TRAVEL THERE: MAPS -MY FAVORITE TRAVEL TOOL
National Geographic’s The American Road Atlas & Travel Planner is where my road trip planning begins! My copy is at least a decade old, but still does the job. When I open it up, the smell of opportunity fills the air. If I’m having a bad day, all I have to do is pick up my atlas and imagine my next trip – or follow a road I’ve highlighted to remember an old favorite.
Digital Travel Tools
Yes, I have a GPS for getting around and Mapquest is great for planning routes, but those travel tools are only useful when I know where it is I want to go or if I’m actually in the car. Unfortunately, I’m driving my desk much more frequently than my car.
HOW I USE THE ATLAS
The front section of the book is devoted to regional guides. If I need some help deciding where to go, I can browse the gorgeous pictures until one captures my interest. Then National Geographic helpfully locates it on a state map and gives me a quick description of the attraction. Once I realize I’ve found the highlight of my next vacation, I go to the big two-page spread of interstate highways to imagine what other places I can include on my route.
But, I’m not going to spend all my time on the interstate. Nosireebob! As soon as I understand the general direction I’m headed in, I flip to the back of the book to find scenic drives anywhere near my potential route. So far I’ve only made it to a handful, but once you’ve seen wonders like Oak Creek Canyon, The Adirondacks and the Natchez Trace, you know it’s worth going a day out of your way to enjoy them. A list of National Parks is right next to the scenic drives and I insert them into my travels at every opportunity, also.
Eventually, I’ll actually look up the state maps, which constitute the bulk of the book. The first thing I’m looking for are routes with red dashes next to them. These are not necessarily scenic routes officially recognized and named by some entity, but all are lovely roads pointed out by the nice people at National Geographic. I might not go a day out of my way to see them, but I’ll replace the interstate stretches with them every time.
Then I look for little red boxes. National Geographic calls them points of interest. Looking at a map of West Texas, I see “Caverns of Sonora”, “Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center” and “McDonald Observatory”. (I wonder how soon I can head that way?) Now I’m ready to start my research in earnest. I’ll spend hours on the internet, browse my favorite bookstores and quiz all my friends, but if it weren’t for my trusty atlas, I’d be lost in cyberspace.
USING THE ATLAS FOR WRITING
Recently, as I worked on a novel, I needed my characters to get from East Texas to Reno, Nevada in a motor coach. Out came my atlas. I figured out their route, found RV parks for them to spend the night in and likely spots for truck stops. I guessed where they’d run into traffic jams, where they’d have poor cell phone reception and which bits would be the most exhausting drives. For several days, my atlas stayed open next to me, pointing out what I should write next. It was almost as much fun as taking the trip myself.
Technology is great. I’d fight you for my GPS and my Mapquest page is bookmarked in my favorites. But when it comes to planning a road trip, I want a map. Which travel tools do you prefer when you make travel plans?
UPDATE January 2, 2015 – I still love my atlas!