Don’t you just love maps?
I don’t mean the GPS (Global Positing System). I mean a map. A real map. Preferably made of paper. You know the kind that is way too big and unwieldy to hold on your lap in the car, so you have to find creative ways to fold it covering where you are right now? You know the map that once you get it folded just right you realize that you are traveling in the fold? Yes. That map. It’s both extremely annoying but at the same time familiar, grounding, comfortable. I love that map.
A few years ago, when the GPS devices became popular for cars, we bought one. And we used it. We moved back to Germany, a country we thought we knew really well. (We forgot that 20 years is long enough for new roads to be created and for old ones to be renamed.) Well, we discovered we didn’t know it as well as we thought. We didn’t buy a paper map at first. We thought that our GPS would be all that we needed. Yet we felt…lost. Lost is exactly the opposite of what you are supposed to feel with a GPS magically following your car right there attached to your windshield.
Lost. We were never lost in the way that we couldn’t find our way home. We knew how to get home. We always know how to get home. What we didn’t know was where we were. Okay, yes. The GPS not only tells you the city you are in, but it tells you the street, and maybe even a correct address, and even more unbelievably a name of a business, a phone number. Wow! How could you want more?
We wanted more. We wanted to know, to feel where we were. Not just at that spot, that moment. No, where we were in the country, the world. Where is this town in relation to where I live. Honestly. We drove to the little known Germany city of Aalen where we were chasing down one of the country’s world heritage sites, the Limes Museum (Roman Empire). It was only about an hour and a half drive from where we were living. That morning, we got up, plugged in the city name and off we went. Neither Jim nor I knew which direction we were driving.
In the United States, highways usually have the cardinal direction on the sign. So, you know that you are driving north on Rt. 7 or west on I-40, but they do not do that on German signs. As we were driving, we started to have this conversation about where we were. We just didn’t know. Then we got even more frustrated. Why?
Laughing at ourselves, we stopped to buy a map. A paper map. A homing device. Something familiar. A way for us to know exactly where we were in this vast world. The first gas station did not have one. Neither did the second or the third. We couldn’t believe it. No maps? What is this world coming to? We looked around and every car – very single car – had a GPS. Now, most of these cars were from Germany, and their license plates indicated they didn’t live far away. Yet, they had their trusty GPS! I don’t know if they were using it or not, but they had one. Who needs maps?
Well, Jim and I do. We persevered, we enjoyed our museum, and we found a map. Germany is a pretty big country, so there was no one map to show the whole country, but it had one of those spiral-bound book maps. I like those, too…somewhat. I realize it allows the map to get more detailed, but remember one of the main reasons we were looking for a map that day is to figure out where we were in relation to everywhere else. The book map has only a couple of full country maps at the beginning. It worked.
That day we turned off our GPS. We went back to doing things the way we loved to do them. If we are driving to a new city, we take out the map (sometimes on Google) and we plot our route. Guess what? Not only do we know how to get there, we have a nice quiet, relaxing ride. We know where we are in relation to the rest of the world, and we love it.
Disclaimer: Yes, we still use the GPS. It’s a great tool to find a specific place, like a good restaurant, hotel, or even…museum. But, and this is a big but, we still love our maps!
How about you? Have you thrown away your maps? Is a GPS all you need to get around?
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