My car was manufactured before dashboard data screens were invented. It’s an entry-level sedan that is a basic, no-nonsense vehicle that always takes me where I need to go. I never bothered to buy an aftermarket GPS gadget, because I have a good sense of direction and I know how to use old-fashioned, paper road maps.
I keep a standard road atlas in the trunk of the car in the off-chance that I find myself in unfamiliar territory and I become lost. I also have individual road maps for all the adjacent states as well as Nebraska, just in case they’re needed. I also urge my friends to carry road maps in their cars, even if they normally use GPS or phone apps.
If your vehicle’s screen malfunctions, or your GPS device becomes inoperative, your smartphone doesn’t work, or you do not own any of those devices and you’re in the middle of nowhere, the appropriate road map and the know-how to read it will be very valuable.
I recommend having an excellent quality road atlas in any vehicle that travels out of town. Mine is a recent book for North America. So, if I decide to drive anywhere in the continental United States, Mexico, or Canada, I can find my way around, in a pinch. I use an old atlas when planning far away trips to unfamiliar locations. Using an atlas before departure is a great way to familiarize yourself with the route and towns along the way. If you’re unfamiliar with where you’re going, make sure to have the most current versions of the maps.
Let’s say that you want to visit Valentine, Nebraska but you have no idea where, in the state, it is located. You’ll need to use the map’s index to quickly find the town. Good maps use a “grid” system to describe where, on the map, indexed places are located. The vertical edges of the maps are labled in letters, A,B,C, etc. and the horizontal edges are labled numerically, 1,2,3, etc.
Valentine is listed as “C 14”. So, all we need to do is find “C” on the left or right edge, then trace with a finger to “14”. That will bring us to the general vicinity of the town. From there, it is easy to see where Valentine is situated.
Somewhere on a map document is a “legend” that describes the types of roads displayed on the map. For example, solid, thick black lines indicate primary two-lane highways, and thick, red, double-lines indicate freeways and Interstates.
Unless the map has a small, printed “compass rose” saying otherwise, most maps are oriented with North at the top, South at the bottom, West is left, and East is right. Also, usually on the “legend” are map scales that help the user to estimate the distance between markings on the map. For instance, one map may indicate that each inch equals approximately 50 miles. You can use a couple of fingers or a small ruler to approximate the distance you need to travel from one place to another.
If you’re going to a major city, perhaps Lincoln or Omaha, there are metropolitan maps either on the front or reverse sides of the main state map. The mileage scale will be different from the state map, too.
Even if you are not planning a road trip any time soon, road maps are just fun to read and enjoy. I have a vintage road map of California that I framed and hung on a wall in the den. It makes a great bit of decor that fuels some of my daydreams.