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Maps and Guidebooks

Finding your location on a map sounds easy until you try to do it when traveling in unfamiliar geography.  We describe ways to "find yourself" that would not please Freud but might help you get where you want to go.

Read Know how to use those maps to see what can happen when your navigator is not quite up to the task.



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Travel Advice - How to search a map to determine where you are

The major reason to buy good quality maps is to help you navigate to the places you want to visit. The challenge in using maps is to make sure you know your location and be able to find it on the map.

We think you can make these tasks easier to perform if you realize that maps are not reality but miniaturized representations of reality. Not everything you can see while walking or driving can be shown on the map. As a consequence, you have to be very careful when trying to match where you are in the real world with the symbols shown on the map.

Using a map to determine where you are located is a task influenced by the scale of the map you use.


Finding locations in cities while using good quality street maps

Finding you location in a city using a "road map" is very difficult since these smaller scaled maps do not include detailed street mapping of cities.  The inset maps showing cities that you find on road maps are designed to function only as "in and out" maps, getting you into the city and back out again.

If you will be touring a city, you may need to purchase a detailed city street map to find your way. 

  • Large scale, highly detailed street maps usually contain comprehensive indexes featuring street names and address ranges to help locate your position or the location of your destination.
  •  If you will confine your stay to the tourist center of a city, you may be able to get by with street maps provided by hotels and in "visitor" magazines.  Just so you know, many of these types of maps do not show streets that are not considered essential.

Determining your location

  • If you are walking or riding, find a street sign with the street name, look it up on the map index (good quality maps have a comprehensive index of streets), and use the coordinates to find the street on the map.
    • Higher quality maps provide address ranges in the index or printed on the map that can be used for  precise location.
    • If you cannot find an address to compare to the map, look for your street on the map and proceed to the nearest cross street and find that name on the map to fix your location.
  • If you are on the street and unsure of the direction you are facing, walk or drive along the block between two intersections.
    • Find the street that you are walking along on the map and note the name of the intersection where you started and the next intersection you arrive at.
      • Observing the first intersection and the direction of the second intersection relative to the first will indicate your position and the general direction of your movement.


Finding location or positions while using good quality road maps

Large areas are symbolized with limited detail on road or highway maps and locating your position on the map may be  difficult. The map index is your best aid for finding town locations

  • If you are on the road but not sure of your location, the procedure for “finding yourself” is similar to the street map example.
  • Identify the road on the map using the name or numbers you can find on road signs.
    • You can determine the direction in which you are traveling by noting two successive points that you have passed that are, also, symbolized on the map.
      • Obviously, road signs are a great help since they tell you the cities that lie ahead. By looking at the signs on the other side of the road you can tell the cities in the other direction (have a passenger perform this task). 
      • Knowing the cities in both directions establishes the direction in which you are traveling.

If you think you are lost, on the wrong road, do not know the name of the road that you are on, or cannot find anybody to ask, continue driving until you notice landmarks or road signs that can help you determine your location. Finding a real world location on the map will help you determine your position.

Road signs contain the route number and, often show the name of the jurisdiction (e.g. city, county, state) containing this segment of the road. Use these signs to help identify the road and your generalized location on it. If the road sign contains names that you cannot find on the map, look for the name in the map index. Then, use the map grid to locate these places on the map.

Remember, not every place or feature is located on every map. We advise you to buy  good quality maps with a detailed road network because these are the products that will contain more information of use when trying to orient yourself (see Our Map Table listing of good quality map publishers)

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