GPS and the Solo Traveler

by Gray Cargill on August 19, 2009

Tom Tom screen

Main screen of Tom Tom One 130-S

Ah, the call of the open road, the wind in your hair, the radio blasting your favorite tunes, the endless highway stretching out before you, leading to equally endless possibilities.  It all sounds so romantic, doesn’t it?  Except that I get bored after an hour in the car by myself and I can’t read a map and drive at the same time, so I haven’t taken any solo road trips.  I prefer to fly.

This is why the invention of GPS is a godsend for people like me.  I have had GPS envy for two years, and now, finally, I am the proud owner of a Tom Tom One 130-S.  Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to use a Garman GPS during a family road trip to Rhode Island, and well, it was love at first sight.  I knew then I had to have a GPS.  Luckily, GPS prices have gone down considerably, and I was able to get my Tom Tom for just a little over $100.  This past weekend, I decided to test my new purchase by taking a road trip from Burlington, Vermont to Montreal in Quebec, Canada.  Having had an opportunity now to spend some quality time with my new GPS, I have some observations.

Tom Tom screen

Another screen view

When I first unpacked my Tom Tom, I was instructed by the materials to visit tomtom.com/home to install maps and select voices and all the other fun stuff you do to set up your GPS.  I chose the voice of Tim, the UK male voice (only to me, he is James, as in “James Bond”).  I played around with adding addresses to it and everything was going just peachy. Except a few days before the trip, I realized the battery was losing its charge because I had been playing with it so much without plugging it into the computer or my car’s lighter.  So I plugged it into the computer to charge it.  Up popped the Tom Tom software, advising me that there was an update I should download.  I dutifully followed instructions to download.  Not only did the download not take, now my GPS had an orange screen with a flashing white x and it didn’t work at all.  I found instructions for how to deal with this problem in the troubleshooting section and basically had to download the whole GPS system, with all my preferences, all over again.  Three hours and many curse words later, I vowed I would never update my Tom Tom again.  Clearly, there are some technical issues here.  Not a good way to start our relationship, James.

I must say, too, that setting the GPS on my car dashboard was not as intuitive and user-friendly as it might have been.  I pretty much had to guess how to do it.  I stuck the disk base to my dashboard, and it stuck really well.  Too well, in fact.  I couldn’t pull it off again.  Which would make it difficult to use the GPS in a different car should I ever want to do that.  However, it did come off eventually–at an inopportune time, of course.  The rubber part of the GPS that is supposed to adhere to the disk doesn’t adhere all that well.  I have to really press down hard and it seems to help if I apply a little spit to it.  I mean, gross, right?   Surely, there’s got to be a better way to install this puppy in a car.  What were they thinking when they came up with this?

Back view of the Tom Tom

Back view of the Tom Tom

Though I was very excited to be map-free with my new GPS, I decided to hedge my bets and print up driving directions and maps off Google “just in case.”  Which turned out to be prescient.  I took on a couple of “hitchhikers” (my friend Kelly on the way up and her and her friend Susan on the way back), so it wasn’t truly a solo road trip.  However, I was glad for the company during this test drive.  The trip went really well from Burlington to Montreal.  James was spot-on with his directions, and we  entered Montreal via highway 10 (the “motorway” as James puts it).  We made it to the hotel, the Hyatt Regency on Jeanne Mance, quite well. The first thing I wanted to do–before I even checked into the hotel–was go up Mont Royal to get some pictures of the Montreal skyline.

Unfortunately, my Tom Tom didn’t have Mont Royal listed as a Point of Interest, and I could not find an address for it to enter in the GPS. So I had to run a Google map and figure out my own route from the hotel.  (Google map failed miserably, by the way.  It indicated that I could take Jeanne Mance up several blocks and then hook a left onto Avenue du Parc, when actually, Jeanne Mance ends at St. Catherine street when you’re driving up from the Hyatt.) Kelly and I improvised a new route and made our way up the mountain.  On the way back, I was able to use James again, since I had the address for the Hyatt entered.  Again, he performed like a trooper.

