Finding great trip routing for a road trip used to be a fairly challenging ordeal. Luckily, with the help of technology, planning for your cross country adventure can be a breeze. It just takes a little time and knowing which resources to use. That’s where this article comes in!
Yahoo! Maps, Mapquest, and Google Maps for Online Route Planning. Who’s the best?
So you know where you’re starting at and you know where you need to end up. But everything in the middle is a big blur. No problem! Let’s use the power of the web.
When it comes to online trip routing and driving directions, there are three big players. Yahoo! Maps, Mapquest, and of course, Google Maps. There are some differences between the three, and I’ll make my recommendation.
– Yahoo Maps! is a very basic system. Just type in where you’re departing and where you’re going. The program will give you some routing, which you can change by dragging your highlighted route around. Other than giving you a satellite view option, it’s very basic.
– Google Maps dominates the online trip routing world. You’ve probably used it before, so you already know that it offers real time traffic alerts, satellite views, and even a street level view showing real photos of almost any point on any roadway in the country. It’s much more advanced than Yahoo! Maps.
– Mapquest used to be king for trip routing, it fell behind after Google Maps came out. But Mapquest has really stepped it up again, and they are who I recommend for your route planning. Not only do they provide you with everything Yahoo and Google has, but they stepped it up a notch. You can search for and plot virtually anything along your route. From ATM machines to restaurants and hotels. Mapquest makes route planning a breeze.
Back to the Basics – Atlas and Maps
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s remember that proper route planning should start with the basics. Having good, quality Atlas is a must have. Learn how to read it, and double check your route on an Atlas. This provides a real nice “overhead” view, while still giving you some nice detail. It offers a view and perspective that no screen can provide.
As a trucker, I exclusively use a Rand McNally Atlas for each and every trip I take. Having an Atlas shouldn’t be considered optional. Technology fails, cell phone reception drops, GPS signals weaken, etc. In fact, some fellow truckers of mine refuse to use GPS devices because they are so inaccurate. Technology is great. But start with the basics.
Why bother with outdated “technology?”
An Atlas is a huge asset not only for your trip routing and trip planning, but also during your road trip. It is the most reliable tool you’ll have on your long distance drive. If you feel like taking a detour (perhaps you decide to take a scenic route on a whim), you can do so and easily see where you’ll be going, and more importantly, how to get back on track if you get lost. Part of your route planning should include the possibility of deviating from your trip routing if you so choose. What’s a road trip without being spontaneous at times! This is a big, beautiful country with lots of things to see. Don’t be afraid to jump off the beaten path to explore history and sights you might not ever be able to see again.
Smartphones and GPS systems are great and will make your trip easier. But they can and do fail. Take it from a guy who travels this entire country as a career. My GPS and cell phones fail on a fairly regular basis. Even more often, the GPS will try routing me on some crazy out of the way route. When traveling long distances, you should always double check the GPS routing on an old fashioned Atlas. I often scratch my head at the strange routing my GPS tries sending me on. But no matter what happens, your Atlas will get you out of any bind. Loading times are instant and it’ll never lose signal.
Only suckers pay for state maps!
You can get free state maps in several places. First, go to the state government websites for the states you’ll be traveling (ex. Illinois.gov , Florida.gov, etc). Most of them offer free maps online. Usually, you can either download them, or have an actual paper copy sent to your house.
Another great place to find free state maps are in rest areas and at toll booths (just ask the attendant for a state map). These state maps are usually loaded with great tourism information such as free shows, state landmarks, scenic and seasonal routes, parks, forest preserves, and a whole bunch of other things you’d likely miss along the way. They are worth the free investment!
Using a GPS System
Using a GPS for trip routing on your next road trip is a great idea. But a GPS is certainly not something you should rely on. Plan your trip first, then enter it into your GPS and see if the routing matches. Most of the time, your routing will not be 100%, and usually, your own routing will be better. Don’t get me wrong, the GPS has revolutionized the way we travel in this country and I’d feel naked without having one in my truck. They’re great for getting out of a bind, determining ETA’s, knowing when upcoming interchanges and turns will occur, and even receiving real time traffic alerts and traffic avoidance routing on some systems. Every year, they get more and more accurate. But there is a reason I chose to list using a GPS system last in this article. Quite simply, it’s the least accurate method of obtaining trip routing for your long distance road trip. It should be taken into consideration, no doubt. However, mostly use your GPS as an in-route luxury. It should not be the basis of your trip planning.