Tag Archives: paper maps

You Are Here

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We sold maps at the Mercantile where I worked, but most people wanted to look at them without actually purchasing them. One of the maps we sold was produced by the Forest Service and between Memorial Day weekend when the Mercantile opened and the middle of July, the price went up from $12.99 to $20. The other map we sold was better, easier to read, and only cost $12.95. When we ran out of those and the store’s buyer couldn’t contact the publishing company, The Big Boss man ordered some form Amazon, and the price jumped to $20. Just like the law of supply and demand I’d learned about in my high school free enterprise class predicted, we were suddenly selling significantly fewer maps.

One Friday morning, a large extended family came into the Mercantile. A boy of about 14 asked to see a map. The other clerk pulled one out of the display case where we’d started keeping them to prevent theft (our computerized inventory said we had two more maps than were actually in the store, so we knew some had been stolen) and manhandling by people who had no intention of buying. The boy said he was looking for waterfalls, but I don’t know if he was able to locate any on the map.

Model Figure Standing on MapDoes this map say “You are here”? he asked and he unfolded it.

Well, no, I said. If it did, the words would have to keep moving around as you moved through the forest.

The kid looked at me blankly.

I tried again. Only a stationary map will say “You are here,” I told him, but he continued to look at me blankly. I wondered if he knew what “stationary” meant.

Only a map that doesn’t move can say “You are here,” I said, and not a glimmer of understanding flickered across the kid’s face.

I gave up. I was too busy trying to watch out for shoplifters  and helping people find sizes to explain that a paper map moving through time and space with a person has no way to update “You are here” to reflect where a person is at any given moment. With paper maps, explorers must figure out “You are here” on their own.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-cartography-close-up-concept-408503/.

In Praise of Visitor Centers

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I like visitor centers, those places of tourist information paid for by states to let folks know all the fun things they can do while in the area. There’s a lot to like at these informational pit stops.

  • Clean restrooms Visitor centers want to make a good impression, so they tend to keep their restrooms impeccably clean. If you’re picky about restroom cleanliness, visitor centers may be where you want to stop.
  • Free beverages When I entered Louisiana from Mississippi on Interstate 20, the visitor center  I stopped at offered free coffee. It was even Community brand, a very popular Louisiana flavor. Years ago the visitor centers in Florida offered tiny paper cups of free orange juice. (Certain visitor centers in Florida apparently still offer free citrus juice to guests!) If nothing else, a visitor center is bound to have a water fountain where you can fill your water bottles.
  • Free state maps  If you’re entering a new state, a visitor center is a great place to pick up a free paper map to help you find your way around. When I looked at the free info at the visitor Center in Deming, NM, I saw paper maps New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Texas up for grabs.
  • Tourist brochures  Every visitor center I’ve ever been in has offered tons of brochures advertising attractions throughout the state. From pistachio farms in New Mexico to swamp tours in Louisiana, to ghost towns in Arizona, there’s a lot to do in every state. These brochures tell you where to go and what to see and sometimes include money-saving coupons!
  • State tourism guides  All states have a department of tourism and most publish a guidebook to tell visitors what’s special about their particular state. These guides typically divide the state into regions and give details about what to see and do in each region. The guidebooks may also tell about the state’s history, Native peoples, and special foods; they give a good overview of each state. Visitor centers typically have free copies of their state’s guide free for the taking.
  • Informative exhibits  If you want to learn more about the state you’re in, visitor centers often have exhibits explaining the state’s history, its Native people, the flora and fauna of the region, geologic features, and the area’s history.
  • A live person to talk with If the visitor center is staffed, don’t pass up your chance to ask questions of a local. At the visitor center in Deming, NM, a young woman and an elderly man answered all my questions about the town’s annual duck race. Most people working at a visitor center are going to be knowledgeable about the area and the entire state. Ask the worker for directions. Ask about road construction and free camping.  Ask what attractions in the state can’t be missed. Ask what food you should eat and the best places to find them. Ask about upcoming festivals and special events. Ask about the weather. If the people working at the visitor center don’t know the answers to your questions, they can find out for you.
  • A place to stretch your legs Even if you don’t need a paper map or information about tourist attractions, visitor centers are often nice places to get out of your rig for a while and walk around. If the sound of your own wheels is about to drive you crazy, get out of your vehicle at a visitor center and move around a bit outside.
  • Pet walking areas While you’re stretching  your legs, let Fido or Lassie move around too. Many visitor centers have special areas where you can walk your dog and allow it to relieve itself. (Many even offer poop bags to make it easy to clean up after your pet.) You’ll probably need to keep your pet on a leash, and you’ll definitely need to pick up any droppings.
  • Picnic areas  Many visitor centers have picnic tables or at least a bench where you can sit to have a snack or eat your lunch. Some sitting areas are even under shade structures so you can get out of the sun. If you can park your rig close enough to a table, you should be able to pull out your stove and kitchen supplies and cook a complete meal for yourself.
  • Dump stations  If you’re driving an RV with a black water tank, some visitor centers (especially if they are part of a larger rest area complex) may offer a dump station. You can find a state-by-state guide to dump stations at RVdumps.com.
  • Free water for your tanks  Some visitor centers offer free water to fill holding tanks if you have an RV or jugs if you’re living the vanlife. Pay attention to signs telling you if water is potable (safe to drink) or non-potable (not safe to drink).
  • Safe overnight parking  If a visitor center is within a rest area, you may be able to park for the night after you get your fill of tourist info. Overnight parking at rest areas varies by states, but many states do put the “rest” in “rest area” by allowing folks to park for several hours at a time. Once you grab your free state map and tourism guide, get some shut-eye before you get back on the road. If you get to a visitor center late at night and anyone asks you why you’re parking there, just say you want to get some information as soon as they open in the morning.

