How do you plan your travel route? Or the value of paper maps for trip planning.

Submitted: Monday, Apr 23, 2012 at 18:44
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I’ve been planning a trip in a totally unfamiliar country (England). That got me thinking that my difficulties were a bit like those experienced by newbies planning a trip around Oz. We frequently see on the forum questions about which road to take, how long to get to Woop-woop, what is there to see and so on.

For travellers unfamiliar with the geography of a country it seems easy to hop on to Google maps or the like and plug in A to B and hey-presto here is the route to follow and this is the time it will take. But this approach often ignores the wealth of things to do and see along the way. So, is it the best way to go about planning a route for a much-anticipated trip?

As I have been trying to come to terms with a dense tangle of unfamiliar roads, new locations and masses of new places to see, I’ve gone back to basics and started with a good old fashioned paper map at the biggest scale that I can find. That has allowed me to get some idea of the lay of the land. Next has come much consultation of guide books and Googling of possible places to visit.

When all that was well in hand then it’s on to our E-mapping program of choice, marking points of interest so that a day’s route can be quickly constructed. Google Earth is useful to get exact locations if addresses are a bit fuzzy, and Google Maps helps to find out approximate travel times.

Before long we will get to see if all works out as planned!

Our Oz travel planning usually starts with our big wall map of Australia to give us a birds eye view of where we might go on our next trip. Our Hema 4WD map book, any any other relevant paper map, helps with detail, as does any source of information about things to see or do in the vicinity of our proposed route. Only then do we get on to OziExplorer to plot a detailed route. Google Maps hardly gets used at all as we have enough Ozi experience to guide us in working out likely travel times.

As we travel in Oz we have OziExplorer running all the time, although we may not follow the planned route exactly. The plot of our journey (especially if overlaid on Google Earth) is invaluable in writing blogs, locating photos and just generally recalling the trip.

Despite our use of electronic, GPS based navigation systems I think that paper maps have an essential role in trip planning. They are also essential to carry in case the electronic system fails. Another essential is to keep a sharp eye out for landmarks, road junctions etc to check that turn-by-turn systems aren’t leading us astray.

Interested to hear how others go about planning the route of their trips and what use they make of paper maps.


J and V
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Reply By: Member - Royce- Monday, Apr 23, 2012 at 18:55

Monday, Apr 23, 2012 at 18:55
a paper map does offer a more tactile/scale/bird'seye view of where things lie.

I'm planning to ride a bike from Land's End to John O'Groats in a it over a year... I'll definitely be using a paper map.

Maybe a REALLY BIG computer screen could do the job... or an interactive whiteboard. Hard to cart one or them around though.
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Reply By: Kris and Kev - Monday, Apr 23, 2012 at 18:59

Monday, Apr 23, 2012 at 18:59
We are still in the dark ages, we mainly use paper maps. We do not have a GPS. I know, what the? People often are amazed that we do not have one.
Our plan for trips is not to plan too much. We have a basic time and a few points we know about that we want to see, but leave it all open. We have found that way we are open to changes depending on what travellers we meet tell us. We also are careful when fellow travellers give bad reviews about places as we still like to make up our own minds, but take their advise on board.
We do have our laptop with us and use that to research some places as we go.
Camps 5 has been our bible. But in the Kimberley last year we also has the Hema Kimberley book which was brilliant.

We Spent 28 days in a motor home in the UK in 2009 and did the same there. No real plan, no GPS. Just had a fantastic time.

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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012 at 17:10

Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012 at 17:10
Hi Kris and Kevin,

Understand where you are coming from, and our trips pre 2006 were all done just with paper maps. Now we use OziExplorer when travelling (its good to know exactly where we are) but still rely heavily on paper maps for planning purposes.

Also agree about not planning too much or trying to get things down to the last detail and the last minute so to speak - a good way to ruin a trip. Though we have done a lot more planning for this trip to the UK - there is so much history packed into a small space. But we realise that all we can do is get a sampling of what there is to see while over there.


