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Google Maps is not infallible.

I learned this lesson the hard way a few weeks ago. To make a long story short, the main highway into the mountains was closed due to heavy snow, ice, and accidents, so Google Maps rerouted us through some small towns and over smaller and smaller roads.

Eventually, we ended up parked on the side of a non-maintained road on a very large hill that was covered with snow and ice. We were stuck there for three hours, along with about 10 other cars on the road and four in the ditch, at least two of which had hit other cars on their way there. We didn’t dare try to turn around — the last vehicle we saw try to make an escape skidded down the hill and into another car.


We thought we might be stuck there, on an icy hill, in the dark, in the middle of nowhere, all night. Fortunately, we were able to maneuver our way back to safety after enough other people had backed out, and we got back on the now-open interstate.

The entire experience was really, truly scary.

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But it got me thinking: Google Maps could fail you at any time, and it’s best to be prepared. These are the skills you need.

Map Reading


Offline maps How to Download Offline Maps in Google Maps for Android How to Download Offline Maps in Google Maps for Android Want to use Google Maps without an Internet connection? This is how. Read More are great, but you don’t always have the foresight to download them. You should be able to read a street map and find your way around a city or a rural highway system without them. This takes some practice, especially if you’ve been relying on GPS navigation for years.

Buy a local map and practice navigating when you aren’t in a hurry; it’s a great skill that a lot of people have lost, and it could help you out of trouble when you need it.

If you want to really be good at reading a map, you’ll need to practice getting yourself from one location to another with a compass. This is usually best done on a hike, so it’s not directly applicable to getting lost in your car, but it’ll help improve your map-reading skills nonetheless. To get started on your map-reading skills, check out Compass Dude’s How to Read a Map tutorials.



You may feel like you were born with great (or terrible) navigational skills, but these skills can always be improved. According to WebMD, you can improve your inborn sense of direction by practicing — they suggest choosing objects and then locating them on a map.

You can also test new routes to familiar destinations, intentionally get lost and find your way back to where you started, or just be more aware of your surroundings and how you go to where you are now.

Scientists also say that playing video games can improve your spatial awareness. Video games often get a bad rep, but they are useful tools for retraining the brain with some indispensable life skills 5 Life Skills That Video Games Can Help You Develop 5 Life Skills That Video Games Can Help You Develop Video games can help you succeed at life. It's an uncommon opinion, especially in mainstream media, but it's true. Read More .

Being able to retrace your steps without a map is an indispensable navigation skill, and a lot of it comes down to paying more attention to your surroundings and the little landmarks. Combining mindfulness Practice Mindfulness With Help From Your iPhone & These Apps Practice Mindfulness With Help From Your iPhone & These Apps Inner calm and tranquility? There's an app for that. Read More and spatial skills practice will help you get better at orienting yourself in space when you’re lost.

Fixing a Flat


If your GPS has led you astray, you could find yourself out of cell phone service in a hurry. And if you have car trouble while you’re out there, you could be stuck for a very long time. If you can fix a flat, though, you’ll be prepared for the most common roadside maintenance, and you’ll be more likely to be able to get yourself back to civilization. Fortunately, you can learn to fix anything online Something Broken? Learn To Fix Anything With These 4 Websites Something Broken? Learn To Fix Anything With These 4 Websites You can spend hundreds of dollars to have a professional help you out, or you can learn how to fix it yourself for the cost of some tools and a couple hours of work. Read More , including a flat. has a page that tells you the equipment you need to pack and the process to change a tire. It definitely is one among the many emergency maintenance jobs 15 Emergency Maintenance Jobs You Can Learn With Online Videos 15 Emergency Maintenance Jobs You Can Learn With Online Videos What if you're in an emergency situation and you need some help? These 15 tutorial videos will help you solve some of the most common problems around your everyday life without calling the pros. Read More you should be prepared for.

