drive 10 miles out of your way than to admit that you had no idea where you were. At some point, you’d get back on the map, right?
Now technology has eliminated our need to ask for directions. It also has reduced driving times and increased fuel efficiency, all good things. But I think it is has made us dumber about geography and less adventurous about trying new routes. If you plug your destination into a navigation system, you don’t really need to pay much attention to where you are going. You just let the GPS take you there.
Of course, navigation systems aren’t foolproof; you still need some common sense. For example, my car’s GPS doesn’t like Rock Creek Parkway. It doesn’t believe it exists, even though the parkway was completed in 1936.
Newer apps like Waze are good because they provide real-time information like traffic conditions, accidents and police activity, along with alternative routes and posted speed limits.
There are also a number of apps that can save you money on gas and reduce your fuel consumption. Kayla Matthews did a roundup a few months ago that’s worth looking at. Here are a few she mentioned in her post, “8 Unique Apps to Help You Save Gas Money”:
GasBuddy. I’ve had this free app for several years. It relies on users to find the cheapest gas prices, which are updated daily. You can search gas stations by zip code or let the app use your location.
AAA TripTik. You don’t have to be a member of AAA to use this app’s trip-planning features. Besides maps, the app lists nearest gas stations as well as nearby hotels, restaurants and pharmacies.
Gas Manager. This freemium app tracks gas usage, fuel economy and expenses. Tracking the first 10 fill-ups is free; then you have to pay $3.99 to unlock unlimited fill-up tracking.
By and large, I am happy to give up paper maps for smartphone apps. I remember too many occasions when I was driving blind and just praying I would get to my destination on time—like my best friend’s wedding or my first job interview after college. Google Maps would have been real nice back then.
As with anything in life, having a notion of where you’re going is important. That’s why I still keep those old-fashioned paper maps in my car. Without a roadmap, you may just find yourself in the middle of nowhere.