Tag Archives: GPS

In Praise of Paper Maps

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Person Holding Pen Leaning on Map Near Cup

According to the National Day Calendar website, April 5 is National Read a Road Map Day. To prepare us for this holiday, today I’ll share with you my ideas about why GPS isn’t enough, make suggestions about what maps to use depending on where you’re going, and give you tips on where to find help if you need to brush up on your map reading skills.

When did everyone become dependent on GPS and a computerized voice telling us when to turn left?

My dad was a salesman during the early years of my life. When he went out looking for clients, he used paper maps to find them. When I was very young, we moved to a major metro area. My dad had not a single paper map, but an entire large, thick book that showed each neighborhood, each street, each back alley. The book was laid out with some mysterious logic I still fail to understand which involved flipping to a whole new page in mid trip. How did my father possibly read that map while driving? I can only assume he studied the map and planned his trip before getting into the driver’s seat and stopped in a parking lot to consult the map any time he had to confirm his route or start over and figure out new directions.

In 1998 I found myself at a music festival with a need to get back to my home base sooner than planned. I didn’t have a car and didn’t drive. I was facing a multi-day Greyhound bus adventure, but a friend of a friend of a friend pointed me in the direction of a woman who was headed to the same city as I was. She had an open passenger seat and room in the back of her pickup for my gear. After she accepted me as her passenger, I found she also had a TripTik Travel Planner from AAA. Does anyone remember these customized booklets that AAA members could request from the local office? AAA members could get request directions to a specific destination and the local office would provide turn-by-turn instructions. I spent a lot of time holding that booklet from AAA, as I was immediately promoted from passenger to navigator.

(True confession: I still managed to send us off in the wrong direction, despite the turn-by-turn instructions in my hand. In my defense, we were in the outskirts of Chicago, and the proliferation of road signs had me befuddled. Luckily the driver quickly saw the error of my ways and got us back on track ASAP.)

I can’t remember exactly when I learned about MapQuest. Perhaps it was in the very early years of the 2000s when I got my first laptop. Maybe it was before that, and I’d use my computer at work or go to the public library to get my directions via the World Wide Web. I do remember finding directions online and either printing them or writing each step out by hand. MapQuest let me down multiple times (including on so many occasions on a single trip to Missouri that I grew convinced that no employee of MapQuest had ever driven one mile in the Show Me State), until I swore to never use that website again. Now I’m a Google Maps gal.

The first time I heard a talking GPS navigator was 2009. The parents of the

White Android Smartphone Inside Vehicle

guy who was then my boyfriend flew into the major city where we lived and rented a car because the guy and I didn’t have one. The car’s talking navigation system seemed to be more trouble to me than it was worth. We asked it to take us to tacos; instead it took us in circles as we tried to find a taco stand that apparently didn’t exist. I feared we would be directed to drive off a cliff or through a river.

Until I met The Man, I never let the navigation lady in Google Maps talk to me. I’d get directions from Google Maps, then write them out on a piece of paper I’d clip somewhere on my dash so I could refer to the instructions as I drove. I soon agreed with The Man that listening to the Google lady is easier than writing everything out, but it sure is a wrench in my system when she decides to send me on a wild goose chase. (I call them “wild Google chases.”) Why does the GPS lady get confused? Doesn’t her job require her to be omniscient?

And yet, I often wonder how our society got around before Google Maps or other GPS technology. When I think hard, I remember as a teenager having to ask friends how to get to their houses before my mother drove me over. Invitations to birthday parties often included small hand-drawn maps. Vacationers used road maps and those AAA TripTik booklets (if they were so fortunate as to be AAA members–my family never was). When folks got lost, they’d stop at a gas station and ask the worker for help.

Yes, I do appreciate GPS technology. I use it often. I’ve made friends with the Google Maps lady who guides me from inside my phone. (I call her Megan.) But for goodness sake, no matter how convenient GPS technology is, don’t forget your paper maps and don’t forget how to use them.

There are a few types of paper maps that you may need during your travels. Be sure to get the right map for the job!

(I’m going to assume you’re traveling in the U.S.A. since that’s where I’m writing from. I’ve you’re traveling in a country other than the U.S.A., I‘d love for you to leave a comment describing how your use of maps is different from the suggestions I’m giving here.)

