Travelogue: From Maps to Apps

Remember when you had a map in your vehicle?

Back in the day, we used to chart our course by using a map – whether it was a folded paper one or a big atlas in our vehicle. We would read it, review it, and drive onward to our destination. Wad it an exact science? It was when it counted the most.

From there, we began to use onboard navigation systems and telematics services that enhance the journey. From the printed map, we evolved to using electronic methods to map out their drives – from mapping websites to GPS applications on their smartphones. From that point, the paper map and its bigger road atlas brother are no longer seen as viable.

A decade ago, I had to resolve the transition between a map book, the onboard GPS navigation system, and smartphone integration in this work. There was something missing during this transition. Something from my past that gave me something more tangible in terms of getting to where I needed to be.

I loved maps. I loved collecting them – street maps for states, provinces, cities, and towns. I always had a road atlas for places I frequent and drive in, such as my hometown of Los Angeles and here in The Cities.

My love for road atlases was because of my father, whose line of work required such books to be strewn around the cabin of the car. Even in my short time driving a taxicab, I needed atlases to find my way to my pick up locations and such.

Why did I love maps and atlases so much? Reading them helped me to understand where I was going and to further comprehend the lay of the land – making my life easier in my travels. It also helped by having a strong sense of direction coupled with a keen memory – both of which help me absorb the details from the map.

It's not entirely foolproof. Several years ago, I was heading to dinner with a friend of mine and we were both stumped as to the name of the restaurant we were going. Though I had an idea where this place was, I vaguely had a clue on how to actually get there. He went to the GPS mapping application on his smartphone to locate the place and get directions. In the GMC Terrain was I driving, I called OnStar to get mine. It dawned on me, as we were directing ourselves electronically to this restaurant, how much easier life has become by using these apps and telematics services to get there. We saved a call to information, then breaking out a paper map or atlas to figure out how to get there.

After that little test, I asked myself whether these additional bits of paper were still relevant and/or vital to my driving or travel routine? It just seems that it was some 21st Century notion to lighten the load of thick atlases and a stack of folded maps when heading to another place on the road.

In my case, it is the acknowledgment of a change in the way I approach to travel and driving.

Therefore, I went ahead and parted ways with my library of road atlases. They were simply taking up space on my small library shelf. There was no need for them to simply sit, especially if I'm going somewhere and they're taking up space in a bag on a flight or in the car.

There were no hard feelings, second thoughts, or sadness attached to this move.

Since then, my navigation habits have changed. Once I plug in my iPhone, it is a few taps to get my coordinates for my destination. Sometimes, it mines off of my Calendar on my phone for destination information – which is very useful, if you ask me. The Apple Maps voice takes over…sometimes, annoyingly.

If it's not Apple maps, it's Google, Waze, and other apps we use to get us from Point A to Point B.

But, this is our new normal. The paper map is a relic of the past. The mapping app is today's proper replacement.

All photos by Randy Stern

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