Now that you’ve considered all visitor centers have to offer, maybe you’ll stop in at the next one you see as you’re tooling down the road.

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/.

Managing in the Mountains

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I love these mountains in Taos County, NM.

Most fulltime rubber tramps know that going up in elevation is the key to cool comfort in the heat of the summer. For every rise of 1,000 feet in altitude, the temperature falls about 3.6 degrees.  If, like me, you grew up a flatlander, you may not know the tricks to staying happy above sea level. You want to go up the mountain, but you may be a bit cautious about doing so. After spending the better part of the last five summers above 6,000 feet, I know a thing or two about mountain living, at least during the spring and summer months. Today I’ll share my tips for managing in the mountains.

#1 Know that altitude sickness is a real possibility. I’ve been very fortunate; I’ve never suffered one bit of altitude sickness, but some people get it bad.

According to a comprehensive Health Communities article about altitude sickness remedies,

acute mountain sickness (AMS), is the most common type of altitude sickness. It can occur at elevations as low as 5,000 feet, where it is likely to last only a day or so, but is more common above 8,000 feet. At elevations over 10,000 feet, three out of four people will have symptoms.

The article lists these symptoms of altitude sickness:

  • Increased rate of breathing
  • Headache
  • Lethargy
  • Fatigue and insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dizziness and nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Shortness of breath and rapid heartbeat accompanying physical exertion
  • Impaired thinking.

The article also lists some precautions to you can take to acclimate to higher elevations.

  • Acclimatize and take it easy. Spend your first day at high altitudes relaxing…
  • Do not smoke and avoid drinking alcohol. Smoking and alcohol consumption increase the risk of dehydration and decrease respiration rate during sleep…
  • Drink extra water. Drink as much as you can to remain properly hydrated, at least three to four quarts. Your urine should be clear and copious…
  • Eat foods that are high in carbohydrates.
  • Get headache relief. Acetaminophen or an NSAID (such as ibuprofen) can be taken for headache.
  • Don’t go up until symptoms go down. If you start showing symptoms of moderate altitude sickness, don’t go any higher until they decrease—or descend a few hundred feet to a lower altitude.

I suggest you read this entire article and familiarize yourself with the symptoms of and remedies for altitude sickness before you start your ascent.

