During recent travels, as my family’s designated navigator, I relied heavily on my phone’s mapping app and its GPS capability . At one point I was navigating using both the paper print out of a map that I’d been given and my GPS. I’d already exclaimed to my husband, “How did we ever travel without a GPS?” Now the conversation turned to a thorough comparison of paper maps versus GPS, along with memories of past journeys.
My husband and I have only discovered the joy of GPS in that past few years. It gives us the visual map that we are used to but with the voice (we call her Lola) who gives all the directions and even changes course as necessary due to traffic and road conditions. I know there are many who will laugh at me at this point for my amazement at something so commonplace, but I am truly thrilled with this travel technology. It gives me peace of mind that we will not get lost and allows me to see the sights out the window more than I used to when I had to navigate using a paper map; but truth be told, I often just sit and watch Lola doing my job! She tells my husband exactly when and where to turn, with advance warning, even if a road sign is missing.
In the days of paper maps, we explored a lot more of the area surrounding our destinations. That’s because many times we would overshoot an exit or miss a turn. So we’d meander through city streets or desolate country roads trying to recognize something that was represented on our map. The names of roads would pass by more quickly than I could scan the map. Then there were the classic arguments over whether or not we needed to stop and ask someone for directions. We always did in the end, and so we also got an idea of what the local people were like.
I remember when my husband and I had been married for just a year. On our first anniversary we moved from New York to California. We packed a 26 foot U-haul truck with all of our belongings and drove the whole way with our German Shepherd lounging across two thirds of the cab’s bench seat. My husband drove and I navigated. We’d bought a spiral bound Rand McNally book of maps. It was quite large and devoted a page or two to the roads and highways of each state. After we navigated through the whole state of Pennsylvania, my husband shocked me. In a giddy moment, he ripped the Pennsylvania pages out of the book and tossed them out the window. (Side note: This is the only time he has ever littered!) His act of finality showed the victory he felt: we’d made it through our first whole state, and it was a long one too! However for me it symbolized that there was now, for sure, no going back; our directions were gone!
Soon after that we began to travel with small children in tow. “How much longer?” and “Are we there yet?” were questions that were hard to answer with a paper map. They were not satisfied with an answer such as, “in about an inch!” I am sure paper maps are why the cliche answer “we’ll get there when we get there” originated in many frazzled families. Now, with a GPS, I am able to periodically announce to those in the car exactly how long it will be until we get there: “an hour and 17 minutes until we’re there!” However, my remaining teenager does not even hear me through his earbuds.
Over the years, we’ve had a habit of saving maps, directions, books and brochures from special trips that we’ve taken. I never did find a neat, comprehensive system for storing all those papers. Some landed on the bookshelves. Others were stowed in drawers, cabinets and closets. Traveling was causing clutter in my home, especially the individual maps of specific areas. Once opened up they were larger than me and never folded neatly back into their original shape. Now, with the addition of our GPS, which stores my favorite destinations, I have been able to toss many piles of loose maps and other travel papers into the recycling bin. I even have a few empty shelves in one of my cabinets as we speak!
In just the short time I’ve been using a GPS, I can’t imagine traveling without it. Although my husband and I predate the digital age, we think we have adapted well. He was one of the first to own a personal computer in the eighties and computerized any job he ever had. Though I prefer paper books to digital, I could no longer run my household without my laptop. It may have taken us a little longer than some to discover the GPS, but now we are happy to add this to our must-have list of technological tools. How did we ever live without it?