Car Plugin

Car Plugin

The next test for James came on Sunday morning, when I was to have brunch with friends who live over in the Verdun section of Montreal, about a half hour drive from Jeanne Mance.  When I went to enter their address in the Tom Tom, two different Rielle Streets were listed.  I hoped I had chosen the right one (especially since I had discovered that my cell phone wasn’t working, and I couldn’t call them for help).  It worked perfectly, and I arrived on their street exactly when I said I would be there.  It also got me back to the hotel just fine.

Aside from the installation issues, I was starting to view James as the perfect travel companion.  He never criticized me for not driving fast enough or not passing cars on the freeway or driving too close to the side of the road.  He didn’t get crumbs all over the seats or track mud on the mat or leave crumpled paper towels all over the place.  He only spoke when he had something valuable to say, and he gave me plenty of lead time for turns.  And that accent….Sigh.

However, like so many relationships before him, he failed me when I needed him most.  When it was time to leave Montreal, James kept insisting that I go in the exact opposite direction of where I actually needed to go, toward the 10.  He wanted to me to head back into the city, toward Mont Royal.  At first, I thought perhaps I had entered the wrong address, so I tried it again.  No, he kept doing it.  Thankfully, Susan had been living in Montreal for the past few months and knew which way we needed to go.  I turned James off for the duration of the ride, bitterly disappointed. He wasn’t the man–er, GPS–I thought he was.

But I’m not ready to give up on him.  He is accurate at least 80% of the time, which isn’t a bad track record. I feel relatively confident driving into strange territory following his directions.  This has liberated my travel life.  As long as I make sure to bring some driving directions and maps with me as back up, I will now feel more comfortable taking solo road trips.  I think this is the beginning of a beautiful–make that complicated–relationship.

SoloFriendly August 20, 2009 at 12:41 am

Oh, you stuck yours to the window. See, I think if mine were built differently, that would work better. Have a base that adheres to the window then a bracket on the base that you can just slide the GPS into and out of easily instead of having to worry about the sticky factor. What kind of GPS do you have, Sarah?

sgaughan101 August 19, 2009 at 11:38 pm

I just got a GPS for my birthday and I have to say I love it. Yes sticking it to the window was a mightmare but other than that I think it is just brilliant, I would be lost without it.

Cheers Sarah

SoloFriendly August 19, 2009 at 10:07 pm

A “love-hate relationship” — that's exactly what it is! LOL. Can you share what some of those work-arounds are? I have a feeling I may need some in the future.

SoloFriendly August 19, 2009 at 6:41 pm

Oh, you stuck yours to the window. See, I think if mine were built differently, that would work better. Have a base that adheres to the window then a bracket on the base that you can just slide the GPS into and out of easily instead of having to worry about the sticky factor. What kind of GPS do you have, Sarah?

sgaughan101 August 19, 2009 at 5:38 pm

I just got a GPS for my birthday and I have to say I love it. Yes sticking it to the window was a mightmare but other than that I think it is just brilliant, I would be lost without it.

Cheers Sarah

SoloFriendly August 19, 2009 at 4:07 pm

A “love-hate relationship” — that's exactly what it is! LOL. Can you share what some of those work-arounds are? I have a feeling I may need some in the future.

Betsy August 19, 2009 at 11:23 am

Ha ha ha! I have a love-hate relationship with my Garmin as well. Unfortunately, as I am wont to do with technology of all sorts, I have developed quite a few work-arounds — especially when living in the NYC Metro area and driving around New Jersey.

It HAS come in very handy when I've been completely lost and just needed to get back to civilization, and has been a godsend since I moved to Texas. In fact, I really SHOULD be learning my way around by now, but why should I when I can just plug the address into the GPS?

All said, I've learned the limits of my GPS and still rely on it a lot of the time. But my maps are getting old now, and I, too, am terrified of “updating…”

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