#2 In the mountains, it stays colder later in the year and gets colder sooner. Early May in Flagstaff brought a storm with a predicted high of 43 degrees and a chance for two inches of snow. The Man and I headed out before the storm to avoid the inclement weather, but we experienced chilly nights and mornings in the California Sierras until well into June. Memorial Day weekend gave us a foggy Saturday where temperatures in the Mercantile never climbed above 42 degrees. If you’re too hot in the flatlands in spring and decide to move on up, either find a camp in the middle elevations or be prepared for chilly morning and nights

Fall may come to the mountains before you expect it. It was never long after Labor Day on the mountain where I worked that I found myself sleeping under my down comforter and wearing a jacket the first few hours of every morning. You may want a decrease in elevation before the official beginning of autumn.

#3 The weather can change quickly in the mountains, so be prepared with appropriate gear. If you store your winter gear away from your rig, but sure to pack a warm hat, warm socks, and decent jacket before you go up the mountain, even in the heart of summer. Take sturdy shoes to protect your feet if the weather turns cold and/or wet. If you have room, it’s not a bad idea to pack your Mr. Buddy heater too.

At the Rio Grande Gorge outside of Taos, NM (elevation 6, 969 feet) I’ve literally seen the weather change from sunny and hot to cloudy with lightning and thunder to rain and hail to rainbows and sunshine, all accompanied by a temperature drop of 20 degrees in less than an hour. Of course, these are not usual weather conditions, but proof that such changes can happen fast.

I seldom got my speedometer above 25 mph on this curvy California mountain road.

#4 Get yourself a good paper map. Don’t depend on GPS or your vehicle’s navigation system which can be entirely useless in remote, high elevation locations. If you get your directions online, be sure you can access then if you lose phone service. Your best bet is mapping out your route on your paper map before heading up.

#5 You might not have cell phone service either. Be prepared to live without cell phone service. Make all your calls and send texts before you start heading up the mountain. Warn anyone who might worry about you that you might not have cell phone service for a while.

#6 If you’re not accustomed to driving on winding, curving, twisting, mountain roads, plan to drive slowly. It takes a lot longer to drive a mountain mile than it takes to drive a mile on a flat stretch of road. The first summer I worked as a camp host, I picked up my mail 25 miles from the campground where I lived. Google Maps said it would take me 45 minutes to drive there, but it took me at least an hour.

This road outside Santa Fe, NM takes folks up up up the mountain.

#7 If you look in your review mirror and see a line of cars and trucks behind you, pull off in the next turn out and let the other vehicles pass. Folks accustomed to driving in the mountains may be able to drive on those roads faster than you can. That’s ok, but save the people behind you lots of frustration by letting them leave you in the dust.

#8 Be aware of bears. While you don’t want to succumb to bearanoia, if you’re boondocking in areas bears are known to frequent, you should take precautions so you don’t attract them to your camp.

In the book Bear Aware, author Bill Schneider offers an entire chapter detailing camping in bear country. The most important tip is to check potential campsites for signs of bears before you set up camp.

If you can see fresh sign [of bears] move on to another site with no signs of bear activity.

The second most important tip is to separate your sleeping and cooking areas.

The sleeping area and the cooking area must be separated by at least 100 yards.

Also, be prepared to “hang everything that has any food smell” or store those items in bear canisters.

If you’re unsure if the area where you want to boondock has issues with bears, visit the local ranger station to find out about bear activity before you choose your camping spot.

#9 Watch out for other mountain critters too.  You probably won’t see a mountain lion, but be prepared to react appropriately if you do. The Mountain Lion Foundation says to do the following if you meet a mountain lion:

  • Seem as large as possible.
  • Make noise.
  • Act defiant, not afraid.
  • Slowly create distance.
  • Protect yourself.

Again, I recommend you read the entire article before you need the information.

