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Lost in America

So you're lost: Now what? Try a map

by Autobytel Staff
May 9, 2007

It seemed simple enough at the time --- you're in Boston on vacation, you go see Bunker Hill. After all, it is a national monument, and we were here to see monuments--finding it would be no problem. After all, who needs a map? Surely there were signs pointing the way.

I'm sure that hill moves around. What else would explain two gut-wrenching, excruciatingly stressful hours--just to find one lousy hill? The signs were a mystery ("okay, that one said stay left, but this one coming up says go to the right?") and the rotaries were a thrill ("no honey, stay to the right..right..right, okay, we'll catch it again, now left, left here, no, no, no, that left and this right...)

At its worst, traveling by car is like being locked inside a metal tube with a crazy person who has the delusional gall to think she knows the right way. What we thought would be easy to find, was indeed as obvious as a hill can be --- had we only consulted a map before getting behind the wheel. Sadly, maps aren't very effective when you're shouting directions while driving past crucial turns. Not a real smart plan. What is a smart plan if you're seeing the sights and exploring America by car is to spend some quality time with a detailed road map. Here are some tips to help 'maximize' map use:

  • Invest in a quality map, instead of the inexpensive hotel fold ups. Purchase a guide you like --- don't save $5 only to spend $10 getting lost.
  • Open a map you like, and take a look at the lay out. Is it easy to read at a glance? Are there exploded views of city areas, and are all major landmarks notated? Check out the indexing system --- is it easy to read? You should not need a map to read a map!

Once you have a map you're comfortable with, grab a pencil and get ready to go-mapping:

  • Spend some quality time with your map before you hit the Interstate. Most maps follow the same basic indexing structure. If you can't make sense of it, consult the index at back --- usually this will have all streets and landmarks listed by page and index number.
  • Organize your sightseeing by where each place is located--an efficient overall plan will help avoid time-wasting double-backs.
  • Trace the route you plan to take, and make a note of cross-streets, intersections and landmarks. Even with a map, it's easy to get lost. By correlating landmarks with map location, you bring together what's on paper with what you're staring at through the windshield.
  • Navigating is a one-person job. And whoever is navigating has the last say on directions. Drivers, please note: do not tell the navigator where to go, literally or figuratively.
  • Blame yourself. The map is always correct. Repeat: the map is always correct. If you're lost and don't know how, you're reading the map wrong. Take your time, and do not drive unless you know exactly where you're going. For example, if the landmark you're searching for is located on B-32, spend your time searching that indexed square. If you can't see it, look for the address and cross street.
  • Familiarize yourself with local drive times, construction projects and other potential problems. In Boston, there's the "Big Dig" going on, and it makes rush hour travel in the downtown area virtually impossible. Keep this in mind while planning routes.
  • Using a map effectively is all about sound planning and common sense: with it you can create a memorable auto vacation--without it, you just might end up lost in America, searching for Bunker Hill.

by Brian Chee Photo credit: BMW


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