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Driving map vs GPS

Hello! I am visiting Scotland in August, flying into Edinburgh, picking up a car and driving for a few days before heading back to E for the Tattoo and flying home. I was planning on using GPS on my phone, but I've read service can be sketchy in the countryside and highlands. Is there a map someone might recommend I can pick up here in the States to plan out my drive and have as backup to the GPS?

Posted by
1235 posts

Hi, Marsha,

Any decent road atlas, i.e.: one published by the AA or RAC would suffice. If you can't find one on Amazon, you should be able to find one on

To be honest, I've never relied on GPS in Scotland, over many visits. I'm old school, and don't even have a mobile (cell phone) in the U.S. I did buy a cheap flip phone in Scotland for making and confirming reservations, and for calling friends. Admittedly, I've gotten lost a few times, but I find that a compass comes in very handy in letting me know if I should have turned left or right back at that intersection! Anyway, getting lost leads to new discoveries! Road atlases are fun, and a great souvenir to take home as well.

Best wishes for an enjoyable holiday!

Mike (auchterless)

p.s.: I just had a quick look on Amazon, and they have the AA and Collins atlases. I'd go with the AA, but get a full size atlas, not the pocket size one. Spiral bound is easier to handle and easier to look at in the car, but invariably, the place you want to go is in the spiral, and you can't find it! If you don't want to bring the road atlas back to the U.S. with you, you can always leave it with the car hire company for whomever rents the car next, or you could donate it to a charity shop, i.e.: Oxfam, when you're back in Edinburgh

Posted by
1409 posts

I have used maps many times. But now with GPS I depend on it. I take my own GPS unit with me loaded with the map(s) of the area(s) I am driving. For those using their phones for GPS, Google maps will work off line, i.e. you do not need a signal.

Posted by
2907 posts

I ran into this problem in Sardinia and Corsica. Before my visit, I downloaded the maps of both islands in Google Maps which I used for navigation. The app seamlessly switched from online to offline and back again as necessary. I had no trouble navigating through the remote areas. The last time I used a paper map was in 2009 when I dropped my Garmin GPS and broke the screen while in Spain.

Posted by
101 posts

Hi, Marsha.

I use both — a map book and a GPS unit. I use a the same Garmin I use here in the US, but with the SD card for my destination country. For Scotland I agree that the AA atlas is hard to beat. It’s hard to get lost if you use this combination.


Posted by
213 posts

It's always handy to speak to your hosts if you are staying in a B&B, Guest House or hotel and check on any local road closures or diversions which may affect your travel plans.

Right now two road bridges are closed for repairs near to where I live. The work is scheduled to take three weeks, although everyone locally is hoping it will take less because the knock-on effect is a fairly lengthy diversion for travellers and locals alike.

I don't know if GPS systems are sophisticated enough to pick up on this temporary diversion or not, but local knowledge is invaluable.

Posted by
6187 posts

GPS maps quickly go out of date in the USA, too. As noted, Google Maps permits you to download any amount of map you want for local use for 30 days, which can be renewed. I wonder if Waze does also. I much prefer GPS to paper maps, but everyone learns what their preference is while driving at home. Note reports (this is an extreme case) of "death by GPS" in Iceland, from people following implausible directions down increasingly poor roads, in bad weather. (Quote taken from a New Yorker article about rescue teams in Iceland.) Truck drivers hit overpasses with GPS onboard, all the time. I certainly get misleading dictated instructions every time I use GPS in the US.

Posted by
123 posts

We found ‘blank spots’ on google maps and spotty or very slow coverage using our Verizon phones in some parts of country. Just like here in Vermont where we have mountains blocking cell signal, we found sometimes slow coverage but was rare. Thus, we purchased a few paper maps just in case.

Good point about construction...we’ve never been during the summer so no idea of that impact.

Good luck! Do let us know how you manage once there!

Posted by
4931 posts

We like the laminated Borsch maps, or a Michelin map. The past few years we use both a map and a GPS with European maps when we travel. You could also download a map from googlemaps to your tablet for offline use.

Posted by
1292 posts

The 2016 AA Road Atlas for Great Britain has 3.2 mile to 1 inch grid. It is of great use in trying to find that farmhouse B & B in the hills of nowhere. Unless you have downloaded your GPS in advance you may not get a great signal in the deep dark valley. Also I find paper maps handy for the big picture for that days trip of what lies ahead or what I might miss that is just around the corner.

Posted by
518 posts

Hello marsha_travis,
You refer to the states, so I guess you are from the US. I’m sure you are aware that using your US phone for data overseas is quite expensive even if you have some sort of plan. The best plan I’ve found is with AT&T if you use their service, and that is $10/day. Have you considered buying a Garmin? We use our Garmin everywhere we go with no cost, and it is great from Europe to Australia.
Also, if you rely wholly upon your GPS, it is going to take you from point A to point B. You might want to deviate from that direct route. If you want to take some specific route, you are going to need to know the names of some towns along the route you want.
We use our map to get the names along the route we want to take, enter that name, then do the same for the next part of the route. It works perfectly. The GPS is great, but without a map to plan out your route, it is just going to take you the way it wants to.
We like to have the map to get an overview of where we are headed and the GPS to keep us on track for the route we choose.
I have used AA atlases, and they are great. The spiral bound is best. I just bought a 2018 AA atlas from amazon. It is so much thicker that the last one I bought. It has a lot of city maps, etc. I’m going to take the old one this year and look for a new one there that’s not so heavy. Bookstores and visitor centers have them as do rest stops on the motorways.

Best regards,

Posted by
143 posts

Hi Marsha!
We just returned from 10 days in Scotland and had the same questions as you before we left. It occurred to me that there were two things I didn't see anyone ask you - who do you have cell phone service with, and were you planning on getting your car rental with built in gps?
I ask first, about cell service, because we have T-mobile, and overseas we get free data and text and calls are 20 cents a minute. We used downloaded offline maps, with location finder turned on, and it worked EVERYWHERE we went, (little blue traveling dot showed us were we were going) including on Skye. Not the biggest screen but useful. If you had T-Mobile, I would say you would be one step ahead already. That was one of our backups.
Also, for our car rental - we were upgraded to a 2018 Peugeot 3008 with an AWESOME built in gps!! A trick I haven't heard mentioned too much here: If we knew where we wanted to go - be it an attraction (Culloden Battlefield,say) or restaurant, hotel, etc, we would google it first online. It almost always showed up with a postal code (ex: Culloden Battlefield was IV2 SEU). The U.K. postal codes are much more specific to that location than the US zip codes. We entered it into our updated car gps and never had a problem getting to the exact place we requested.
Of course, being the nervous person I am, before we left, I also took screen shots of various google maps (both broad overviews and in-close things, like for example of all those !#%$@!! roundabouts and which exits we would use off of them) and downloaded them to my iPad, just in case. Probably had 30 or so. Never can be too prepared. Pulled them up as needed as we went along.
But in reality, we quickly started to rely almost entirely on the car's gps because it was . . .well, just so dang good. My husband says the electronics in the car were probably smarter than he was!
Long winded, I know, but hope this helps!