Where I worked in the mountains, we were more likely to see a timber rattler than a bear. To prevent a nasty bite (and a trip to an emergency room that may be more than an hour away), watch where you put your hands and feet. Don’t put any body part in a crack or crevice or under anything without first visually inspecting the area. If you see any snake, give it a wide berth so it can escape without feeling like it has to go on the defensive. For more information on how to avoid a snakebite or what to do if a rattlesnake does strike you, see this article from Denver Health.

The Man and I saw these wild horses just off the highway in Colorado at about 8,000 feet.

The part of the National Forest where I worked is open range, so people driving there have to watch for half wild mountain cows. I don’t know how common open range is in other mountain locations, but city folks are often quite surprised when they see cows on the road on their way up the mountain. If you see cows on a mountain road you’re driving on, slow down and give them plenty of room; sometimes cows bolt when they get nervous. The same holds true for wild horses, deer, elk, and moose, so be alert for large animals hanging out along mountain roads.

#10 Stock up on food, supplies, and fuel for your rig before you head up the mountain. Many mountain towns are secluded, and may not have the supplies you need. On the mountain where I worked, there was no diesel, none of the special fuel tiny backpacking stoves require, and no fresh vegetables for nearly 40 miles. If you are able to find what you’re looking for, you are going to pay a premium for items that had to be trucked up thousands of feet. In mountain towns, I’ve paid too much for ice ($4 for a seven pound bag), one-pound propane canisters ($6.95 for what costs under $4 bucks at most any Wal-Mart), and water ($3-$4 a gallon). You’re better off getting everything you need while you’re still in civilization.

There’s no way to imagine or prepare for every situation one might find oneself in while at a high altitude. In life we run into situations that could lead to harm, whether we’re in the city or the wilderness. I hope these tips help you plan for your health and safety when you leave the flatlands and venture up to higher elevations.

Remember, Blaize Sun can’t prepare you for or protect you from every danger you might encounter in the mountains. You are responsible for our own self. Research the problems you might encounter in the area you plan to camp in before you get there. If applicable, call the Forest Service ranger station responsible for the place you want to camp and ask about hazards in the area. Think before you act. If something you’re about to do seems potentially dangerous, don’t do it!

I took the photos in this post.

Go See Do: Tips for Finding Fun Out On the Open Road (Guest Post)

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License plate artwork discovered at a Denny’s restaurant, somewhere out on the open road.

Brenda Cordray was one of the first people I “met” through Instagram. I somehow stumbled upon her feed @twentyonefeathers and thoroughly enjoyed her photos, especially the ones of flowers and heart-shaped rocks and other little bits of nature. She and her man are nomads, so I introduced myself and my blog to her and offered her the chance to write a guest post. That guest post is now in front of you. Today Brenda will share her tips for finding fun things to do in the new places you visit whether you’re on vacation or living the life of a rubber tramp.

After 5 years of both solo and tandem road life, I am often asked about boredom. Don’t you ever get bored? I am not a person who experiences boredom. I have often said that I have a rich internal life. I find more than enough things to ponder and consider, especially when I am not stimulated by the hustle and bustle and endless noise of the outside world. I have a dozen projects in the works at any given moment, and many that are sprouting tiny green vines of possibility on a daily basis. The truly creative mind rarely rests.

I have been known to sit for weeks out on the desert in my van all alone. I was perfectly content and never needed the sound of anyone else’s voice for entertainment. Now that I am newly married, my nomadic experience has changed quite a bit. These days I wait patiently for my beloved husband, Dan, to wake up so we can enjoy a good conversation about what we would like to do with this one blessed day that is unfurling before us.

A quick peek out the window reveals our latest sittin’ spot. Sometimes that in itself is a surprise! The scenery outside our windows changes regularly. It takes no effort at all to find things to amuse ourselves out in nature at any given location. We truly are outdoors people, at our best and happiest when we are outside. The outdoors is always fertile ground for exploration, but often we long to venture out into parts unknown to store up precious shared memories.

We aren’t fans of touristy venues, although we have been known to brave the crowds (off-season or on weekdays) to see things that are of keen interest to either or both of us. I love to post pictures of unusual or off-the-beaten-path locales! It is my joy and pleasure to be the navigator, so it falls upon me to ferret out these treasures.

