There is no question that if you need to find the fastest route between two points, Google Maps revolutionized the way people search for and receive directions. You don’t even need an address anymore. If you can roughly spell the name of the destination, Google will understand you. It will then correct your misspelling, give you your destination’s address, phone number, hours of operation, consumer rating, annualized revenue, gross margin, and tax ID. I’m finding that this is true even half way across the world from where I live. But is that always a good thing?
Often when I’m following navigation, whether it’s in a city to which I’ve just arrived or a city I know like the back of my hand, is that I simply follow directions. I don’t learn. I don’t bother to commit anything to memory. I just listen and follow. Could I find my way back? Probably only if I asked father Google for directions again. Give a man a fish…
So what’s the problem? Maximize your time, beat traffic, don’t get lost, and enjoy your destination. Sounds reasonable. Except for one thing. You’ve learned nothing. You didn’t see what you passed along the way. You didn’t get lost and stumble across the best street food you’ve ever eaten or that crazy looking temple that’s not listed on the awful Treasure Hunting map you picked up in the guest house lobby. You didn’t continue getting lost until you stopped and met a local to find out where in [insert city] you ended up. You didn’t walk 4 blocks in the wrong direction until you found street name that you recognize (this is admittedly frustrating!). You didn’t run into the couple you shared a taxi with on the way from the airport the previous day. You simply don’t know anything about the city.
I’m more of an immersion traveler. I don’t take canned tours. I rarely sit on a coach bus with 40 other paying patrons. I have sunburn to prove it. I only wish I had more time to spend in a place to get lost… and consequently familiar. For me, this is part of the fun… cliché as it may be, it’s the journey (and the destination too, because in fairness, it can be pretty awesome once you get there). I’ve intentionally not gotten a local SIM up to this point to prevent myself from getting directions.
I simply feel like I’m cheating if there isn’t a tattered, folded, torn, and well-worn analog map shoved in my pocket to find my way, as terrible and inaccurate as it may be.
(Full disclosure: I have found a “hack”, which is totally built right into the Google Map app, where I can get a local Google map without cellular data, and GPS still finds me. It won’t give directions, but it assuages the frustration of walking 10 blocks in the wrong direction when you do want to be somewhere on time, like the 2:00 temple tour that the Treasure Hunting map stated starts at 1:30.)