How to Read a Road Map

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How to Read a Road Map. While technology is increasing at such a fast pace that many new cars now have installed GPS units--which tell you how to get from point A to point B--many travelers, either through preference or necessity, still rely on road maps to navigate a trip. It is not difficult to read a road map, nor will it break down or crash due to any electrical interference.

Determine where you want to go, and whether or not you want to take a direct route, or a scenic route. There are advantages to both but, if time is not of the essence, it will be more adventurous and richly rewarding of a trip if you stay off the main four-lane highways.

Buy a map of the state where you will be traveling, and be sure that the map includes blown-up street-level images of the major cities through which you'll be passing.

Use the map index to find the town or towns you wish to travel to. The index is arranged alphabetically, so the towns are easy to find. Next to the town name, you will see a series of letters or numbers, or both, which indicate the location of the town according to the overlying grid formation which you'll note on the map.

Plot your course, by paying attention to the directness of the route, as well as to the presence of any places of historical importance along the way. Read the "legend" on the map to see which types of roads are four-laners, and which are roads built for lesser speed.

Calculate the miles that you'll need to travel; a road map normally includes miles from point to point along the roadways, so it's easy to see your projected distance to your destination. Take into account the quality of the roads along the way, as well. You'll make better time on a four-lane road than you will on a road that goes through many small towns.

Tips & Warnings

  • Many small stores as well as major retail outlets now carry road maps of all kinds, that cover the United States and many parts of the world.
  • The grid-based index on a local map will help you zero in on particular streets, while the similar type of index on a state or national road map will help you find particular towns. Larger cities, though, will often be shown with at least their major streets and arteries.
  • Don't use maps that are too old. If the map was printed more than five years ago, several of the roads may have gone through changes which will affect your route. Be safe by buying a current map.

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