/ 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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Anne says:
28 August 2016

Yes, I agree, use both. Infact the car has it’s own sat nav, which we use as well as a Tom Tom and a map. This way one stands a better chance of arriving at the intended destination.
A shame the ‘vote’ doesn’t give this option.


You’re right about the voting choices, but I wouldn’t worry too much about that poll – it’s probably not going anywhere. I liked the use of Norfolk dialect in the third option, however.


We reprogrammed our Garmin with Wallace and Gromit…


Watch out for the “Evil” Penguin Ian it will “lead your car astray ” .

David F says:
28 August 2016

I am in my late 70s and have navigated with maps for many years. However, I find satnavs a terrific boon and now only very rarely get out a paper map when motoring. Using the satnav is so much more relaxing than map reading.
When going on a long journey or into London, I check for hold-ups using the “Directions” facility on Google maps and use this information to supplement the (sometimes inaccurate) traffic warning/renavigation system that came with my satnav.

Dennis Apple says:
28 August 2016

As many others have said, you need both a sat-nav and a map when covering long journeys. The map will give you an overall idea of where you are heading, and what towns and junctions to expect. An OS map gives highly informative details of an area, such as height, and terrain, should you need them. A sat-nav tends to take you by the shortest route to your destination, which as I found to my initial cost, can lead you across a very large city, whereas a glance at a map may reveal a ring-road, or nearby motorway which you should take instead.

I use a sat-nav even if I know the route because sometimes the road may be blocked whilst a diversion is in place. This is especially true of motorways where you may find yourself side-tracked along country roads looking for “diversion” signs, which often are not well presented.

Another reason is that negotiating complicated junctions in heavy traffic is made easier because you are told and shown exactly which exit to take before you reach it. Changing lanes in heavy London traffic, for example, is then less stressful as the need to carefully observe the road signs becomes unnecessary.

I have sometimes travelled across a small town at night, with little or no street lighting, and have been grateful for my sat-nav.

It goes without saying of course that you should know how to operate it, and have chosen the right options before starting off.

When all else fails, read the operating instructions! 

Jeff Griffey says:
28 August 2016

I think that there is a case for sat navs, but I prefer to choose my own route and then memorise it, so that I don’t have to keep looking at a sat nav, or be told what to do! If there are any difficult sections, then I either print out a copy of the map or look in the map book ( which is 1.5 inches to the mile, and very accurate!)

Barry g says:
28 August 2016

Pleased to see that one or two “oldies” like myself have commented. We of course grew up – and learned our school Geography – long before satnavs were thought of, and seem to have retained our interest in maps and knowledge of reading them (which is by no means rocket science). I have a large collection acquired over the years.

For reasons I needn’t go into, our family is currently without a car, but when we do go out together my stepson does the driving and is (or seems!) quite happy for me to navigate which, give or take a very occasional missed turning, usually works well. Like others here, I like to know not just the route to our destination but the type of countryside and terrain we’ll be encountering. Except on very long trips, we like to avoid motorways and main roads as far as possible, and with a good map (always Ordnance Survey in my case) you can often pick out quieter and more attractive alternatives for at least parts of the journey, which may not necessarily take you all that much longer when you factor in possible traffic problems on the main roads. You can also spot likely quiet places to pull off the road for your picnic lunch, and nearby places of interest such as villages, churches, lakes, woods, or viewpoints, which might be worth a detour from your direct route.


I agree Barry. It’s amazing how quickly people of our generation seem to be able to learn routes so that we no longer need to look at a map or the sat-nav every time we repeat some or all of a journey.