How to Read a Map

You take it out. It’s a huge mess of colors, lines, letters, numbers, shapes, words and borderlines all mixed together. You put it away. Who has the patience to read road maps? When you’re lost, it’s probably the last thing you have the sense, tolerance and patience to do, right? For some, it also signifies a weak sense of direction. Don’t feel this way anymore.

Instead of toiling over whether to use one, stock up on various “types” of maps. For instance, county, state, region, etc. Make sure that you have all kinds. Is there a certain county that you frequently travel in? Do you work/play in a certain area and spend most of your time there? Then, purchase a map for that area. Purchase several. Also, a good piece of advice is to make sure that the maps are current. New roads are added all the time.

Many places carry driver’s road maps: they may be found at bookstores, delis, car washes, and pharmacies. Your best bet is probably a bookstore, because you’ll find the widest selection there.

Unfold your map. If you’re using a state map, you’ll see things categorized by counties, cities, and towns, state parks/facilities, interchanges, interstate systems, connections, and freeways, etc. Your map may even tell you a bit of history about the state you live in, and give descriptions of the major towns which have history; statistical information is also included. There is also a scale for the purpose of converting inches to miles and, of course, the classic North, South, East, and West symbol. A mileage gauger is usually included for those who track it.

As for all of the various lines, double lines and symbols, you’re not left in the dark. If you get friendly with your map, you’ll see that it’s all spelled out for you. Usually stars indicate state capitals, broken lines mean scenic roads, and solid lines indicate paved roads. You will also see a lot of broken lines of “three” groups. This typically indicates multilane access. Colors may vary. Color may indicate whether these areas are free or require tolls.

If you’re a frequent traveler or flyer, you will probably be seeking out different things on the map: airport symbols, historic sites and parks, hiking trails, beaches, and the most “scenic” routes to take.

When you’re traveling, make sure to put your road maps within easy reach. You will need to have them close in case you have to pull over. Don’t leave them in the trunk of the car, or in an area where you’ll be struggling to find them. It’s a good idea to keep a flashlight and a compass in your glove compartment, as well.

If your vision is not good at night, always have glasses available (whether on or in the car) so that you are clearly capable of reading highway sign and road signs. Poor vision on the road is a recipe for hazards. Wear your seat belt at all times. Happy driving.

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