Garmin and Me: How My GPS and I Became Friends

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… because sometimes our best travel tips for women come directly from our experiences and relationships with technology!?

I don’t remember where Garmin came from, just that we brought her into our lives for my daughters to use to navigate their way to Virginia while Dave and I traveled to Europe last year.

Our relationship didn’t start out well. She was useless.

For reasons either atmospheric or technical, she believed she was suspended 100 feet above Interstate I-95, where we all know there aren’t any roads. Google maps saved the day.  I would never have guessed then that I could grow to love her.

When I was solo driving around France in the Loire Valley several weeks ago, let’s just say my GPS and I got to know each other pretty well. Here are some things I observed and how our relationship developed from its rocky beginnings:

If you bring your GPS from home, she will be as jet lagged as you are.
I’d taken on the transatlantic flight, the cab ride across Paris, and the three hour train ride on the TGV with something approaching aplomb. By the time I swaggered into the rental car agency, I had made it to within five miles of where I was staying. Mistakenly I said to myself, “That wasn’t so bad!”

I climbed into my rental Fiat and fired up Gar, which I had already loaded up with maps back home. Never had it occurred to me that I should have turned her on hours earlier.  To see a map leading to my home in South Carolina on the screen and the message “searching for satellites” was disconcerting, but I figured that these floating space objects would be found momentarily. I went back into the rental agency to get directions, wrestled with a paper map at strange stoplights in a new country, and took what felt like at least 75 wrong turns. Over an hour later, as if  on cue, Garmin, whom I still didn’t like very much, found the right satellites just in time to let me know that I had arrived at my destination.

She gets very quiet when she has no idea what she’s doing. She may even just ditch you when it matters most.
You will make a turn just as directed. You will think you are on the right path until you realize little miss fancy pants hasn’t chimed in with her next directive. She will be uncharacteristically silent. Silence from Gar after any maneuver is never good. You will look at her screen and see that according to her you aren’t on any road at all; you are driving in the middle of a field somewhere or through a building. You feel silly noting the pavement beneath you.

When she knows what she’s doing – or to rephrase, “thinks she knows what she’s doing,” she will not be quiet.
I guess God made human friends too big to throw out of car windows for a reason.

Even if it was just for a bathroom break, Garmin felt it her duty to scream her standard staccato chorus of “RE-CAL-culating,” “RE-CAL-culating,” every time I left the purple route drawn on her screen.

“BE- QUI- ET, Bee-oych, BE-QUI-ET, Bee-oych,” I’d say back to her.

That and the off switch shut her up.

She only thinks she speaks a foreign language
Garmin with her European maps all loaded on her and all, fancied herself as quite the polyglot. She would switch from French to Flemish pronunciation in the middle of a street name. Making her way flawlessly through long flowing Frenchie street names, she would then stumble over the 101 words, startling me by choosing  a dissonant Flemish “blauw” over the French “bleu.” As if I wouldn’t notice.

She would rather sound authoritative than be correct
Instead of just admitting she did not have a clue as to what side of the road an upcoming exit was on, she would say:

“in 100 meters take “ef, hen righ-le.”

She says “ef, hen righ-le” with so much confidence that you may think it’s your vocabulary that’s lacking, or that perhaps she knows English words that haven’t been invented yet.

She’s got a great sense of direction, but sometimes get a little confused.
Garmin sometimes has spells of vertigo. On curvy roads the vehicle on her screen will spin in circles (and yes, this is one of those times when she gets uncharacteristically silent.) You must always have a backup plan. I highly recommend buying a small Michelin map book that can be tossed in your bag. (On the last day, this little gem is what got me to the train station – but that’s another Gar story.)

After a couple of days traveling together, we hit our stride.
On our third day together I made one wrong turn, then a second wrong turn and ended up plunging into the middle of a large city. At first she relentlessly fell into her “Re-CAL-cu-lating” repetitions. And I needed her now more than ever, so I couldn’t turn her off.

But after a third wrong turn at a confusing multi-pronged traffic roundabout, a beautiful thing happened: Garmin stopped trying to put me back on the large autoroute and navigated us deftly through the center of town and then onto a beautiful two lane road.  It was as if she had said, “Well, okay then. You don’t want to get back on that road. I’ll show you another.” This is the moment I think I first loved her.

For the rest of the trip I followed impulses and exercised defiance. It felt amazing the first time I completely turned Garmin off, for no other reason than I wanted to get lost, and drive without a plan. I’d let her regroup in dark screened silence, only firing her back up when I  needed her to get me out of the middle of nowhere.

I became incredibly comfortable taking a little road because it looked as if something interesting might be down it. I’d see a steeple on the other side of the river and drive across a narrow bridge to get there. I followed signs with the words vin or fromage written on them, to places I would never find. Without her I wouldn’t have found plateaus of blue skied and stormy vistas, full of ripe vineyards that felt like secrets.

She gave me the luxury of being able to get completely lost.

*all photos by Margo Millure © all rights reserved

Now we want to know: What travel tips for women have you gleaned from experiences with pesky technology?

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About the author

Margo Millure lives in Richmond, Virginia. She is a portrait photographer, writer and founder of Travel Belles. Learn more about her at www.MargoMillure.com.

20 thoughts on “Garmin and Me: How My GPS and I Became Friends”

  1. Oh Margo, I’m laughing so hard! I LOVE this post! 🙂 You brought back so many memories of caressing and saying “I love you’s” to our GAR followed inevitably by a united “SHUT UP!!” 🙂 Ah, travel. Isn’t it wonderful?

