How To Break Your GPS Dependency

How To Break Your GPS Dependency

I just moved to a new city, and while Android’s navigation function has been invaluable to getting me where I need to go, I’ve realised that I still don’t know anything about how the city is laid out, nor can I take a simple drive to my friend’s house, which I’ve been to many times, without my GPS directing me. If your sense of direction is similarly lacking and you want a more intuitive understanding of your city, here are a few things you can do to rid yourself of that GPS dependency and actually learn your way around.

Photo remixed from originals by cristovao/Shutterstock and Christoff/Shutterstock.

Turn-by-turn navigation is amazing, but over-reliance on this modern convenience has its problems. In the best case, you get where you’re going but learn little about how you got there or how to get back. In the worst case, you get very lost very quickly if your battery dies or you lose your GPS signal. Here’s how to get your sense of direction back and wean yourself off that GPS unit.

Buy A Paper Map

Seriously, go find a paper map of your city and keep it in your glove box at all times. You don’t ncessarily need to go out and buy an atlas or anything: a simple fold-out map of the main roads can do you wonders. Not only can you learn how the ,ain roads are set up, which is a big step in knowing your way around, but it never runs out of batteries–meaning no matter what’s happening with your phone, your 3G service or Google, you’ll always be able to at least look at your map and say “This is the road I need to get home”.

Memorise Directions


Instead of just punching addresses into your GPS, make an effort to get directions and try to memorise them. Whether you get them on your phone and read them or print them out from your computer, driving directions will actually get you thinking about each step in the process. When you navigate, all you’re thinking is “left turn here”, “merge here” and so on — you don’t necessarily think about where you’re going. By printing out actual directions you’ll remember street names and other landmarks to help you remember where to go. It also helps to review these directions before and after each trip, to help them stick in your mind. After one or two trips, you probably won’t need them anymore. Photo by Chris Lawrence.

Ask For Directions

From the “yeah, duh” files: don’t be afraid to ask people for directions. This is near impossible when you’re lost in a city and have no idea how you got there, but now that you have a paper map (right?) and a general idea of where you’re going, asking for directions becomes a viable option again, so take advantage!

Some of these tips may seem simple or obvious, but without a conscious decision to wean yourself off turn-by-turn navigation, they become a lot less useful (after all, how can you ask for directions if you don’t even know which freeway takes you home?). So fire up Google Maps, print out those directions and develop your local knowledge.


  • Write down and draw your own map.

    Look at your GPS/printed-map once for directions, memorise it and try to make your own map out of it. This is cheaper and easier anyway for me if going to country side and not expecting a 3G signal (have been ages since last time bought a printed map)

    If you have to ask for directions – if the informant permitting (also time and location) spend more time to try to draw sketch of location and direction to go. Not only it will be clearer for both ways, but believe me, you’ll somehow remember it for longer.

  • I’m sure I read somewhere recently that younger generations are actually losing their ability to navigate via landmarks because of the proliferation of GPS and electronic maps. I use them too in new areas, but always make mental notes of landmarks so I actually understand where I am and where I’ve been.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!