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Reply By: Keith & Judy H - Monday, Apr 23, 2012 at 19:28

Monday, Apr 23, 2012 at 19:28
One thing we found different to Oz when we were in the UK was that there were no signposts saying 15k to Bath etc. All roads have a number, the more digits in the number the smaller the road. Motorway M1 down to country lane mdl2589. The letters are written on the road surface. Some roundabouts have up to 10 roads merging at a huge island. You have to keep going round & round until you can manouver your car into the lane with the road number that you want to turn into. It's a nightmare when your not used to it. A map is essential because it has all the road numbers on it otherwise without signposts you wouldn't know where you were headed.
Cheers Keith
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Reply By: Steve M1 (NSW) - Monday, Apr 23, 2012 at 20:01

Monday, Apr 23, 2012 at 20:01
Ordanance Survey maps are excellent if you need that level of detail. If not, there are numerous options.

Main thing is; lane discipline, as in most European countries, which means you don't dawdle along in the r/h lane because you intend to turn R 4ks ahead. Observation is key and you stay left unless overtaking and then get back in lane to allow faster traffic to overtake you, after you have overtaken.

You soon get into the pattern and in the cities just need to be on your toes - country areas are a bit more relaxed same as here.

Have a great trip
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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012 at 09:18

Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012 at 09:18
Hi Steve,

Cut my map reading teeth on ordanance survey maps, as a kid at school (doubt that would happen now). That started a lifelong fascination with maps, that in recent years has extended to include electronic maps as well as paper versions.

Although I was not really seeking advice on UK driving or navigation, this thread has brought up some useful points, so thank you for your advice. Im sure we will feel a bit strange for the first few days driving. We will be going well equipped with both paper and electronic maps.


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Reply By: Member - Old Girl - Monday, Apr 23, 2012 at 22:04

Monday, Apr 23, 2012 at 22:04
Yep google maps first.
Then out comes the truckies hema.
While on the road the little hema book sits on my lap. Roads we have been on are highlighted. Due for a new one shes falling appart.
Hema nav is also on also.
When the kids ask how much longer or where are we?
I point to the nav and say dont know ask her. They hate it but it cracks me up.
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Reply By: Motherhen - Monday, Apr 23, 2012 at 22:45

Monday, Apr 23, 2012 at 22:45
Hi Val

Paper maps for planning for us. In UK same as in Australia - big circles around highest priorities, smaller circles around 'would like to see if in that region' and join up the dots. then go - and find out what else to see whilst in each place you want to stop.


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Reply By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Monday, Apr 23, 2012 at 22:52

Monday, Apr 23, 2012 at 22:52
We like to use paper maps to plan the route then a GPS navigator to keep us on the right track. We don't hesitate to mark the maps with notes both pre-trip and along the way. Of course we use a lot of information from printed material, books and the internet sources to aid in selecting the routes and the points of interest.


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Reply By: The Explorer - Monday, Apr 23, 2012 at 23:11

Monday, Apr 23, 2012 at 23:11

Who said paper maps no longer had a role or were losing their appeal for trip planning? Maybe its just a perception created by the abundance of in car naviagtors/handheld gps units. Both digital and paper maps are navigation/trip planning aids and are not mutually exclusive i.e. No need to ignore one just because you have the other...but if anyone wants to stick to one or the other feel free.

People just use what combination best suits their requirements/knowledge/experience at the time - they both have their pros and cons. I also suspect a lot of people actually go on holidays without using a paper map or a GPS (before, during or after) to a large degree and still have the time of their lives :)

I sent one final shout after him to stick to the track, to which he replied “All right,” That was the last ever seen of Gibson - E Giles 23 April 1874

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Reply By: Member - Terra'Mer - Monday, Apr 23, 2012 at 23:14

Monday, Apr 23, 2012 at 23:14
Hi Val,

I love paper maps and charts. Navigation is a serious interest of mine, both on land and at sea.

Chart programmes for shipping are great so long as the watchkeeper uses the charts correctly and only uses the electronic navigation system to compliment their own planning and plotting. I'm yet to try any kind of map programme on land. My GPS is solely for geocaching, not serious navigation.