  2. Bonjour/Bonsoir Margo,
    I just had to write to tell you how much I enjoyed your attempted journey in the Loire Valley area. Poor Garmin does try!
    I love the Loire area of France. My family and I have spent about fourteen years visiting that area. So beautiful and with just a little wine and champagne to enhance the experience!
    When thinking about your Garmin and a slight non-cooperation, I think of my journey with a friend in Austin, Texas. Her two young grandchildren were safely secured into their seats and she programed Garmin, to take us for a visit to Zilker Park, just outside Austin.
    We moved from the hotel parking area and followed the Garmin instructions. Within five minutes, Garmin declared that we had arrived at our destination.
    It could not have been more wrong. We were outside an Irish Bar at 11am with two small children!!!
    Luckily, we continued on our way and about thirty minutes later found our destination with the aid of an ‘antiquated paper guide’!!
    The joys of travelling by car.
    Best wishes, Eileen

  3. I laughed so hard remembering how your little miss fancy pants couldn’t get us to the restaurant in Nashville last year.
    This is the thing, this family (Garmins) are unreliable and inconsistent.
    I traveled 2700 miles last summer w/assistance from my Direction Bitch and never got lost (for more than a minute).
    Until I got to Austin. I get lost every other day here and the Directional Bitch just sits on the seat sulking. It seems this place is way to confusing for her little brain.

  4. @Krista – Now that I think about it, I guess it’s a good thing that GPS devices have become our main copilots. I’ve always thought traveling as the navigator was much more difficult than driving… and the consequences of chewing out an electronic device aren’t as serious (as far as I know, anyway!)

    @Eileen so glad to learn of our common love of the Loire! And poor Gar does try, and maybe she meant to end up at that Irish bar 🙂

    @the mayor between you and Eileen it seems as if Gar may have issues with… Austin? Oh yea, but there was that comical evening in Nashville too where thank God we eventually found that restaurant. .. and there were Gar issues right here in Myrtle and in France.

    Makes me want to ask if anyone has tried another brand? I know I heard major complaining from the Tom Tom people for several years but they have been silent lately. Anyone?

  5. Ha ha ha, this post is hilarious! We’ve taken so many road trips in Italy with a GPS & I remember at first I was ready to throw the dang thing out the window….I can just hear the “re-calculating” voice now, lol. I agree it can be totally useful, but I like your adventurous spirit of traveling without a plan – makes for some of the best adventures…then you can always switch your lovely lady back on 🙂

  6. Margo,
    I love this! You captured exactly all my frustrations with those devices as well… it’s funny because I’ve also resented my Garmin’s stuck up personality too! I wonder if it’s a common complaint and in the future, they might install less authoritative voices.

    In any case, I’m always a fan of just exploring aimlessly and discovering something hidden!

  7. @Tuula – Never thought I’d see the day when I thought a GPS was this lovely. I’m just looking forward to an advancement in technology where I can say “Gar Off NOW,” and not have to flip a switch!

    @ Corinne – Ha! My daughters switched ours to a male Australian voice for a while! they named him “Lee.” He wasn’t so pleasant either when the going got tough … and just maybe sounded at least as familiar?

    @ Mary – I think they should make the devices more like the Wii fit – where we can make them sound and be exactly how we want our co-pilots to be. They could even take it several steps further and have them capable of brewing coffee or making toast. And yes – aimless wandering is a wonderful thing!

  8. Hilarious post

    I am not into GPSs (spelling?) either as they tend to be more annoying than helpful when having tried to use them. On this occassion it appears yours finally decided to collaborate…for good. Perhaps you’ll be able to engage the GPS into entertaining conversations about the views around the car !

  9. Haha, you had such a different experience with your GPS than us. We used the Tom Tom this summer in France, Spain and Italy and it was fantastic. It was our first time using a GPS and after our trip through Europe we wondered “Why have we never used this before?” We grew to love “Bonnie” her soothing voice got us out of every situation. We started to think of her as part of the family:-)
    We had heard that Garmin isn’t as good for Europe, but the Tom Tom was fabulous.
    However, for North America, the Garmin is the king. We have used the Tom Tom here and it is lacking compared to the European one.

  10. Great advice on the GPS, Garmin vs. Tom Tom. The soothing voice alone on the Tom Tom may give it an edge… Gar can sound a bit like a school marm!

  11. HAHA!

    This was GREAT! I considered getting a TomTom for my husband for Christmas one year but I was afraid he would get offended. He gets lost when I’m not in the car…

    -Not to mention you can get the Darth Vader voice for the TomTom. :X

    On the positive side – I don’t think I will ever use one of these abroad after this story lol!

  12. Oh, ouch, you hit a nerve. We also were driving with a Garmin in France. Last September. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to “throw Momma from the train.” She was especially capricious on those ubiquitous roundabouts that dot the countryside. She would say turn on the 3rd right on Rte. 63, only Rte. 63 was clearly the 2nd turn. But, I have to admit that there were those times when she got us lost–or we got lost because we couldn’t understand what she was saying, or the numbers she assigned to roads were neither on the road sign nor on the map……and we wound up letting her find our way out again through purely little country lanes.
    I really don’t think the French maps in her system are up to the confusing melange of French roads!

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