How do I find them, you may ask. Exploration of any area begins with maps.  I love old-fashioned paper folding maps, hefty road atlases, Google Maps, hand-drawn simple maps, or even highly detailed topographical maps that others would have no interest in exploring. All maps are valuable to me. Each has a precious bounty to offer if given the chance to tell its stories.

Stopping at rest area Welcome Centers as you cross state lines is a great way to pick up free and updated folding maps of any state. I replace my old ones often, although the ones that have handwritten notes along the edges and circles and arrows and plenty of Scotch tape holding them together are solid keepers. Racks and racks of glossy travel pamphlets, some with discount codes or coupons, are free for the taking. There are often helpful folks behind the counter who can give more details about local attractions, like whether or not dogs are allowed, or if the attraction you are considering would be suitable for a preschooler or stroller. They are happy that you bothered to ask and are often a wealth of information for the curious traveler.

Statues of American Folk hero, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, located in Bemidji, Minnesota.

Truck stops, restaurants, gas stations, and coffee shops often have racks of pamphlets, too, and local weekly circulars that include calendars full of events and happenings. Many include descriptions of nearby businesses and are a great resource for buy-one-get-one-free meals or discounts on attractions or services.

If I meet a new friend who insists that we go see their home state, or their favorite state, I shush their suggestions long enough to go grab my paper maps and a pencil to mine these priceless bits of information. I often write their names and phone numbers there as well, and where we met, too, since many tell me to call them when we are heading that way because they will have surely thought of more to share.

We are given directions and gate codes from perfect strangers in the event that we venture close to their summer cottage or homestead and would like to stay, even if they don’t happen to be there at the moment. If you are a person of integrity, many will entrust you with prime sittin’ spots. Quite a few will suggest that you stay forever, and it will take your very best efforts to politely disengage and ease on down the road. Those who get out of the house now and again will suggest places of interest for your enjoyment. We are very happy when they give reviews of all the best local restaurants, for days when van-made grub sounds less than appealing.

If you truly enjoy a certain place, stay awhile. Immerse yourself in the ambiance of the area. Strike up conversations with locals. Some of our best travel tips have come from people we may never see again, but will always remember. The places that we have stayed for extended periods of time are often the places we describe to others who are looking for something fun to do. It’s nice to feel that you truly “know” a place you have just left instead of just having a vague recollection of your visit.

Lucy the Elephant, built in 1881, and located at Margate City on the New Jersey Shore.

I am always astounded by driveway surfing hosts who have no idea where the nearest park is or how many truly fascinating things there are to see within a few moments of their home or the neighborhood they grew up in. What fun it is to explore their world and bring it back home to them! Not everyone would enjoy the idea of traveling as much as we do, but one should at least gather up the low hanging fruits of local events and attractions. Weekends aren’t just for chores, people. Recreation is good for the soul and makes the days in between the weekends more tolerable.

When tracing a path from point A to point B, Google Maps is also a great resource. Using two fingers to expand the map uncovers all sorts of fascinating places along your route, and entering a keyword like “museum” can add plenty of depth to the outcome of your search. Even if what you find is not something you plan to do right away, tagging that spot with a star or flag can jog your memory in the event that you venture that way again at a later date.

A Google search of any area being considered should include the top 15 things to do in a few local cities. TripAdvisor offers a detailed list of the most popular sites in any area.The list also includes reviews from those who have been there and have something to say about it. TripAdvisor is usually the first thing that pops up in a Google search. If you scroll down a bit, you may find blog posts, newspaper and magazine articles, Facebook pages, and a variety of links that will flesh out the big picture and lots of smaller details about the area you plan to visit.