You can practice replacing your tire with a spare in your driveway, and it’s a good thing to do every once in a while. There are a number of little things that you have to remember, and practicing will help them stick in your memory How to Easily Organize & Remember All the Life Hack Tips You Read How to Easily Organize & Remember All the Life Hack Tips You Read We forget things if we don't repeat them. That's bad news for the endless words of wisdom we read every day. The good news is that forgetfulness can be beaten. Read More —trying to remember where to put the jack when you’re under stress is only going to make things worse.

First Aid

If Google Maps has led you out into the middle of nowhere and you need help for an injury or illness (if you go into the ditch, for example), you might have to rely on yourself. Knowing how to treat wounds, set broken bones, and make an ill person comfortable could all come in handy someday, so it’s a good idea to have some basic training in first aid.

Check the Red Cross website for a list of first aid classes in your area. They also have a well-recommended app for all first-aid emergencies.


You can also use a first aid app First Aid Smartphone Apps Save Lives First Aid Smartphone Apps Save Lives Sure, you can bandage a cut, but can you splint a broken limb? Do you know what to do if someone has sustained a serious burn? Could you save someone's life with CPR? Read More to give you a basic introduction, but if you’re going to be relying on it in an emergency situation, you’ll need to make sure that you can access everything without Wi-Fi or cellular data.


This may sound over the top for a situation in which your GPS isn’t working, but a fire can help you melt snow for drinking water, stay warm, and signal other drivers. If you keep an emergency kit in your car, which you should, starting a fire will be very easy. A few matches and a candle or two will greatly simplify the process.

If you don’t have a kit, though, you should be prepared to use a quick solution like short-circuiting a cell phone battery to get a spark (check out the video of Bear Grylls using this method above).

Getting a fire started isn’t something you want to do for the first time in the dark and the snow, so practice it beforehand. Knowing a few different ways to get a spark is good, too.

Be Safe Out There

Most of the time, Google Maps works perfectly and will get you to where you’re going without a problem. If it doesn’t, though, it’s a good idea to be prepared for the navigational problems and emergencies you could face. These five skills will see you through all but the most dire of circumstances, and could be useful in other situations, too.

Has your GPS navigation ever failed you? Did you get lost? Or end up in a sticky situation? How did you get back on track? Share your stories below so we can all learn from them!

Image Credits: Nomad Soul via, Looker_Studio via, mezzotint via

  1. Malik Malik
    January 20, 2016 at 8:56 am

    Google Maps is really a good application But I have noticed that it is not providing the accurate information about your destination.

    • Dann Albright
      January 23, 2016 at 7:03 pm

      Are there any kinds of destinations that you find that it has more difficulty with? Or just in general?

  2. Pr Chris
    January 9, 2016 at 5:33 am

    Let's see, there is obviously a difference between the millennials and the older generations.
    1. When I started to drive; maps were the ONLY way of getting fact, since my mom didn't know her right hand from her left when she tried to communicate directions to my dad when he was driving, I learned to navigate when I was six. My dad was Navy, and we were sent cross country every 2 years when he was given orders. I had lots of practice; the interstate was not fully built out then, either.

    2. Also, given the reliability of tires, most people learned how to change them. I have changed out at least a half dozen tires over my lifetime (and that doesn't include those in the driveway when I was rotating them. Getting tires to last more than 20k in the 60s was difficult, to say the least.

    3. Everyone needs to learn first aid, whether they are driving or not--and first aid needs to include CPR. The life you save may be someone in your family.

    PR chris

    • Dann Albright
      January 10, 2016 at 3:10 pm

      Yeah, there are a lot of differences between millennials and older generations—that's why they're called different generations! :-)

      You bring up a good point, though, that actually addresses a number of the (rather frustrating) comments below: your skills are very much determined by your experience. A lot of millennials just haven't had to keep a map in their car and navigate with it. There hasn't been a reason to do so, when Google Maps has always been around. They haven't had to change many (or any) tires, because tires have gotten better over time (I've been driving for 13 years, and I think I've had to change one). It's just that technology changes, and how people do things changes with it. I think your comments detail that perfectly.