Map of the World Book Laid Open on Brown Wooden Surface

For your day-to-day driving on the interstate and highways, use a decent road atlas. Rand McNally makes a good one. You can buy these bound sets of maps at bookstores or even Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart also sells a Rand McNally road atlas that shows the location of every Wal-Mart store in the U.S. This atlas would be a great investment for anyone who plans to spend a significant number of nights in Wal-Mart parking lots.SimplyRVing made a YouTube video all about this Wal-Mart atlas and how it can help you on the road.

If you’re planning your travels ahead of time, you can order an atlas online or through a local, independent bookstore. (Believe me, an independent bookstore will appreciate your business!) An atlas will show you the main roads to get you from town to town. The maps often show rest stops and campgrounds, as well as state and federal public land. Many of them also show basic maps of major cities and the most popular National Parks. If you purchase an atlas that covers all of North America, you’ll get maps of Canada and Mexico too.

If you’re only traveling in one state or region and you don’t have the space

Two People In Vehicle Looking At The Map

(or money) for an atlas, you can probably get by with one or more state maps. You can sometimes find state maps in bookstores or Wal-Mart stores, and you can certainly buy them online. However, state maps are typically available for free at visitor centers or by mail if you contact the state’s tourism office ahead of time. I was recently in the visitor center in Deming, NM where there were free maps available for New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Texas.

(If you want to request free paper maps and other tourist information, the USATourist.com website offers a page with links to all the tourism offices in the USA.)

Sometimes a stand-alone state map will be more detailed than a state map in an atlas. It may show you county roads and tourists attractions. A state map may also include basic maps of major cities within the state.

If you want to explore a state thoroughly, especially if you want to boondock for free on public land, you may want to invest in an atlas or atlas and gazetteer for the state you are exploring.  These bound maps of individual states break the entire state into blocks, then enlarges each block to show not just county roads but also forest service roads, old mines, campgrounds, public land, historic sites, hunting zones, and more. Having a state atlas or atlas and gazetteer combo is a good plan if you want to find free camping areas that are off the beaten path. The two most popular brands are DeLorme and Benchmark.

Photo of Gray Concrete Road in the Middle of Jungle during Daylight

If you’re going to spend some time in a National Forest or BLM area (especially a popular one), you may be able to get a map from the local ranger station. These maps will show Forest Service roads, natural attractions and landmarks, and campgrounds. These maps will also save you from buying a gazetteer if you don’t really need it because you’ll be boondocking primarily in one part of the state. (The map of the National Forest I worked in for four seasons cost $20, but the ranger station may have free handouts that will get you where you want to go. Don’t be afraid to ask for freebies.)

On the other hand, if you spend a lot of time in an urban area, you may want to get a good map of the city where you are based. Gas stations or Wal-Mart stores may have city maps, or you can order them before you hit town, if you’re the type to plan ahead. If you get to a city and need a free map of the area, try the local chamber of commerce. You don’t have to say you live in your van (if doing so makes you uncomfortable) when you explain you’re new to the area and need some help finding your way around. You could also go to the public library and print out some maps of the city that show the parts of town you plan to frequent.

Once you have your map, don’t just stick it in the pocket behind your seat and forget about it. Get that baby out and study it! Trust me, the best time to pull out your map is not when you are already lost.

If you’re using GPS to get to your destination, compare the route the

Person Holding Map of Usa

computer gives you to your map. Does what the GPS tell you make sense? Some camp host friends punched “Sequoia National Park” into their GPS, and after following the instructions given, found themselves turning down what seemed to be a dry riverbed. Oops! Had they consulted a map before the trip, they would have seen there was no reason to leave the pavement to get where they were going.

I’ve had Google Maps send me on wild Google chases even in cities and towns. Once when on the interstate, driving through the metro Los Angeles area, the Google Maps lady routed The Man onto Sunset Boulevard. Why? Why? Why? Google Maps often sent me on strange, roundabout routes through Porterville, CA. In any case, using a paper map to get familiar with an area before a trip can help do away with this type of nonsense. Simply being familiar with street names and the lay of the land can help make recovery a little easier if the GPS starts spewing incorrect information.

