Is Google Maps Making Us Worse Travelers?


Is Google Maps Making Us Worse Travelers?

Are the various GPS-enabled and electronic means of getting from point “A” to point “B” not just making it more efficient for us to get around, but at the same time, also making us dumber travelers? The answer may be “yes” according to various studies recently cited on the “Off the Road” blog at Smithsonian.com.

As they point out, printers have recently been recording a huge dropoff in the number of maps they print per year, while at the same time, studies have have begun to sprout up showing that trips by travelers are actually becoming longer and less accurate. As they note, “[a] study conducted in Tokyo found that pedestrians exploring a city with the help of a GPS device took longer to get places, made more errors, stopped more frequently and walked farther than those relying on paper maps.” Couple that with the fact that wilderness rescues in England have increased in inverse proportion to the number of printed maps being produced, and you’ve got a compelling case that our abandonment of good ol’ fashioned real-world traveling know-how for an ever-growing dependency on devices telling us exactly how to get around hasn’t actually resulted in us getting there any easier.

As for myself, when I travel, I abandon my smart phone — which, as anyone who knows me can attest, is normally always within reaching distance of me the entire day save for when I’m in the shower — and instead rely solely on my lousy Lonely Planet map insert or those ad-support free city maps you find at visitors centers around the world.

Sure, half the time I have no idea of the name of the street I’m on, and more usually than not I find myself getting lost, having to ask directions or being forced to slow down to better find my way, but that’s completely fine with me. It’s usually those times when I meet someone new, stumble upon a hidden spot, find myself enjoying the journey and not the destination — all experiences I seek out when I travel. What better way to do this then ditching my electronic map?

(Editor’s Note: I was thinking of using the title, “Is Apple Maps Making Us Worse Travelers?”, but I wanted the post’s title to be relevant to the more than five of you in fact using Apple’s map app.)

[Have GPS Devices Taken the Fun out of Navigation?]


Published on December 20, 2012

  • Leslie (Downtown Traveler)

    Interesting post. I rely on my Google Maps a lot (on my iPhone) when traveling in the US. Also having access to Yelp and Trip Advisor on my phone has made finding attractions and hotels a lot easier. When I went on my RTW trip in 2008-2009 I had no mobile phone whatsoever, and had to rely on outdated guide books. I’d say the smartphone is definitely a step up! Getting lost in the outskirts of Bangkok trying to find a mythical vegetarian restaurant is no fun :)