/ 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.

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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.


A smart phone rather than a sat-nav but it was an OS app. Very sad.

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It is tragic. Described as experienced walkers the wife appeared to be wearing unsuitable shoes that may have caused her to slip, and they were using an OS app that is not recommended for use on its own because of lack of detail – they were walking a path that was not straightforward. ““Mountain Rescue would always advocate using a map and compass to navigate, either instead of or in addition to any electronic navigation aids. Apart from potential difficulties caused by poor detail on an electronic map, batteries on mobile phones have a nasty habit of running out just when you need them most.”

I have followed a satnav into some quite unsuitable places and “roads” while deliberately following an interesting”shortest” route while sightseeing. A map, and the ability to understand it, is then an invaluable companion.

I was on a Mountain rescue team many years ago and did a four season Mountain Leadership course, where, among many other things, I learnt that you need two compasses and a waterproof cover for your maps. Now, that advice seems just as relevant. No one in their right mind depends on a smartphone on a Mountain in Snowdonia. Yes – there’s a clear view of satellites but almost no signal for communication. Combine that with the wet, strong winds, abrupt changes of weather in temperature, intensity and general unpredictability of Mountain weather and a Map and two compasses are essential.

Snowdonia marches across the view from our lounge, and every week at least one person dies or is seriously injured on the range. Almost every instance is down to lack of preparation or simply stupidity. Because there’s a cafe at the top people treat Snowdon itself like a gentle amble. It isn’t and it’s rather unforgiving when you make a mistake.

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Peter says:
27 August 2016

After a major service unbeknownst to us our sat nav default settings had changed such that it was programmed to avoid tolls. On a trip to the South of France it was only when I saw the sign “welcome to Belgium” that i realised something had wrong. After fruitless attempts to reroute we resorted to a physical map. It was then that we realised what had happened. We learnt two lessons
1. When switching on sat nav don’t switch off brain. Check with a proper map occasionally, and
2. France has a hell of a lot of toll roads !

John Gray says:
27 August 2016

There should be a button for both.

Sat have are brilliant at the end of a journey, when you are looking for an address and cannot take your eyes off the road because of traffic density. Remember trying to use the A-Z books?
On long journeys, a map book gives you total control over which route you choose, and what diversions you may wish to make. Plotting an over the hills and far away route on a satnav is next to impossible. So both have their uses, but always be aware of where you’re heading and your approximate location. Don’t blindly trust technology!

David Wilkes says:
27 August 2016

Obsessive reliance on satnavs – and motorway routes – has contributed to growing ignorance of the basic geography of the British Isles and serious erosion of map-reading skills.

I agree; map reading and a sense of ‘place’ is an essential skill and should be taught at primary level to all children. At just over 60 years old, I just know ‘stuff’ and have a good sense of direction within the UK, whereas even my adult children seem to have little idea of where places are, or distances involved.
SatNavs can be great aids, but an Ordnance Survey map will yield so much more information, and are artworks in their own right.

Ditto the above in relation to understanding the time too; the current younger generation seem incapable of comprehending analogue time after so much reliance on digital devices.

Naturally enough an understanding of time and place go together, hence the calculus of longitude which enabled navigation around the globe.

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dee bee says:
27 August 2016

Really need both , plus a little common sense. Sat nav very good if driving alone or in towns. If driving with a passenger/navigator , occasional reference to map confirms you are progressing to your chosen destination.

As has been said by many above – both! They compliment each other and not a question of ‘either or’.

Robert says:
27 August 2016

We drive a lot in Europe. I like having the maps but we need detailed town maps and could not possible carry them all with us! The sat Nav is perfect for this.

Yes, I prefer maps but still use the Sat Nav as a back up. My wife does not like navigating. Especially in difficult terrain,e.g. , Welsh mountains.

Richard says:
28 August 2016

Both. Navigators are sometimes wrong and can break down.

I prefer navigating to driving, but my efforts are not appreciated when I say “Look at that windmill, or castle, over there”. I am also accused of sounding like a driving instructor on approaching roundabouts, etc. – “Move to the right-hand lane and take the third exit . . . ” .

It is always better to get a rough idea of your best route by using a map rather than blindly accepting the route calculated by the sat nav. It can often add long detours which are not necessary and sometimes you can avoid being sent down unsuitable lanes. Where the sat nav comes into its own is when you enter large urban centres and it counts you down into junctions, gets you in the correct lane and gives you a representation of the junction so you can anticipate your way through it.

Duplicate comment removed.

The on-line AA Route Planner remains a very good way of planning a journey and working out an overall route in advance and, unlike the average household road atlas, it is bang up-to-date. It also provides a printable stage-by-stage description of the entire route with distances and timings. I don’t always agree with its choice of route, however, and insert a ‘via’ option to use the sort of roads or countryside that I prefer rather than the shortest journey time but longer distance sometimes suggested. But there are many easy options to customise the route.