Illustration of man viewing scenario while holding papers.

With our archives now 3,500+ articles deep, we’ve decided to republish a classic piece each Sunday to help our newer readers discover some of the best, evergreen gems from the past. This article was originally published in May 2019. 

Ever since Google Maps launched its app in 2008, I’ve been using GPS to get around town, and across the country. For a decade, a digital voice from my phone has led me, turn-by-turn, in cities I’m not familiar with and even cities I’ve lived in for years.

But during the past year or so, I’ve become uncomfortable with my reliance on GPS for a variety of reasons.

So I bought a paper map of my fair city of Tulsa, as well as a road atlas of the United States. (Apparently, I’m not alone in this; sales of the classicRand McNally Road Atlas have, counterintuitively, been rising in the last several years). And I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable it’s been to use old-fashioned maps to get around town, and country. In fact, I’ve gone to using “analog” maps as my primary method of navigation, only relying on Google Maps as a back-up.

Here’s why I’ve made this navigational switch, and 7 reasons — from the practical to the philosophical — why you might consider putting a paper map back in your glovebox too:

1. Paper maps never lose power or wireless signal.

I’m a regular visitor of southeast Oklahoma. The landscape in that part of the state is beautiful and surprisingly mountainous, but my wireless connection there is atrocious — which means relying on Google Maps can get me lost and definitely has.

While your phone’s GPS app might always be connected to a satellite, you need a wireless connection to access the map and directions it offers you. If you don’t have a wireless connection, you’ll know your GPS coordinates, but won’t have much of an idea of how to navigate to a specific location.

Google Maps has remedied this issue by allowing you to download all the navigation information you need before you lose wireless connection. That will get you to a place that lacks a signal, but how do you then navigate back from there? Not by using Google Maps, that’s for sure. That’s how I’ve gotten lost a few times when relying solely on digital directions.

With a paper map, you never have to worry about losing a wireless connection because you have access to all the information you need right there at your fingertips. What’s more, a paper map never runs out of power like a smartphone can. It’s a reliable,antifragile source of navigational intel.

2. Paper maps are safer and less distracting than GPS.

You’d think that using GPS, and its orally-announced directions, would provide a less distracted mode of navigation. But in my experience, this often isn’t the case.

When I’m using Google Maps, I sometimes become something of a frenzied, irritated mess. I’ve got kids, so they’re often talking and singing loudly in the backseat. When Google barks its directions at me, I can miss what it’s saying over the din of noise, so I have to pick up my phone to read off the turn I’m supposed to take next.

I sometimes too have to make the map larger on the screen, so I can get an idea of what my subsequent series of moves will be, since I don’t want to be stuck in the far right lane of the highway, needing to exit left through bumper-to-bumper traffic. But doing the zoom-out reverse-pinch gesture on your smartphone while driving 75 mph probably isn’t the safest move.

And man, I go into full panic mode when Google says “Recalculating . . .”

“Crap! Where do I need to go now? Do I have to make an unexpected U-turn? Is it taking me on a dumb route that will add twenty minutes to my trip? Let me take a look at my phone here while I’m driving 70 mph in busy traffic . . .”

I’m not alone in finding that the use of GPS makes for dangerously distracted driving.

According to an insurance company survey, among people who described themselves as being “rarely distracted” while driving, just 10% said they emailed or texted behind the wheel, but 77% admitted to looking at GPS navigation. Other research has found that drivers don’t just frequently glance at their phones to check directions; they, like me, often adjust the size of the map on the screen to