/ 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…

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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.

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! 

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.

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There’s more than one Sci Fi story that illuminates a possible future in which people have abrogated all personal responsibility for day-day-to interactions and functions, allowing computers to take care of everything for them. Fortunately, schools still teach maps and map reading, although – as with all education – it’s the motivation that matters, and there’s no better way to get kids interested in maps than to take them out for a walk on the hills.

I agree, Duncan. It brings back into my mind that favourite injunction from our parents and tutors : “Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest”.

Benita Smith says:
29 August 2016

With a map you learn the area, not just a fragment of it. Having no idea where you are in relation to anything else means that you have no map in your head to use when thinking about journeys, landmarks or points of personal interest.
People with satnavs have argued with me about country roads I’ve been using for years!

Suzanne Fletcher says:
29 August 2016

both. use of real maps or using google as well essential for journeys before you start. However using my iphone with Waze or googlemaps is very helpful for “end of journey” where you need a street map; getting in and especially out of a town you don’t know; sudden route changes like last night when road home from a night event unexpectedly blocked off.
we dowloaded off line maps for parts of Spain we went to that were useful for such.
But not use real maps ? never ever !!

Google Maps could be better at street level. Road names are frequently omitted for roads with a classified road number [e.g. A1066] until you enlarge the map to a ridiculous scale. Also many useful features [e.g. railway lines] are usually so feint as to be useless as landmarks, whereas the marking of the (wrong) location of every back-street hairdresser and driving school is distracting [but that’s what pays for the maps of course].

carl hoggett says:
29 August 2016

plan with maps execute with satnav

JJMMWG DuPree says:
29 August 2016

I always plan the route with Open Street Map, then view my destination via Google Street View, then put Miss Streetpilot (The Satnav) on.

There’s nothing like a Satnav for getting you through the awkward places, and there’s nothing like already knowing where you’re going the rest of the way.

You need both! Reliance on a sat-nav alone will have you taking the long way around on boring motorways and you may also find yourself on unsuitable country lanes rather than a more direct and interesting route. You cannot always rely on the sat nav to find you the best route.

I fairly regularly visit a somewhat remote location in mid Hampshire and the first couple of times; using my Tom Tom alone: near my destination I found myself on completely unsuitable, rough and very narrow country lanes and one dark November night I broke an expensive alloy wheel on a massive pot hole in one of them, which was barely more than a farm track. Furthermore, from my departure point (near Bristol) at around 17.00 hours on a week day, my sat nav wants to take me via Bath – an appalling traffic jam black spot, second only to Bristol in the South West. For an unfamiliar journey I find it is far best to first check the route by drawing a straight pencil line to my destination on a map and then selecting the most direct, suitable route. I then list the pertinent way points so that I can check the sat nav instructions as I drive. Since I mostly travel alone and cannot read a map while driving (which could be very hazardous), I find this combination of sat nav and listed way points; gives the best navigation solution.

Furthermore, I found with great irritation three years ago that Tom Tom did not include the Isle of Man in its UK and Ireland maps – how ridiculous is that? Anyone intending to visit the IOM, Channel Islands etc should check that their sat nav will cover them.

I use satnav these days but I sort a route out using a Philips map book which is a large scale. I then input waypoints into the satnav and it makes life easier as I don’t have to keep stopping to check the map. I also set the satnav to use either shortest or fastest route and also use the optional omit bits where you can avoid motorways, ferries etc. I still love maps though and can immere myself in a good map for hours.

I always use a sat nav – mainly because I cannot read a map. We’ve actually just reviewed built-in sat navs for the first time. Have a look if you’re thinking of getting one: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2017/10/which-tests-built-in-sat-navs-for-the-first-time/

It’s really worth learning to read a map, Alex; apart from satnavs being inherently undependable, as they depend on electricity and satellite technology, OS maps have a lot more information on than your average satnav.

I was reading the article this morning and it does not convince me that I’m missing much by having a standalone sat nav. Inexpensive sat navs now include map updates but I wonder if built-in sat navs can be updated free of charge.

I agree with Ian that it is useful to be able to read a map, but I usually start by getting out my old sat nav on the odd occasion that the newer one has an off day. Of course, a passenger who is familiar with the roads can beat any satellite navigation system or map.

Not that easy, Alex, as they tend to come with the car and it’s probably not a deal breaker, which one you end up using.

Very much agree Ian. It’s good to have an idea where you are going. The map does let one down on the final stages in a strange, busy town, since it doesn’t show the architecture or how turnings manifest themselves.

I have attempted to learn to read a map many times (I used to be an air cadet many years ago), but it never seems to stick. In all honesty, I’m not very good with sat navs either. I’m well known for telling my friends to “take this turning ” just as we go past it and they’re stuck in the middle lane. When we take a trip I’m either on driving duty or snack/music duty.

I look at the map before setting off. When returning home after going on holiday I often think of interesting places to visit. One of my friends enjoys saying “turn around when possible” if I fail to follow his directions at a junction or roundabout.

Maps are good to get you to understand the general journey and the area; reading them together with road signs is a good habit. However, when on your own they are tricky to consult without stopping, and if you have to replan your journey if you meet a problem like traffic, road closures, or other hold-ups. And unless you have a lot of A-Zs, they do not navigate you to an address. So I’d use a satnav first, but ensure you can read a map and have one as a back up, and to study for things of interest in the area you are visiting.

My satnav shows essential information – distance to, and exit at, next turn or roundabout, picture of the upcoming major M/A road junction and the lane to be in – in a head-up display (in the windscreen) so I can consult it without taking my eyes off the road. If it makes driving easier and safer, a satnav is well worth having.

When stopping at motorway services for a comfort break, hubby came out of the gents with a rather strange grin on his face after Jane told him to ‘turn around when possible’ after leaving TomTom switched on in his back pocket.

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 Delightful.

I got accustomed to ignoring Jane TomTom.

It would depend upon whether he was visiting a cubicle perhaps.
My current built-in satnav very rarely tells us to turn around. when, for our own reasons, we deviate from her chosen route. She very quickly recalculates it and updates the map and journey time. I have on occasions with my very old tom tom (2004) reached my destination before it has found the satellites.

I switched from TomTom to Garmin and that finds its satellites much faster. Sat nav technology is still improving quite fast, which is one reason I did not want to pay for a built-in sat-nav, especially as I was planning to keep the car for a minimum of ten years.

Another advantage of the Garmin is that if it is switched off properly (rather than stand-by) the battery stays charged, unlike any TomTom I have used. I did prefer some of the features of the TomTom and I believe that they have moved on a lot since I last bought one.

I’m a Google Maps kinda guy, but only if the phone is placed in a secure holder away from my hands and my field of vision of course (see. recent law changes). I still can’t believe satnav manufacturers used to charged hundreds of pounds and now we have a free app that does it all for us. What a time to be alive 🙂

Progress and innovation Dean! however, when people spend up to £1000 on a smart phone i think they deserve access to apps to justify the cost.

That’s true, malcolm. I use Waze on my phone and I find it invaluable. I drive just over 60 miles a day (mon-fri) so I’m always trying to find the best route and the app updates the quickest routes for me on the go. So useful and it’s free.