Last night the headlights of my rental car were shining directly on a grave, deep in a remote area of Northeastern Georgia. (Think Armenia and Azerbaijan, not Atlanta.)
“You’ve reached your destination,” said Google maps.
“God dammit,” said me.
In the excitement and quick pace of our travels, we put too much faith in Google maps. We were supposed to end up at a small hotel nestled in a winery, and instead we were in a very dark, very foggy and very overgrown cemetery. It was the perfect scene for the opening of the next zombie apocalypse movie. My son stated the obvious: “This cemetery is super murdery.” I had driven us to an abrupt dead end at a grave stone that then required a precise, 10-point turn or risk defacing the final resting place of someone’s beloved family member. My mom was the only one brave enough to get out of the car to direct me around the graves.
This unintended destination followed an earlier 15-km drive on what Google maps called a “road”, but what I would call a “semi-dry riverbed full of large, car-hungry boulders and puddles of mysterious and widely-varied depth.” Our rental car naively bounced us the whole way. I had chosen this route because it was purported to be an entire 16 minutes faster than the other route and also went around the city of Tbilisi, which I was hoping to avoid after driving through it the previous day. (Reasons include roundabouts that follow the exact opposite of normal worldwide roundabout rules which completely void the efficiency and safety of this traffic pattern.)
The route I chose, in the end, added more than an hour to our drive. Must-see sights along the way included trees, mud, rocks and a very large herd of sheep managed by tough-looking dogs that sat in front of our car until hundreds of sheep hobbled across the road. I have never had such deep and direct eye contact with a dog (see photo above.) He ultimately made me submit my 1,600kg car to his furry authority.
In a tiny victory for my travel credibility, the only other people staying at our hotel took the exact same route, in the daylight but minus the cemetery.
After traveling for more than four months now, I should know better. Another memorable GPS fail was in Crete, Greece. Our cute little Citroen rental car tumbled not-so-gracefully over pitted asphalt and forgotten unpaved roads. We were supposed to land at a donkey sanctuary for a night of glamping, but instead landed at a strange military-looking compound more than eight kilometers away. After calling our host for verbal directions, his first words of advice for all of his guests are to turn off GPS entirely.
In Santorini, Greece, our driving route directed us down a flight of stairs, which thankfully we spotted before the decent. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve been pointed down the wrong way of a one-way street, or stopped, mouth agape, at the suggested street for our route.
Ninety-five percent of the time, Google maps has provided solid directions in all of the 25 countries that we’ve traveled to on this adventure. The remaining 5 percent, unfortunately, is when it really counts: at the end of a long journey, which is typically at night because we’ve lollygagged along the way enjoying the route. On the bright side, Google maps has made our adventurous travel even more… adventury.
Lesson learned: the last mile is the most important one. Trust Google maps for most of the way. Silence it for the final leg of your journey.