/ Travel & Leisure

Are you still a map master?

Sat Nav vs Map

In a world of hi-tech solutions, have you made the transition to sat nav, or do you still rely on your trusty map book?

You’ve been telling us about your sat nav highs and lows recently, and it sounds like a few of you find sat nav very useful indeed.

VynorHill has found maps lacking from time to time:

‘Often the world on the ground was not what was expected from the map and traffic. Road signs could also omit vital information just when it was needed most. Most of these things are taken care of by my sat-nav, and while it may be a lazy way of navigating, for me (whose sense of direction is not that good) it makes every journey that much easier on today’s crowded and impatient road network’

In my own network, most of my friends and family use sat nav for all but the most familiar journeys. Some of them are so reliant on sat nav that if I asked them to tell me the route we’d just taken they wouldn’t be able to tell me. They just automatically follow the directions.

One man and his maps

The main exception to this is my dad. Now, I’ve seen him use sat nav occasionally, mainly on longer journeys where real-time traffic information is useful. But for every new journey, whether sat nav will be involved or not, my dad takes the time to plot out the route, print out maps of different sections and write post-it notes to record which junction number to take and which roads to follow.

His system is very thorough and the process of planning the route means he often doesn’t need to refer to the directions when he’s on the road, because it becomes cemented in his head. It’s also easy for a passenger to turn navigator by working through the carefully organised papers.

Plus, I think, deep down, he genuinely enjoys the experience of planning ahead and it makes him feel more assured of a smooth journey.

Trusting to technology

Does that sound familiar? My dad can’t be the only one who takes the time to get to know a route before setting out. I haven’t had a car for a few years, but on the rare occasions that I do drive, I like to have at least a basic understanding of my route before I get behind the wheel.

It looks like Bishbut feels the same:

‘I do not need a satnav. I managed very well without one before they became available and everyone insisted you had and used one. I would not have one fitted if it was an option; a map and maybe a look at Google maps just to see exactly where I wish to go is all I need. How many people know how to read a map now?’

Personally, I don’t like the idea of giving up all control to a device, especially one that might be out of date or out of juice. When faced with the unexpected, I prefer to make my own decisions about alternative routes or short-cuts.

Malcolm R confirms that it makes sense to do your homework:

‘I do agree we should retain map reading skills both for sheer interest and for usefulness; my ancient tomtom loses satellites from time to time – sometimes for 1/2 hour or more – and the guidance process stops. If you don’t carry a road atlas, can’t read road signs or know the area then you’ve a problem brewing’

My aversion to sat nav is funny, because I’m usually happy to rely on technology for many other day-to-day tasks, so maybe in this one area I’ve simply inherited my preference for maps from my dad.

If you’re going somewhere for the first time, do you make a thorough route plan or would you rather wing it with your sat nav?

This is a guest contribution by Katie Benson. All views expressed her are Katie’s own and not necessarily those shared by Which?.

Which do you prefer to use for long journeys, a paper map or a sat nav?

Map (51%, 1,201 Votes)

Sat nav (46%, 1,095 Votes)

Neither - I'll see where the wind take me (3%, 65 Votes)

Total Voters: 2,361

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What about a choice of “Both” in your pole? It’s not “either or” for me. A map can cement or contradict a desire to try an alternative and is useful to check whether a railway line or river blocks cross country travel. Maps can’t tell you when the road you want is closed. My Nav puts a red hatch on the bits I can’t use and directs me round. It also knows how to approach roundabouts in the correct lane much sooner than the roundabout sign on the road does. So, know where you are going and have a helping hand on the way… common sense really.


Yes – both.


Both. You get no context from a satnav. On a long run it won’t tell you where might be interesting to take a break or choose a more scenic route. But a satnav is perfect for getting you in and out of cities, avoiding blockages and jams and for the ‘last mile’ .


I use both but if I had to select one method only I would use a good map. The advantage of a map who if learn to read them is that you get hugely more from them than just the routes available.

The shape of the land , the way rivers run, the place names etc,etc. can be very rewarding compared to following a little arrow on a small screen. The only big advantage the screen has is zooming into road names but even that is not that big a deal if you also have county/town maps with all road names.

I can almost guarantee to sell one or two old ordnance survey maps each day I work in a second-hand book emporium [![. Last week it was 13 and the most for a single customer 19 – but then at only £1 apiece they are bargains. We do have old C19th maps also and they can be expensive and then very expensive. My old world gazetteers of 1815 and 1864 are great fun but not really that useful for journeys : )

I have been using Michelin French atlas lately and also Google maps and they work well together but the paper version is preferable to the eye and gives the information at a sensible level easily.


Totally agree with Diesel -real maps and only real maps exactly for the reasons Diesel puts. I use OS maps and old cloth maps which show side roads/tracks etc that you will never find on a sat-nav , rivers.streams , hills ,ancient monuments, battle sites,you name it . Once I have studied a map or driven there I have a photographic memory and can visualize it in my head ,never ever forget a route ,even as a young child . I also have a built in direction finder and have only once been stuck for what direction to go . I will admit Google Maps/view is good for checking out areas but I make sure I remove the trackers after it.


Maps are wonderful but you cannot manage them while driving, nevertheless I still don’t use a satnav. If I don’t know where I’m going I go somewhere else.


You need both. Maps are both useful and interesting to get an overall view of the route, and landmarks. Also good if your wife (or passenger) can read them and tell you when to turn off (before rather than after the junction 🙂 ) And, as I said elsewhere, if your satnav fails or if you lose your signal. But, for driving more safely (you can’t put the map book on your steering wheel) I listen to the commands from the nice lady and, a great boon, I have head up display which keeps your eyes on the road whilst key journey information appears in front of your eyes. Sat navs also score if you have to deviate from your map plan – a new route appears instantly. But more so, no map gives directions to addresses – so finding 53 Warren Street, Badgertown, unless you have an A-Z of all places you visit is very hit and miss without a satnav.

No question in my mind; both have their place. Incidentally, if on holiday and you want a mystery tour around an area, put in your destination with shortest route. It can be entertaining.


I agree with the others about using both. I plan journeys using a map, albeit an online version such as Google maps. I also plan using MyDrive from TomTom and Tyre (both can export to my TomTom Satnav). On the road I use my TomTom satnav for the fastest route to avoid jams, but I am basically following the route I chose earlier. I also have my car satnav set to shortest route as it has a bigger display and gives me more context. I also have a paper map in the car if I want to reassess a route I want to take or for my wife to refer to as we drive. However we don’t tend us the paper version much these days.
For a recent journey in a hired car in France I had my TomTom preloaded with destinations, and my wife had the iPad showing offline Google maps for the wider scale/context.
Yes I do like to know where I am and how I got there. I also enjoy the research and just love maps.