Being directionally challenged is not a badge I wear with honor. As far as I know, it isn’t even officially recognized by the American Medical Association.
Thankfully, technology has saved me some embarrassment when it comes to navigation. My trusty GPS is never far from hand on long or atypical car rides, and my iPhone has been a savior time and time again. There’s not a woman in my life that has spent time with me and wished that I’d ask for directions because directions to wherever I’m going are always at my fingertips. Except for this one time in Montreal.
It was in Montreal that I learned the true meaning of being technology-dependent. It turns out it has nothing to do with checking your Facebook and Twitter feeds every few 15 minutes. Or worse, absentmindedly opening the Facebook app on your iPhone while you are already looking at Facebook on your laptop.
Now, if you have ever travelled internationally with your iPhone you might guess where this tale is headed. The second an AT&T customer leaves the country they get a text. The text essentially warns you that your cool iPhone with all the apps that help you get around to places you’ve never been might as well be a 1999 Nokia, because frankly, you’d be lucky to be playing Snake right now.
Not being one to want to pay out the nose per MB of data I use, my data roaming stayed off, leaving me freshly in Montreal with a phone (for phone calls), a friend, and a travel guide with some maps of downtown Montreal. No Google Maps app to help discern how far away or even where something is, and certainly no Google Translate app.
To be honest, I didn’t plan on needing Google Translate very much. But about five minutes into the trip, at the Metro Station (the subway!), I really wished I had it at my disposal. While normal subway fares can be purchased from an official on duty who speaks both French and English, three day passes can only be purchased by a machine. I have no true beef with machines, they usually serve me well enough. But in my initial traveler’s panic it appeared that this one only spoke French. Machine 1, Dan 0.
So, there I was staring at several options in French that all sounded simultaneously delicious and yet potentially very alarming. My trusty guide was momentarily indisposed, and my Google Translate app was sitting worthlessly in my pocket. Somehow I guessed correctly and wound up with the fare card I was looking for. Seconds later I saw the option for “English” on the machine. You can lead a man to water but you can’t help him drink it, I guess.
Crisis averted (sort of), the rest of the weekend turned into a series of directional errors. Me, armed with my map book, constantly walking a block or two in the wrong direction before realizing that the street I was looking for was behind me, or to the left, or on the moon. I never once stopped and asked for directions.
On the later days of the trip I wanted to venture outside of downtown proper and see some sights that were off my map. That would’ve presented some serious problems if not for free hotel Wi-Fi, where I eagerly plugged-in, mapped-out my destination and then re-typed the directions in the Notes app. The Notes app saved my life. Or at least, my vacation.
There were still a few snags along the way, mostly due to my not taking thorough enough notes in the first place, but I was at least able to pretend I knew where I was going for a few minutes at a time. I felt good. Strong.
When I returned home, I mapped everything for a day or two. I mapped places I’d always been, just to see how far away they were. For no reason at all, really. Just because I could.
People will tell you you’re addicted to Facebook, to Twitter, to video games, whatever. It’s hard to disagree with that. But try not knowing where you are for a weekend without being able to instantly figure it out. Try staring at a pocket sized map for the street you’re on because the little blue dot that identifies your location is never going to appear no matter how hard you stare. That’s an addiction, my friends.