      I totally agree that everyone should learn first aid, regardless of whether they're driving high in the mountains or just cruising across the city.

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. Barney
    January 7, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    Sigh...Google Maps or any other navigation aid are not the end all, be all for getting around.
    They are an aid...not something to blindly follow. Using some common sense while driving keeps you out of trouble. Is it snowing and you're going up into the hills/mountains? Probably gonna be more snow on the roads making travel more difficult. Raining hard and the navigator says take this road and when you get there, there's a flow of water going across it? Probably a bad idea to try to ford a stream of unknown depth in your little city car. Navigator says there's a road that goes around the problem? And that road starts getting smaller and sketchier and looking like there's no way to turn around? Yea, bad idea to ignore what your eyes are seeing in favor of what an at best very general information navigator is telling you. Don't get me wrong, I love using my navigator for situational awareness as well as routes. But I'll deviate off the route in a heart beat if I see a reason to do so.

    • Dann Albright
      January 10, 2016 at 3:06 pm

      In my own defense, I'll say that I did make an informed decision to take on that road; being in a 4WD SUV, and the fact that we saw other people going there made me think that it was a better decision than turning around and backtracking to the closed freeway. Obviously everyone else had the same (wrong) thought. :-)

      But yes, trusting your senses is important, no matter which guidance app you're using. Especially now that they're good at rerouting when you deviate from their plans.

  4. stern.ben
    January 7, 2016 at 8:46 am

    I use WAZE. It is far superior to Google maps. It has up-to-the-minute info supplied acitvely and passively by other WAZERS. I have used it in at least 6 different countries with only one error ever since it started to work.

    • Dann Albright
      January 10, 2016 at 3:04 pm

      That's really good to know; I've used it once or twice, but maybe I should try it out more. Does it have any effect on your battery? It seems like it would be collecting and transmitting a lot of data.

      • Ben Stern
        January 10, 2016 at 4:09 pm

        Anytime you use GPS it uses up battery.I make sure the phone is connected to the car electricity. BUT -- WAZE is very light on data. I used it for two straight days and the data transmission was very low. Give it a try and measure.

  5. Lamont
    January 7, 2016 at 2:18 am

    Kids are idiots. AAA gives away free maps. Learn how to read. Do your due diligence and homework, know where you're going beforehand. Google evens tells you not to trust it.

    Welcome to life. Now grow up and learn to be self-sufficient.

    • Dann Albright
      January 10, 2016 at 3:03 pm

      As I pointed out below, I'm sure society elders said "kids are idiots" when they discovered that their grandkids couldn't trap and skin their own rabbits. It's just progress—that's how change works. 99% of the time, using Google Maps is no problem at all, and so people rely on it. In the vast majority of cases, that's totally fine, and they don't have to worry about anything. I'd say that most of the time, even if they get lost, they're still probably fine.

      Also, I have to point out that all of the people that I saw on that snowy road—including the person who tried to drive past all of us and went straight into the ditch—were adults.

  6. Etamni
    January 6, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    Ironically, this made the first page of Google search results when I searched the term "Google Maps" -- it was the second item ( was first).

    • Dann Albright
      January 10, 2016 at 3:01 pm

      Funny! I did not expect that. :-) Thanks for letting me know. Hopefully it gets more people thinking about what they'll do if they end up without the app they rely on.

  7. Andrew
    January 6, 2016 at 12:20 am

    Wow. Society has been so "dumbed down" there is actually an article about "map reading". This is pathetic. This is a basic skill that should have been learned in grade school. The lack of common sense and survival skills, the absence of self-sufficiency and problem solving abilities has now reached critical mass. Basic common sense and awareness is not at all common anymore and with each generation the irony is completely lost on an oblivious population.

    • carm
      January 6, 2016 at 3:22 pm

      The article is more so about being ready for worse case scenarios. Everyone who is able to read and intelligent enough to follow the rules of the road can read a map. What happens in an emergency situation or when you're lost - anxiety and frustration kicks in - which makes it hard to think clearly, so "common sense survival skills" become difficult - which has always happened, even before GPS.

