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Follow That Mouse - Great Online Resources For Planning Your Roadtrip

Right now there is little reason to get lost when you drive. With today's new and free online mapping services, you are going to have to think of all sorts of new excuses for being late to see your in-laws! Virtually every square inch of the globe has been mapped and is now available online for free. Mapping websites are able to manage this data in any number of ways: producing driving directions between two cities, providing a list of restaurants or hotels along your route or at your destination, predicting how long it will take you to drive to your destination, and so on.

Currently, I am getting ready to drive from Pittsburgh to Boothbay Harbor, Maine, for a family vacation in June. I've been testing each online mapping site to see which is the most accurate. I found that the difference of information provided was downright astonishing. I grew up in Maine and know how to get there in my sleep. However, some of the information I am finding online is not always the best or most useful. So, what are some of the best online options for trip planning? Here is a roundup of some online resources and my reviews:

  • Rand McNally
    For 144 years, Rand McNally has been at the forefront of travel and geographic information. They use this vast information in conjunction with large, highly detailed, and easy-to-read color maps in the Rand McNally Road Atlas online. In addition, you can get construction and weather updates. Rand McNally even publishes a kid's road atlas, which gives children a fun and informative way to follow the family journey on their own.

    Verdict: This is a nice site, but the driving directions to Maine were not what I would call accurate. It added an additional 44 miles to the route I have taken for years. The site estimated my drive at 12 hours and 13 minutes for 803.2 miles of travel, with a total of 22 steps. The worse part, though, was that it sent me north to Erie, over to Buffalo, then through Syracuse, Albany, and Boston to get to Maine. (I've never driven through Erie or Buffalo to get to Maine!)

  • MapBlast
    This is one of the most expansive online mapping services out there. Worldwide maps and driving directions are available. The amount of detail makes the interface user-friendly. In addition, it will point out Starbucks and Hilton hotels if any are along your driving route.

    Verdict: The maps are concise. The estimated travel time given was 12 hours and 13 minutes for 803.20 miles of travel, with a total of 22 steps. Again, however, it routed my trip through upstate New York.

  • AutoPilot®
    AutoPilot® is a free trip planning service that allows you to find routes between U.S. and/or Canadian cities. It offers an easy-to-use interface and nice options such as locating ATM machines, gas stations, food, lodging by type and price, campgrounds, points of interest and attractions, and even golf courses. As a nice bonus, it will email your itinerary to you.

    Verdict: It's not the prettiest site in the world, but it does the job very well. AutoPilot® estimated my trip distance at 758 miles with a driving time of 12 hours and 41 minutes. I like this service; it was very accurate. In addition, it sent me on the right track, so to speak, by directing me across I-80 in Pennsylvania and not through Buffalo!

  • Mapquest
    This is the biggest online map site. Mapquest offers wonderful graphic maps and traffic reports, as well as airport and National Park maps. In addition, it identifies restaurants and hotels along the way. It also will notify you of relevant e-coupons. In my case it found a voucher for $4 off at any Jiffy Lube service center anywhere along my route. One exceptional attribute of MapQuest is that you can e-mail or fax directions to a friend or download them to a PDA.

    Verdict: I love it! MapQuest is by far the most accurate, detailed, and convenient map service online. It calculated my total distance at 759.8 miles with a total estimated driving time at 14 hours and 30 minutes. Best of all, it did not have me going through Buffalo!

  • Expedia Maps
    You can get detailed street maps and driving directions, with an easy-to-use interface. You may also choose the type of drive you want: quickest, shortest, or most scenic.

    Verdict: Unfortunately, the maps that come up are very hard to read, and I could not see the plotted route. In addition, the turn-by-turn maps are rather generic. Still, it did map out an accurate course to Maine via I-80 in Pennsylvania and not through upstate New York. It calculated my total mileage at 757 miles with duration of 12 hours and 7 minutes.

  • Delorme CyberRouter
    DeLorme's CyberRouter offers the best-detailed maps on the web. This site is very easy to use, and you can even select the average speed you'll be driving. You will also find CyberAtlas® on this site. You can enter a zip code or a place name to generate a Street Atlas USA® map. One little tidbit about Delorme: if you are ever anywhere near their corporate headquarters in Yarmouth, Maine, stop by and see Eartha™, the world's largest moving globe. Located in a three-story glass atrium, it is over 41 feet in diameter, and it rotates and revolves just like the real Earth.

    Verdict: Overall, this is a great resource to use. The maps were crystal clear and accurate. It calculated my trip at 758 miles with a driving time of 12 hours and 22 minutes.

  • Excite Maps
    Excite Maps uses interactive maps, which is great. You can search, zoom, pan, and print from street corner detail to bird's-eye view. You can also email directions, print, and do a reverse itinerary.

    Verdict: The maps are very basic and generic, but the step-by-step directions are foolproof and very easy to understand. It estimated my trip at a total distance of 751.03 miles with a travel time of 16 hours and 56 minutes.

  • Lycos Road Map
    Lycos Road Map uses MapBlast's network. You can create a customized map of your destination. If you don't know the street address, you can locate a friend using only their e-mail address. Just enter the facts and see your map appear.

    Verdict: Because of MapBlast's routing of my trip I again was shuffling off to Buffalo. The maps are very clear, but the feature to find an address by email address or domain name didn't work. I tried 10 different email addresses and domain names, and none was successful. It's a great concept, but only if it works!

  • Travelocity's Destination Guide
    Travelocity uses MapQuest's software, and this is a good thing. There are two ways to map your destination road map. For any two addresses in the United States, you can generate clear and concise driving/walking directions complete with a map to guide you. The "Area Map" feature is used for a single destination; you can generate a map of any part of the United States.

    Verdict: This site is very easy to use. However, you need to enter a specific street address, because it will not plot a trip without one. Otherwise, it is a very good resource.

  • Yahoo! Maps
    Yahoo! Maps uses MapBlast's network. Simply enter a street address or intersection or a city and state (U.S. addresses only).

    Verdict: Again, because of MapBlast's routing of my trip through Buffalo, it did not make sense for me to use this service. However, the interface is simple and easy to use, and the maps are very basic, but clear.

One other resource that I use before I hit the road is Founded in 1995, advises users on potential law enforcement speed traps, traffic slowdowns, traffic hazards, and other information to help save them time. This service is not intended to promote speeding, but it sure helps to know where to look for those sneaky Connecticut State Troopers!

In addition to the aforementioned online mapping sites, the newest and most accurate mapping technology involves GPS (Global Positioning Systems) technology. I recently purchased my husband a GPS, a unit smaller than a cell phone that uses satellites to not only tell you where you are, but how to get where you are going. A GPS is the ultimate male catnip, and women everywhere will no longer have to roll their eyes when their man swears he isn't lost. With many new cars being equipped with this technology perhaps the need for marriage counseling will subside.

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