Atlas Obscura offers a website that gives you the opportunity to type in a specific location and come away with a list of unusual things to see, like a museum that holds a collection of life and death masks; or the Salt Palace, a museum in Grand Saline, Texas, made entirely of salt. Without this valuable resource, you might pass right by the 200-year-old The Horse You Came In On Saloon in Baltimore, Maryland, whose claim to fame is having served Edgar Allan Poe his final drink. The website includes stories and pictures detailing the history and current particulars about interesting places all around the globe. They also churn out printed books, for those who don’t have to worry about limited space or weight in their chosen road chariot. I carried their book in the van until a fellow nomadic friend who had moved back into sticks and bricks posted that she wanted it badly. I popped it in the mail so she could do a little armchair exploring. Being able to access the same information online is a better choice for me than hauling around a thick reference book.

West Quoddy Head lighthouse at Quoddy Head State Park in Lubec, Maine, the easternmost point of the contiguous United States.

Sometimes I come across interesting places to see in areas we have just left, like the Montague Book Mill, in Montague, Massachusetts. It is said to hold books you don’t need in a place you can’t find. That sounds like a challenge to me, and I love a good challenge!  25,000 books crammed into a 175-year-old building, perched on the banks of the Sawmill River (which holds black river stones smoothed by cold, flowing water) sounds like pure Heaven to me. That one warrants a check mark for next time, and a sigh of disappointment for not discovering it when we were close enough to stop by. At the very least, Atlas Obscura will show you what you are missing right next door, and will give you something to do when you are “bored”, if you are so inclined.

Many of the coolest places we have visited have been the result of serendipitous drive-by discoveries. Once, after taking a wrong turn, we spied a hand-lettered sign that simply said “fort” with an arrow pointing down a backroad outside of Savannah, Georgia. Fort Jackson (the old one, not the modern one) is the oldest brick abutment in Georgia.  It was occupied during three wars, and it protected the city of Savannah during the Civil War. Dan wrote a blog post about our visit.

We spent an entire weekday in this nearly empty fort, enjoying a personal tour given by a newly hatched tour guide who was very excited to share his knowledge.  We were able to really feel the history of the fort without the input of dozens of chattering voices.

We easily took dozens of photos without having to wait for hordes of visitors to move out of the way of the shot. We sat in silence after reading the placards accompanying the displays and deeply considered the sacrifices made by our forebearers to secure this nation’s freedom. We mined the treasures of the museum at our own pace, and felt happy to leave a donation to support the upkeep of this privately funded property because we could clearly see its value. We have seen many historic places defaced by graffiti and feel that if people truly took the time to appreciate them, they could not possibly consider such a heinous crime.

Reading the blog posts of fellow travelers or following their Instagram or Facebook page posts can offer up interesting suggestions as well. We have been honored when our followers have added to their travel plans or bucket lists based on our adventures! You can find literally thousands of photographs of our travels on our Instagram pages, @twentyonefeathers and @fireman428. I love to find free or very cheap places to visit and camp, so be sure to explore the captions below the photos for a plethora of ideas.

Our pups at Camp Wildcat Civil War Battlefield near London, Kentucky, site of one of the Union’s first victories in the Civil War.

I offer these suggestions with the hope that you will find a few jewels through the resources mentioned here, and that you also share your OWN gettin’ spots for unique adventures below in the comment section for others to enjoy. Boredom out on the open road is a mindset that is easily remedied with a bit of creativity and a passion for unearthing hidden spots to explore, both near and far. If you are a weekend or summer holiday traveler and not living the nomadic life, you can squeeze more fun into the time you have available by utilizing a few of these resources. As Dan always says, get out, be safe, and go adventure!

Brenda Cordray is a vandweller who is currently writing a book about her personal journey towards her lifelong dream of nomadic life, and her experiences while living five-plus years out on the road. She is sending out a call to fellow freewheeling souls for interviews about their journey and quest for the nomadic life for possible inclusion in her book. She can be reached at twentyonefeathers@gmail.com. Brenda travels with her husband, Dan, and pups Liberty and Layla, in their repurposed community transport van, Erik van Home.

If you need more ideas of what to do with your free time, see the Rubber Tramp Artist post What Do I Do Now That I Have All This Time on My Hands?

Photos and their captions provided by the author.