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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How We Almost Curtailed Our British Adventure: Part 1

The riverfront in Bideford, England

I once corresponded with a couple who never traveled anywhere. Aside from the occasional day trip, they never ventured far from home, and never spent the night elsewhere. They claimed that they could get all the benefits of travel from the comfort of their armchairs, either by watching a TV program, or reading about faraway places in books and online. Their approach saved them the monetary costs, the hassles and exertion, and all the planning that real-world travel demands. 

Needless to say, fears accompany any untried venture. And even with the best of planning, there are things that can go wrong during any trip. As happened during this year's trip to England.

As we pulled out of Heathrow Airport in our rental car, we had trouble following the instructions given by our satellite navigation system. We had bought the unit during our first visit to England, back in 2011, and it was old and out of warranty. Still, we had thought it would be fine for our trip. Instead, it started giving us all these strange instructions. When we missed a turn off, it kept on wanting us to backtrack instead of recalculating an alternate route. In an attempt to turn around, we got on one of the M roads (the British equivalent of freeways in the United States. There it really went wonky, telling us to turn off in places where there was no off ramp. Plus, the M road was full of traffic, which meant that we were headed nowhere, and almost certainly in opposite direction from that night's destination, really fast.

We had never found a good map book or atlas of England on our previous trips. Google Maps had changed the way it operated, so while I had calculated the estimated miles between destinations, I hadn't been able to print detailed directions. This left us to rely on our satellite navigation unit. But even after we got off the M road, and headed in what we believed was the right direction, the system still seemed wonky, telling us to go in a counter-clockwise (instead of the correct clockwise) direction around roundabouts, and turn off the roundabouts using lanes that would have us driving on the right side of the road (instead of the left). 

Somehow, by relying on the faulty unit, we managed to start heading in the right direction. But we were so frustrated by this time that, had my wife suggested we return the rental car, and try to use buses and trains for our journey, I would have agreed. It would have made our vacation much more expensive, and limited our options, but really, what were our options at this point? Could we really reach all the places we desired, without adequate maps, and a GPS system that was clearly malfunctioning?

We thought we had planned adequately for this adventure, but clearly we had not, and lacking an adequate means of navigation, was this what we could expect every day of trip? Does that sound like a vacation to you?

Dragon Dave

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