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An Inelegant Map Solution

I spent much of last week driving in the Twin Cities metro. It’s an area I haven’t had to navigate much on my own because my husband loves to drive and has an excellent directional ability, so he’s done almost all the driving whenever we visit. (He’s so good at driving that even if he gets momentarily lost and turns the wrong way, he instantly knows it, saying, “This doesn’t feel right.”)

As a passenger, I can enjoy the scenery and don’t have to pay attention to traffic. I have, however, often looked up specific roads and exits on paper maps (that used to be a thing, kids!) and Google Maps on my phone when we end up in an unfamiliar area. That’s very different from having to be the driver, keeping track of road signs, speed limits, lane changes, merges, and zooming traffic. And I’m directionally challenged to boot. To say I was apprehensive about the whole adventure is an understatement.

In advance, I used Google Maps to plan my various routes. This was an exercise in frustration on several counts.

My first route was to Daughter’s house. Hubby and I have often gone a particular back route rather than use major freeways. Google Maps doesn’t like that, however, providing only a couple of main routes on freeways. Using my laptop, I dragged the route where I wanted it to go and shared to my phone, thinking that would fix things. Ha! Google Maps will not send a route you’ve created to your phone, defaulting to whatever its preferred route is.

Much swearing ensued.

I regrouped and started looking around for other map apps. Unfortunately, Google Maps is apparently the best there is. I even looked for a GPS unit, like a Garmin, thinking that might be a better option, but I didn’t have enough time to consider the purchase carefully. And, if you’re wondering, yes, Garmin still exists. They managed to enter the wearables market before Google took over the mapping market, pushing other map makers into the shadows of the internet.

So, back to Google Maps I went, but I did a little more research about how it works and how to set a self-selected route.

Enter Google My Maps.

In order to customize a route, you use Google My Maps and share it with Google Maps.

If you think this is a simple solution, it’s not. It’s a downright inelegant map solution.

The Google My Maps tools are not intuitive, so I had to read a Lifewire article and watch a how-to video to figure it out.

Even with these helpful resources, the draw tool seems to want to take over the app and throw out-of-the-way loops and backtracks into your maps. It’s a pain in the butt to deal with and more swearing ensued while I used it.

Here’s a quick Google My Maps route I threw together as a sample for this blog post. The draw tool kept inserting routes I didn’t want while building this map, but I managed to delete them.

Google My Maps sample circular route starting in Bemidji in northern Minnesota, June 25, 2022.
Google My Maps sample circular route starting in Bemidji in northern Minnesota, June 25, 2022.

I tried to memorize the back route to Daughter’s because I didn’t trust Google Maps to serve up the route I had created on Google My Maps. In the end, my husband gave me instructions for a simpler back route, which was a good thing.

When I tried using the voice instructions while driving, I discovered they didn’t work. Like, no voice at all. Which meant all these maps I had saved for various routes in the metro would not be any help while I was actually driving.

More swearing ensued.

What I found infuriating about the lack of voice instructions is that they had worked using my old phone.

After arriving at Daughter’s with my memorized back route (that took me on a long detour due to road construction – ack!), I tried the voice instructions to walk around her neighborhood and they worked fine.

Eventually, I figured out there was a problem between the phone and the Bluetooth system in the car. Each time I got into the car and the phone automatically connected to the car’s Bluetooth system, I had to disconnect the phone in order to use the voice instructions from Google Maps. I’ll have to play around with this a bit more to find out whether I have to disconnect everything related to the phone’s audio, or if I can keep the phone part connected.

Once I got the voice instructions working, I found more inelegance in how Google Maps worked with major routes. It kept wanting to take me on routes that were faster rather than the ones I had selected in order to learn them. In one case, it asked if I wanted to take an alternate route and told me to PUSH A BUTTON to keep going on the original route. “Hey, Google Maps, I’m driving! I can’t push a button right now!”

In another case, it took me waaaaaay out of the way just to avoid a little bit of stop-and-go traffic. It tried to detour me again once I got back on the main highway.

As I was returning home and on a route I was very familiar with, it tried taking me on some weird back road only a couple of blocks from a main highway. What was that about, Google-that-likes-major-routes?

I learned to ignore the Google Maps voice instructions when it tried to unnecessarily detour me and it would reset itself.

The places where Google Maps did a great job of navigation was in the heavy-traffic, well-used metro routes, particularly on the freeways. I especially like when voice navigation forewarns you which lane to get in for a highway interchange or merge.

If Google could add the Google My Maps route selection tool into Google Maps, keep the drawing tool from taking over, let us send the directions we select to our phones, and allow us to tweak the voice instructions not to provide detours if we don’t want them, Google Maps would become an elegant map solution. (Granted, I may still be missing a few features in Google Maps, so perhaps I’m part of the reason for its current inelegance.)