GPS verses Phone maps and other tech things I learnt on my first USA road trip

Have you been on a road trip ?

Growing up I remember watching movies made in America where a group of guys and girls go on a road trip across several states. The open road, the music and countryside. It looked like incredible fun.

Over Valentine’s Day and President Day weekend, I loaded the family into the car and we had embarked on our very first American road trip. We were on a mission to find snow. Living in Dallas Texas is pretty far from snow at the moment so we headed to a place called Snow Creek in Kansas.

Here is what I learnt on my first road trip –

GPS verses Phone maps - what I learnt on my first USA road trip

The Not-So-Open road:

The open road was not so much “open” but should be renamed as “truck-filled-congestion”. A 10 hour trip became 12 as the Interstate highway became single lane due to brave construction crews hard at work upgrading what looked to me like perfect infrastructure.  I must have missed this part in my American movie but did notice a sign saying $10 000 fine for killing a construction worker…

The backing soundtrack:

In the movies there are these shots of the vehicle occupant singing at the top of their voices  to the music on the radio as the camera pans out of the car to a helicopter view of the vehicle driving into the sunset. In reality, there are hundreds of stations to choose from. The problem is that the ratio has a 2 songs to every 8 adverts ratio where the ads sell anything from cars to constipation medication with “side effects that may or may not include a mild heart attack so consult your doctor”. Pretty hard to sing along to that.

Radio turns off.

GPS verses Phone maps - what I learnt on my first USA road trip

No internet No kidding:

As soon as we lost radio signal I knew the rest of the 7 hours would be smooth as we have these amazing Data packages from our mobile provider so we could stream music on Pandora and Spotify and kids could watch YouTube and catch up on who is doing what in Mimecraft or even watch some Netflix.

eh…no.

As soon as you drive outside the main metropolitan area, the signal drops from an amazing H+ to a pitiful Edge. At best you can make a phone call but forget about streaming anything.

What to Do Apps:

Whenever I travel, I have a travel app that tells me the top attractions and what to do in each city I visit. This worked perfectly in Europe, Middle East, Far East and in main cities in the USA. However, when it comes to the smaller cities that I encountered on this road trip, the top attractions became very very limited and essentially boiled down to museums  and public parks named after a semi-famous person who once sat on a bench. I say semi-famous as I couldn’t look up the person’s name due to lack of internet access.

GPS verses Phone maps - what I learnt on my first USA road trip

GPS vs. Phone Maps:

Have you ever heard people ask “why would you buy a GPS device when you have a phone?” or “the GPS market is going to die as the phone has all the maps we need”. I finally have the answer.

GPS devices WIN over phone maps.

Yes. Here is why:

For every-day short trips in and around the city, the phone is perfect. Navigation functionality on a phone drains your battery so as long as you have a car kit that can charge the phone whilst the navigation is on, then the phone is just a perfect companion.

Here is the other bit you need for maps to work: Data. Unless you have a 128 SD card and downloaded every map to offline mode or bought maps with offline capabilities, the phone needs data to update itself and the maps as you travel.  So around the city, this is no problem, however on a road trip where the signal drops down to Edge, then the maps become useless. You can not look up directions, where the next gas station is or where to find that semi-famous park.

This is where the GPS device wins as it has one job and that is to navigate. Its maps are stored locally and it gets its positioning from the satellites which are powerful enough to be much more accurate. When there are 4 right hand turns within minutes of each other, the GPS takes you to the right one unlike the phone which takes it sweet time to update and therefore you tend to miss the correct exit and have to double back.

So in Summary:

Road tripping is part of being in the US. Its what people do. Drive until you can’t anymore, find a hotel for the night, sleep over, have coffee and carry on the following day. Even though technology did not play fair with us we replaced our phone-screens with the country-scenery-screen resulting in an amazing family trip. I guess for techies who are always connected we were just under prepared just as we were arriving at the snow wearing a jacket and jeans!

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