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GPS units are great, but it's hard to beat today's mapping programs

I used to burn through reams of paper printing out maps from MapQuest.com. I love maps. If I was planning a road trip, I’d consider all the variations on routes and detours, and print out a different map for each alternative. I always took along my road atlas, but it was hard to beat the kind of detail mapquest.com gave me. Except, of course, when it was wrong, which in the early years wasn’t all that unusual.

My first GPS unit was a gift, and to my surprise, in spite of my devotion to maps, I immediately became addicted to it. I stopped printing out maps. Until the first time the GPS was wrong. And then there was the time it malfunctioned and froze. I learned here was another piece of technology that is not 100 percent reliable.

Now I just print out one or two maps I consider critical and take along a fold-out map or a road atlas for back-up, but mostly I rely on my GPS. I still use MapQuest.com, although most people I know prefer Google maps. But MapQuest.com and I got used to each other, I learned its tricks and, OK, I stuck to what was familiar.

Anick Jesdanun, a technology writer for the Associated Press, used the opportunity of a Memorial Day weekend trip to Arizona to try out and compare four free mapping services — Google maps and MapQuest.com plus Yahoo and Microsoft’s Bing. He found that Google maps worked best, but said MapQuest.com was a strong second, especially in giving him alternative routing instructions. Read his full report here.

I’m not ready to give up on MapQuest.com. But next time I plan a road trip, I think I’ll take along a couple printouts from Google maps too. Just in case.