Every trip starts with paper maps or charts, whether it be sailing, bushwalking, a road trip or an overseas adventure. They go with me everywhere, I feel like something is missing if I don't have a map.

On overseas trips I take a full scale map of each country I intend to visit and once in the country I buy more specific maps depending on what I plan to do.
I also use Lonely Planet guides which have adequate maps in them. I have been known to lug up to 5 of these guide books around at the same time on some trips (always budget backpacking) just to get the most out each country. They're great for getting you off the "beaten track" and immersed in the culture and landscape if the usual tourist haunts aren't your thing.

For the solo snowshoe trek across the Alps this winter I will be using mostly 25,000 scale topos for the 700kms with a few 30,000s and 50,000s. I have some 100,000s to see the bigger picture while planning bad weather alternative routes.

Planning the walk around Australia I have a full set of Hema state maps (paper) which have enough detail for most places. Some areas I have and will get smaller scale maps, eg, Cooktown to Cairns via Bloomfield Track. I also have a large map of Australia on my wall and spend a lot of time looking at it, reviewing the rural and outback extent of the campaign.

I have had a look at several online maps like google earth, bonzle and think I will be using OziExplorer for planning camps but nothing beats a paper map.

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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012 at 13:48

Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012 at 13:48
Hi Terra,

Like you we use paper maps a lot, especially in the planning stages, which is what I really wanted to discuss in this thread. On the other hand we have also found e-navigation, especially OziExplorer to be a great asset when actually travelling.

They complement each other, with the big plus of a GPS system being able to know exactly where you are if and when the signposts run out. Yes I know you can work it out with paper maps and good map reading and navigation skills but,...its very easy to just see your location on the screen.

But it really puzzles me that increasing numbers of travellers seem to rely solely on e-mapping systems like Google maps or similar to plan their trips. It may be quick, but does it really offer the depth of detail to plan an extended trip?

BTW we are constantly amazed at how you get around - off to Alice, the Alps, around Oz. Do your legs ever get tired?


J and V
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Reply By: Member - Oldbaz. NSW. - Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012 at 08:30

Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012 at 08:30
Hi Val, when planning our self drive tour of the UK, we found the most valuable
source to be the AA Route Planner. Works like most others ,but excellent detail,
& options to avoid major Freeways etc.
We found Collins Road Atlas of Britain to be very good too..quite large but better
than the smaller ones.
As an aside, we found the Great Britain Heritage Pass to be excellent value if you
are into the historical icons of the UK.
Driving around the UK is remarkably easy too, none of the aggressive crap we
in Oz are prone to...they are courteous,forgiving & patient.
The only issue we had, first day only, was learning that the road exit signs are placed just after the exit & not before....a few laps of the roundabout soon teaches
you that. cheers......oldbaz.

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Reply By: Member - Beatit (QLD) - Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012 at 09:44

Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012 at 09:44
G'day Val,

Did a 5 week Europe self drive holiday. We did our planning using paper maps and the internet (found a trip planner much like RACQ) but I reckon the best value was the GPS for actual travel. The roads and signs were confusing enough without having to blast the bride for not being quick enough on the maps. We had a flexible plan, probably a direction only and would check our maps at night to see what sights or routes might be available. The GPS made the travel easy in unfamiliar terain.

Kind regards
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Reply By: Member - Duncan W (WA) - Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012 at 10:12

Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012 at 10:12
The first time when we did the 1/2 block, I made up a large plastic overhead projector film sheet that folded up. Placed this over a detailed map of Oz and then plotted out where we wanted to go. (We had only a 2wd station wagon back then). I allowed 400km a day for comfy driving and sight seeing. Used a piece of string and the map scale to sort out the distance on transparancy sheets. With this I then worked out the nearest town after that to find accommodation. I then pre booked most of our accommodation before we left home, based on the plotted itinerary and the time frame that we had to travel.

