14 March 2009

Road atlases and navigating tips

I don't know if this will be really obvious to everyone else, but other places in the world (outside Australia) actually number the exits on their motorways. I mention this simply to make navigating in the car so much easier.

I have driven long distances across several countries and had Yvette navigating for me. We usually take with us the road atlases for the various regions we travel through. The brands we have used are:Each of these are quite different to use, and have various benefits and drawbacks. With respect to motorway exits we found them numbered in the road atlases. There seem to be two numbering systems. The first (as used in Europe) is that exits are simply numbered in order from 1 at one end to whatever at the other end. The second numbering system (as used in Quebec) is that each freeway exit number is derived from the distance the exit is from the beginning.

Both numbering systems work well. And once you've worked them out they are brilliant for navigating purposes. The numbers are usually displayed on the large signs beside the motorway prior to each exit. I only mention all of this because if  you, like me, are totally unaware of such systems, then you will find it absolutely invaluable for getting around. Indeed, even the Google Maps driving directions use the exit numbers.

Yvette's sister tells of her experience in Germany:
When we were in Germany, we bought a map book of Germany in Australia before we left. Very helpfully in Germany every single turnoff from a major road is numbered, so we spent the night before we drove anywhere writing out the sequence of numbers we needed to take. Although we got lost once (because turnoff 35 JUST WASN'T THERE!) we used the map to get us back to the right place and back into our sequence of numbers.
Our experience was similar. In Quebec, once we worked out what all the numbers on the map actually meant (and how they corresponded to the directions) it meant that driving itself was much easier to manage. It did take us a few hours to figure it out, though - enough to miss a major turnoff and enter a city from a completely different direction.

The good and the bad of the various brands of road atlas...
(And while we're here, I'll just point out that different editions to ours might be slightly different.)

AA Good points:
  • comprehensive coverage of each state of the USA and Canadian provinces
  • the markings for 'scenic routes' were actually scenic! We drove Route 100 through Vermont and were not disappointed.
AA Bad points:
  • huge format book - really much too large in size to take with you. If I could bear to rip a book (and I can't do it) I'd have taken out the relevant pages.
  • the city and town maps are very scanty - you'll need extra ones for them.
Michelin Good points:
  • manageable sized book
  • distances in both miles and kilometres
  • good city and town maps - much more useful than the AA ones
Michelin Bad points
  • very cluttered maps
  • sometimes it can be difficult to identify which distance measurements correspond to which roads - some of the numbers seem to 'float' ambiguously between a number of roads
Philip's Good points
  • manageable sized book
  • good introduction to each country in Europe
  • very clear maps - less cluttered than the Michelin ones
Philip's Bad points
  • city and town maps inadequate
  • some of the marked scenic routes were NOT scenic, and some that were scenic were not marked as scenic in the road atlas
All had good motorway routes with exits marked clearly. Obviously, if you choose to travel on back roads there is less detail available in road atlases for those routes, but most of the main ones are marked, and usually with the national road number for the country it is in.

With a decent road atlas, and an understanding of how the motorway and road numbering systems work you should have less chance of getting lost. Despite all of our planning in this regard, we have been lost - but not often. Once in Ireland, trying to get around some roadworks that created a huge traffic jam, once in Quebec when we took the wrong exit and I had the wrong street address for the hotel, and once in Seville on approaching the city.

Actually, come to think of it, I'm going to have a whinge here. The road atlases show the big scale routes around a country, and often have city maps. What bugs me are the city maps - they infrequently show enough of the outskirts of a city to show where and how the motorways actually connect with the local streets. Once you leave the motorway and head into a town or city you can easily get lost until you can reorient yourself on the city maps. That happened to us especially in Seville, but it has happened before that too.

No comments:

Post a Comment