Driving without Navigation Assistance

Driving a scooter in Vietnam without using Maps.

#29 ยท ยท read

So I rented a scooter in Vietnam. Great idea, I know!

I got my fancy Japanese-built scooter. I got my tank half-filled. I got my sweet red and white helmet. I'm ready to go!

But wait. How do I go where I want to go? Little hint: this is 2024. Obviously, I use Maps to navigate.

But does my scooter have a smartphone mount? Of course not!

So what do I do? It's gonna be though, to say the least.

The co-pilot strategy

Here's an idea: I get my girlfriend to sit in the back. I have her navigate with Maps and shout out directions to me. What can go wrong?

Well, a lot. Because this is Vietnam and traffic in Vietnam is crazy. This is one of the first realizations I had when I arrived in this country on my trip around the world.

Also, my girlfriend might want to hold on tight, making it hard for her to look at her phone, which complicates the co-pilot strategy.

And if this wasn't bad enough, what do I do if my co-pilot's absent?

There has to be another way.

The Apple Watch strategy

There is another way and this is a clever one. Using my Apple Watch.

I remember this feature called turn alerts. And it's so very clever!

Using vibrations on my wrist, the Apple Watch will announce turns while I'm driving. A low vibration followed by a high vibration tells me to turn right (tock tick). A high vibration followed by a low vibration tell me to turn left (tick tock). It's super intuitive!

Theoretically. Because it doesn't work!

I remember that it used to work when I was driving a car in New Zealand. At a time, when I had CarPlay to help me navigate visually and audibly, all the vibrations on my wrist did was annoy the shit out of me.

Today on the other hand (pun intended), I would be more than happy if my watch had the courtesy to inform me when to turn. But for reasons beyond my comprehension, it just doesn't work. I spent way too much time in Apple's support forums, on Reddit and the settings of my Apple Watch to know one thing: it simply doesn't work.

Let's try something else.

The stop-and-go strategy

Here comes the obvious one. This isn't very pleasant, but what alternative do I have by this point?

The idea is to just check where I need to go on Maps on my phone, before I start driving. I try to memorize the route as much as I can. At some point, I have to stop and double check if I'm still en route.

Then I thought, that the Apple Watch could help me after all. Instead of having to stop all the time to pull out my phone, why not just raise my wrist and look at the Apple Watch's display to see how far I had proceeded?

The problem, again, is that Maps isn't supportive at all. Either it takes a couple of seconds to update my location on the small map, while I, distracted, might hit a friendly scooter friend. Or the map just doesn't follow along my current location and I would have to drag the user interface to where I currently was.

Apple Watch, what did I ever do to you to treat me this way? Maybe it's my watch's way of payback, since I wrote this Apple Watch frustration post?

I feel so stupid having to stop over all the time. This disrupts the natural driving flow that is so unique in Vietnam, and it takes a lot of effort to re-enter traffic.

Is there another way?

The immersion strategy

There is one more strategy to face Vietnam's traffic in my predicament. It's immersion.

This means getting lost in the traffic and trusting my gut. By now, I've been driving in ฤร  Nแบตng for an entire week. I'm still lost most of the time. Everything looks the same! Also, it's hard to concentrate with these crazy scooter riders driving carelessly and transporting meter-long metal sticks, ladders, huge canisters of water, bird cages, dogs on their laps, entire families, huge cardboard boxes, six huge shopping bags, carpets, suitcases, or other scooters (okay, the last one was a joke).

What can I really do, other than get lost in this madness, trust the little orientation I have and just go with the flow?

Driving without Navigation Assistance

In the end, I get around by combining these strategies.

Most importantly though, immersing myself in the traffic of Vietnam is essential. Feeling part of this system called traffic, part of the stream of scooters, part of the Vietnamese. It all comes down to flow and trust.

Or you know... I could just get a smartphone mount. ๐Ÿ“ฑ

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