These days, with a little planning, it's pretty hard to get yourself lost while driving. There are just so many resources available to help you figure out how to get to where you need to be. In this article, we'll look at some of the free Internet map services and how simple it is to get some great driving directions.
First, I've already told you about my own personal life saver...Magellan GPS. (Which you can read more about in this article: The Perfect Road Warrior Gift.) When I was younger, I had a pretty good sense of direction. But some days now, I can end up getting lost going around the block! So it's great to have a little guidance handy that allows me to get to where I need to be with minimal confusion. But even that isn't always enough. Sometimes, when I need to go someplace new, it's nice to have more than just left/right driving directions. Sometimes I'd like to get a feel for where the heck I'm headed.
If you go to http://www.google.com, you can simply type in the address for your destination and you'll quickly get several links to help you find directions. Let's say I want to find the closest PetCo pet shop. I go to Google and enter petco. I quickly get the link to petco.com.
Every good retail web site should have an easy link to their Store Locator page and PetCo does.
I enter my zip code and quickly find a list of several in my area, listed by which one is the closest. And although their locator does provide a quick link to get driving directions to their store, let's pretend they didn't provide that quick service. We'll take that address and go back to Google.
Here I can enter in the address, right into the main Google search. Yup, just as if I was searching the web, I can enter the address right into the search input box. Google is very smart and it knows this is an address, so it offers me up a selection of map sites, as you can see below.
MapQuest is one of the oldest mapping sites on the web. They were around long before Yahoo maps and Google Maps and I've used that site for years. But I must say that Google has outdone them all and is now my favorite mapping site.
A click on the above link to Google Maps brings me to the Google mapping tool (http://maps.google.com) where the location is already selected for me.
From here I can use the scale along the left to zoom in/out. And although they also offer directional buttons to move the view around, know that you can just click and grab the map to drag it around to get the view you want.
Now I have also already told you about Google's way cool acquisition of KeyHole...a satellite mapping software. (See this article for details: Google's KeyHole.) Google has now incorporated that technology into their maps. So, although the street map they provide above is pretty good, we can make it better by clicking the Satellite button displayed on the map.
Although these images don't allow as much zooming and tilting capabilities as if I were to use KeyHole directly, it still provides me with a pretty nice visual of the area. This gives me a better idea of where I'll be traveling. It appears that the store is located in a strip-mall right off the main drag.
But we can make this map even more informative by clicking the Hybrid button.
Now I can see the names of the streets, as well as get an idea of the typography.
And finally, if all this information isn't good enough, I can click the Directions link on the address display, enter my address, and I'll get step-by-step driving directions, as well as distance and estimated driving times. (Although in the city, we know to add 30 mins to that time for sitting in traffic jams!)
MapQuest is still a very good site. And although I prefer the Google visuals, depending on my destination, MapQuest also offers me valuable additional information, like what restaurants are in the area. This is great if you're going to a meeting at a client's office and you're looking for a nice place in the area for lunch. And if you're off to another city for a business meeting, you can also find accommodations nearby. Shopping, too! (Granted, Google and Yahoo may well offer these features as well, I just haven't bothered to snoop around.)
And although I must admit that I've rarely ever used Yahoo maps, they're not bad, as you can see below. I have, however, used both Yahoo and MapQuest to compare driving directions. It's a good idea to have more than one set of directions.
All these sites also offer you printing features that allow you to print off the maps and directions right to your printer. However, personally, I've learned that I can get a better set of printed instructions by creating my own printout using Word. Word is a great program for printing images, because it does a great job of allowing you to resize the image without degrading the image itself. (See this article for more details: Create a Photo Album in Word.)
So I prefer to just take screen shots of the information I need and drop those images into Word to assemble the details in the manner I need. This way I can add several area images into the page, along with the directions. Although, know that MapQuest does also offer this type of display. If you request driving directions, you can choose to also display maps of each segment of the directions, as you can see below. Although with Word, I also have the option of typing in additional info, such as names and phone numbers.
Print out some maps...then get out there and explore!