If you’ve never learned to read a road map or your skills are rusty, no shame! You can find lots of map-reading help on the internet. The Beginner Driver’s Guide will give you an informative overview of what different components of a map mean and how to use them. wikiHow has a thorough two-part article on “How to Read a Map,” including how to understand a map’s layout and how to use a map to get where you’re going. If you’d rather watch a video, there are several on YouTube dedicated to teaching folks how to read maps.

However you go about sharpening your map-reading skills, do it before you get on the road. Trying to interpret an unfamiliar map while trying to drive and read street signs is no easy task and could be a recipe for disaster.

GPS is quite helpful in getting you where you’re going, but it shouldn’t be the only tool in your navigation toolbox. Make sure you have the correct paper map for the particular journey you’re on, and know how to use it so you can reach your destination with less worry and stress.

As always, Blaize Sun takes no responsibility for your safety and well-being. Only you are responsible for your safety and well-being. Do your research and decide for yourself your best course of action.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/activity-adventure-blur-business-297642/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/smartphone-car-technology-phone-33488/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/map-maps-american-book-32307/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-gray-concrete-road-in-the-middle-of-jungle-during-daylight-775199/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-close-up-fingers-focus-590133/.

The Rubber Tramp Artist Rules of Van Life

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#1 Rule of Van Life: Always Know Where Your Keys Are

I’ve misplaced the keys to my van many times. Sometimes I have misplaced the keys by locking them in the van. No good. No good. (Read about a couple of those experiences here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/03/01/in-praise-of-roadside-assistance/ and here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/03/30/good-samaritan/.)

My keys on a lanyard long enough to unlock the door without taking it off of my neck.

My keys on a lanyard long enough to unlock the door without taking it off of my neck.

Now my #1 rule of van life if to always know where my keys are. When I’m awake, I wear my keys on a long lanyard around my neck. It’s made from small, pretty blue and green glass beads. I bought it for $1 at a thrift store. I don’t have to take the lanyard from around my neck to unlock the doors, but when I do need to take it off, it lifts right over my head.

When I get out of the van, I make sure the keys are around my neck before I close the doors. It might seem as if I am patting my boobs or belly just for fun, but really, I’m making sure I have my keys. (The challenge is getting the keys immediately out of the ignition and hooked to my lanyard before my attention wanders and I exit the van without my keys.)

When I go to bed at night, my keys are within arm’s reach. If I have to drive the van in the middle of the night, I don’t have to fumble in the dark searching for them. Even when I sleep, I know where my keys are.

Rule #2 Don’t Knock Over the Pee Bucket (When It’s Holding Pee)

I’ve had a variety of pee buckets in my 4+ years as a van dweller. First there was a plastic one-

My current pee bucket with lid.

My current pee bucket with lid.

gallon ice cream tub with lid. Later I used a plastic one-quart, slightly oval shaped ice cream container with a tight-sealing cover. For a while I used a plastic storage container with a snap-on lid with a handle; that container was my favorite, but I lost the lid when I forgot to remove it from the van’s ladder (where it had been propped to air out) before I drove to work. I’m currently using a red coffee can with a snap-off cover.

I’ve knocked the pee bucket over before. While it wasn’t the worst elimination disaster I’ve ever had in the van, it wasn’t pleasant. It was so not pleasant. Now when there’s a container of urine in the van, I am very careful not to kick it or bump it or do anything to make it fall over. I certainly don’t want to drive while there’s pee in my bucket. Even with the cover on, the thing can still leak, and I do not want to deal with urine on the rug and on the floor and on the items on the floor.

Rule #3 Use Blind Spot Mirrors

The Your Mechanic website (https://www.yourmechanic.com/article/how-to-use-blind-spot-mirrors) says,

No matter how well you position your side view mirrors, there is going to be a blind spot on either side…there will always be areas that you cannot see. Blind spot mirrors are designed to alleviate this problem.

