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Mar 11 2013

How Useful Are Google’s Directions When Travelling?: A Lesson Learnt.

berlin, train, journey, google

About a month ago, I booked a trip to Berlin to attend the ITB Berlin Travel Exhibition and, of course, to explore Berlin.

Before I left, I emailed the hotel I had booked to get some advice on the best way to get to the hotel. I didn’t get a response so I used Google to find a map and directions.  I was a little concerned about trying to find my way in the dark because the flight was due to arrive at 21.15 but the route looked fairly straight forward; get the S Bahn to Storvoker Strasse and then walk straight until I reached the hotel.

On arrival, I exited the airport and walked to the S-Bahnhof to get the S9.  This is when I was presented with my first challenge: getting a ticket. OK, so this might seem like a relatively simple task but it wasn’t that easy.  I had some euros left over from my last trip so I didn’t have to change any money, which was great.  The problem was that the smallest note I had was a 50€ note.  There were only ticket machines in the station and no staff.  I tried using one of my 50€ notes but to no avail.  The machine kept spitting it out.  Eventually, I realised that it wasn’t going to work so I tried to use my debit card.  It seemed a bit crazy for 3.10€ but I needed a ticket.  That didn’t work for some reason.  My last option was to get money out of the ATM there.  Since I didn’t need any money, I got the smallest denomination, which was 20€.  When a  20€ note came out, I hoped it would work.  I queued up again as more people had arrived and this time managed to get my ticket.  So, third time lucky!

At last, I could get the train.  By that time, it was about 22.00.  The train was waiting on the platform.  I wasn’t sure if it was going in the right direction because I didn’t have a train map and the station I needed wasn’t mentioned on the display.  As I was sitting on the train, waiting for it to depart, I looked down at the ticket and realised that I had to validate it.  I rushed off the train and inserted it into the yellow machine, which punched the date and time on the ticket.  Phew, that could have been a real problem.  I got back on the train, rang the hotel to say that I had been delayed, having spent so much time at the train station, and hoped I was going in the right direction.  I kept looking up at the display to see the names of the stations but the station I wanted wasn’t mentioned.  After a while, I realised that it only displays a few stops at a time.  When I eventually saw my stop displayed on the screen, I sighed with relief and alighted the train at the stop on my Google directions.

When I got off the train, I was presented with my next challenge: which exit do I take?  I had to pick one of four because it wasn’t stated on the directions and none of the roads listed on the signs were on my map.  I walked down the stairs and hoped I would find one of the road names on my map but I didn’t.  I walked up and down the road, checking the various road names and not one of them correlated with my directions.  It was dark, which made it more difficult and there weren’t many people around.  A bus pulled up so, as I can’t speak German, I pointed to the address and the map. The driver wasn’t sure but then said I needed to get on the bus.  That surprised me because it meant my map was wrong but I bought a ticket and sat down.  I was on the bus for quite a few minutes before the driver indicated for me to get off and told me to get a metro. What?  Surely I couldn’t have been that far away from the hotel!  Was I ever going to find my hotel?  It wasn’t looking likely so I rang the hotel to say that I was lost. Unfortunately, the person on the other end of the phone couldn’t understand me.  I was probably speaking quicker than normal because I was very anxious by that point. He said something about South America and he would text me and put the phone down. So, I waited for a few minutes and received nothing.  I had no map apart from the small and not very useful one from Google and the directions which appeared to be incorrect.  I walked down the steps to the U-Bahnhof (metro) and looked at the ticket machines.  At least getting a ticket would be easier this time because I had change  While I was looking at the ticket machine, my phone rang.  I said ‘Hello’ and was greeted with ‘Hola Teresa’.  It was someone speaking to me in Spanish.  At this point, I became very confused and wondered what on earth is going on.  I was in Germany and someone on the other end of the phone was speaking to me in Spanish.  I explained that I was English but could understand a little Spanish.  He told me to get a train for 2 stops to Saintmariter Strasse.  I asked which direction and which exit I needed because I wanted to be really clear this time but he told me that he would meet me at the station, which he did.  As we were walking to the hotel, I asked if he worked for the hotel, thinking he would say that he was the owner, but no.  He was on holiday from Madrid.  So, I was met by a Spanish tourist at a U-Bahnhof in Berlin.  How weird is that!  To be honest, I didn’t care. I was just happy that he could guide me to the hotel.  I was so happy to finally arrive.

On my way, I had promised myself never to trust Google’s directions ever again because I had to get a bus and then another train. The ‘simple’ journey wasn’t so simple. As it turns out, the directions were correct.  When I was at the first train station, I was only 10 minutes walk from the hotel.  I just got out of the wrong exit.  The bus driver took me further away from the hotel.

I have learned a couple of lessons from this experience.  Firstly, print off a more detailed map and, secondly, find out which exit to use when leaving a station.  I had no idea there would be so many exits and would never have thought it would cause me such a problem.  It would have probably been OK in the day but, as it was dark, it was a more challenging task.  So, Google’s maps and directions are fine providing you spend the time making sure they are detailed enough to get you to your destination.

About the author

Teresa Keane

Teresa has been to almost 60 countries. She started travelling independently at the age of 38 when she gave up her job, rented out her house, put her possessions in storage and spent a year travelling the world. It changed her life. She now creates, publishes, & promotes online travel content and is an experienced freelance trainer & EFL teacher.

2 comments

2 pings

  1. Ele

    This is a great post, detailing why exactly one must do their homework. I did mine but it wasn’t helpful 100 %, though. It was my third time in berlin, so I knew that U-and S-bahns are easy to take to go where one needs, so I bought a day ticket (good value for 6.40 EUR because I could take any transport I needed all day).

  2. independenttravelhelp.com

    Thank you, Ele. Yes, it is important to find out as much info as possible about getting to your destination but it all seemed so straightforward from the directions I had. It would have been much easier if I had gotten out at the correct exit from the train station but I didn’t. That’s an important point when arriving in Berlin for the first time. I agree that the train system in Berlin is fantastic.

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