The 21st century Road Trip
The dashboard glows with a dim white light; every tick on the Tach illuminating the other. Navigation, satellite communications, radio, and onboard computer—my Jeep seems more like a fighter jet than a car. I like it that way. There is beauty in function, and for some strange reason gauges get me excited. All this technology works together to make long drives more comfortable and efficient. There has never been a better time to go on long distance drives than today. With airport convenience at an all time low, and plane tickets at an all time high, nothing compares to the solitude and control of your personal automobile.
Cars and people alike have changed greatly since Horatio Nelson Jackson first crossed the country by automobile. Roofs are standard to cite one example. The second greatest difference is the tools at one’s disposal when planning a long distance trip by car.
First, buy a road atlas. A good way to determine the quality of a road atlas is to look at an area on the map you know well. Look for obscure spots, small roads, trails, lakes, local knowledge sort of places. If the road atlas looks detailed and accurate enough in your hometown, I assume it continues the trend across the other pages.
A basic piece of equipment that can shorten your planning time to about sixty seconds is a Global Positioning System (GPS). A GPS is a device that uses satellite triangulation to find you, tell you where you are, and how to get to desired locations. GPS is convenient, but it can often get you unbelievably lost. I have gone hours out of my way to run out of tarmac with my GPS telling me to ford a river. Have a back up. If you bought a road atlas, you can use that. When it comes to GPS units, bottom of the line isn’t worth your time, and you probably don’t need the top of the line unit with sonar capabilities. Somewhere in the middle will get the job done. I have found customer reviews particularly helpful with this type of product.
Another route available is mapping software. Google Maps, or their downloadable program Google Earth not only allow you to easily create routes, take measurements, or add stops, you can see, in multiple interfaces the terrain you are about to drive. The downside to these two programs is that alone (without a GPS) they are static. You can interface your GPS to receive routes and waypoints pre-planned from the software. If you do not have a GPS, you will have to send the directions to your phone or print them out.
Directions given using mapping software tend to throw in cardinal points. This can get confusing particularly in new cities. Many cars come standard with a compass. If your car did not, there are plenty of after-market alternatives. If you buy an after-market compass, make sure it has some sort of lighting mechanism so you can read it at night.