      Nothing has been dumbed down, the only difference is now people are getting to places faster and more efficiently and most people don't have a physical map in their car because 99% of the time you don't need one. For the emergency situation when you do, of course you should have an emergency kit that includes one.

      • Dann Albright
        January 10, 2016 at 3:00 pm

        You have a good point there, carm; a difficult, or even emergency, situation makes it really difficult to think clearly, so even if you ARE prepared, it can be difficult to make good decisions.

      • fcd76218
        January 10, 2016 at 3:15 pm

        You'd be surprised how many people cannot and/or do not know how to read and follow a map even when given explicit written directions.

    • Dann Albright
      January 10, 2016 at 2:59 pm

      carm is exactly right—this isn't an article about map reading. It's about not relying on the technology that works 99% of the time, but occasionally fails, in which case you should be prepared to deal with that situation. As for society being "dumbed down," I have to strongly disagree. At some point, society elders probably thought that society had been "dumbed down" because people didn't know how to trap and skin their own rabbits. It's just natural progress and change.

  8. fcd76218
    January 5, 2016 at 8:11 pm

    My experience has been that GoogleMaps, MapQuest and other mapping services are great when providing information for travel between cities and towns. However, they all fall short when it comes to driving local streets. I wonder how the algorithms are set up by these services. I have found that in quite a few cases, even when asked for the most direct routing, instead of using larger streets, narrower back streets are used.

    We have come to rely on Google so much that we assume it is omniscient and instantaneous. In spite of all the data that it collects, it is neither all-knowing nor up to the minute. It takes a finite amount of time for Google to collect the data, examine it and then disseminate it to its users. Spontaneous, unplanned events (accidents, local weather, etc.) do not make it into the Google databases as quickly as we expect.

    • Dann Albright
      January 10, 2016 at 2:57 pm

      That does seem to be the case, doesn't it? Highways and major roads don't seem to be any problem at all, but local streets seem to cause it more problems. There's probably some sort of computational reason for that—I'm sure the algorithms that they use for those things are really complicated, and I definitely don't have the knowledge to comment on them safely!

      And you're right about the fact that we rely heavily on Google and don't always think about the fact that it's not up-to-the-second. I'm sure Google's trying to fix that, though. :-)

      • fcd76218
        January 10, 2016 at 3:10 pm

        "And you’re right about the fact that we rely heavily on Google and don’t always think about the fact that it’s not up-to-the-second."
        If Google ran the world, their info would be more timely. :-)

  9. Phid ippides
    January 5, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    I don't know that the potential for Google Maps to fail directly leads to a need to learn firestarting or first aid, but I do agree that Google Maps has its limitations. This is true even if you aren't traversing a remote road in the middle of nowhere.

    Last fall, I had to teach an early morning class on a Saturday in Atlanta and I noticed on Google Maps that there was a lot of congestion on the interstate near downtown (I think there had been an accident). So I followed Google's directions to get to campus more quickly by taking some side streets, but to my dismay Google then led me on an unfamiliar route that was completely blocked off because of an early-morning race that was going on. Because of the number of runners in it, I couldn't easily find a way around it, and Google kept telling me to make turns onto roads that were temporarily blocked off. I drove in circles trying to find my own way through.

    Needless to say, I was about 15 minutes late to my own class. Thanks, Google Maps!

    • Dann Albright
      January 10, 2016 at 2:54 pm

      Yeah, learning to start a fire because Google Maps might fail is a little bit over the top . . . but that was kind of my idea. The point is that you never know when something that you rely on will fail, and you need to be ready. Also, if you do a lot of driving in the mountains, fire-starting is probably slightly more necessary than if you live somewhere else.

      Anyway, your experience with the race doesn't surprise me; that seems like something it would be really difficult for Google Maps to contend with. That'd be super cool if it learned to, though!

      Thanks for reading!

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