I swear by blind spot mirrors. I don’t know why all driver’s aren’t using them, whether on a van or a pickup truck or a sports car. They are inexpensive; a two pack usually cost under $10 at

Amazon, auto supply stores, or any store with an automotive department. They are easy to install by peeling away paper backing covering the strong adhesive on the non-mirror side. Press the blind spot mirrors to a clean (cleanliness is crucial for proper sticking) side view mirror and get ready to see everything in your blind spot that you have been missing.

Rule #4: Do Your Routine Maintenance

Get your oil changed regularly. (The Your Mechanic website recommends every 5,000 to 10,000 miles). Check the air pressure in your tires and add air as needed. Check your fluid (oil, brake, transmission, coolant/antifreeze, power steering) levels and add accordingly. Take care of problems before they become disasters.

Rule #5: Carry Basic Automotive Supplies

I have a pair of jumper cables in my van. I believe everyone should carry jumper cables, especially if traveling to areas where it might take a long time/be impossible for roadside assistance to get to you. It’s usually fairly easy to find a helpful person to give your battery a jump start, but helpful people don’t always have jumper cables.

In addition to jumper cables, I have a jack and a tire iron. I also typically carry brake fluid, oil, and antifreeze/coolant.

Rule #6: Don’t Hit the Road Without a Paper Map

Sure, sure, GPS systems and map apps are great–if they work. I did a Google search on “did people really drive off cliff while following GPS” and came up with a whole list of GPS disaster stories. GPS systems really do lead people astray. img_7800

I’ve never used GPS, but I do tend to rely on Google Maps. I use Google Maps on my laptop to map out routes in unfamiliar cities, and I use it to decide how to get from a city (or nature area) to my next destination. Several times while traveling in California, Google Maps has directed me to roads that don’t exist or sent me well out of my way.

On a couple of occasions, I’ve been able to pull over and use the Google Maps app on my phone to recalibrate from my current location. But recently, after Google Maps sent me on a wild goose chase–out of my way–hour long–gas guzzling–circular excursion, I stopped at a gas station to figure out what I should do from there. Google Maps told me what to do, but I immediately realized it was all wrong. Highway 49 was not the same as Main Street, and the directions told me to go the same way from which I’d just come. So I pulled out my atlas and figured out where I was and where I wanted to be. Turns out a nearby highway was a straight shot from point A to point B. If I had looked at the paper map before I hit the road, I would have seen that Google Maps had sent me on a route that was never going to take me where I wanted to go

Rule #7: Stock Up on Essentials Before You Leave Civilization

Before I head out to a remote area, I make sure I have everything I need. Even if I can find a store in a small town selling the necessity I’ve forgotten, I’m going to pay more for it in a remote location. These are the essentials I make sure I have before I head out of Babylon: food, water, ice, propane, toilet paper, paper towels, soap, wet wipes, gasoline.

Rule #8: Tell Someone Where You Will Be

I have a trusted friend I text everyday if I have cell service. Before I hit the road, I tell her where I’m going. When I arrive, if I have cell service, I text her to let her know I am safe. If I change my plans, I alert her. If she doesn’t hear from me, she checks in. I know doing this won’t save me if someone decides to hurt me, but I feel more confident knowing someone will realize pretty quickly if I disappear and be able to direct a search party to a starting point.

Rule #9: Bungee Cords Are Your Friend

I’ve spent a lot of time picking up plastic drawers and tubs (and their contents) from the floor of the van. Rapid braking and sharp turns made my belongings tumble to the floor. Now I’ve got my stuff tied down with bungee cords. I buy the cheap ones, as they don’t really have to be super strong. They just have to be strong enough to keep my life from flying around as I drive.

Rule #10: Don’t Forget to Have Fun

Having fun is one of the reasons we’re doing this van living stuff, right? We get to travel and see amazing places. We get to explore because we’re not tied down, not spending a huge portion of our money on rent. So don’t get so uptight and worried about what might go wrong that you forget to have fun. In my experience, a bit of prior planning (maintaining the vehicle, strapping down with bungee cords, knowing where my keys are) allows me to relax, arrive safely at my destination, and have a good time while I’m there.

ol-betsy

I took the photos in this post, except for the one of the blind spot mirror, which is an Amazon link.

What are your rules of van life/life on the road? Feel free to share them in the comments section below.