Yes we did a lot of miles at times and only had an overnighter in a lot of places that in hindsight we could have stayed longer at, but hell we had a ball. We ended up having 7 boat trips, 3 x 4wd tours, a flight over the Bungle Bungle, me a flight up to Kalumbaru, and a deep sea fishing trip. All in 9 weeks and that included 10 days in Tasmania.

So yes paper maps and good planning make for a good time.

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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012 at 21:37

Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012 at 21:37
Hi Duncan,

Impressed by your creative approach to route planning.


J and V
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Reply By: Member - Tony V (NSW) - Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012 at 10:17

Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012 at 10:17
John and Val,

RAC (UK) Route Planner

AA (UK) Route Planner
If you are a member of a one of the Australian Auto Clubs (NRMA etc), ask them if there is any reciprocal membership rights from one of the UK clubs.

As many have suggested, big map, mark up the places you want to travel to.

Use one of the route planners and print for reference.
If you have a smart phone/iPad or PC and a local data plan, do this on the fly which is more spontaneous, so in my book more fun.

Use a GPS or the technology above to get from point to point.

The main thing is to mark

1... What is a MUST to see
2... What good things can be seen between the MUST places
3... What would be NICE to see (wish list)

Then there is what you didn't plan for... the places you find out about or stumble over, these may fit into item 2 above and can substitute for item 3.

Most places in the UK are within a few hours drive so don't worry too much about rushing about to get somewhere.
Try not to travel in peak times and keep to the left lane (not middle) even when not on the motorways.

Plant an Australian Flag in the back window and rear side windows, people will allow you minor transgressions is they realise that you are not a local.

In my experience the road signage is very good in the UK. If missed it tends to be because, as a visitor, you are not used to the layouts.

Good luck with the planning...

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Reply By: The Landy - Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012 at 10:48

Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012 at 10:48
John & Val

I’m a big fan of paper maps, always carry them and goes back to a previous life when I was doing a lot of flying...nothing like looking at a map, and looking out the cockpit, never failed me once!

But sometimes I wonder whether we plan too much, and mind you going on a trip like yours maybe requires some forward planning, but then on the other hand – maybe not.

I recall when we first went to Europe after three years of living and working in Papua New Guinea, we arrived in Oostende with a Eurorail pass each, valid for 6 weeks, and absolutely no idea of where we were heading next. And some of the best advice was given before we left, the place is so big that you can’t see everything, just go with the flow, ask the locals what there is to see, and just get on and off the train.

One of the best holidays we ever had...oh to be so care-free once more!

Enjoy your trip! The Landy

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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012 at 21:47

Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012 at 21:47
Thanks Landy, and I would agree that its possible to plan too much. I like to have a fair idea of what is available to see or do in any given area but dont like to have a tight itinerary to follow. For our UK trip I have identified things that we may choose to see in particular areas - but we probably wont have the time or energy to see them all. Actual routes will be decided on the spot.

Like you when we were younger we were more footloose and fancy free, but now we are keen to make the most of every day we are travelling - who knows how many more of them there might be eh?

As I was doing the current lot of planning interspersed with keeping an eye on the forum I just got to wondering whether the ease of jumping straight onto route planning software caused people to miss out on a fair amount of detail.


J and V
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Reply By: Kris and Kev - Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012 at 12:19

Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012 at 12:19
We found the roads in the UK brilliant. Some are narrow, but we had no problems with our motor home. We also found drivers very patient and tolerant if you make a mistake. And they know how to drive properly on multi lane roads!

The biggest problem we found was finding a place to park, especially just to have a cuppa. And they charge to park everywhere in the towns!

Because of the height of our motor home we could not use most car parks because of height limitation bars. The locals told us this is to stop the gypsies. If they find parking area they will set up home.

Some minor roads.

Now this would have been the way to go. The couple on this boat were from Australia.

AnswerID: 484007

Reply By: David & Kerry W - Wednesday, Apr 25, 2012 at 08:58

Wednesday, Apr 25, 2012 at 08:58
G'day John and Val.

Planned our route through GB and Europe on paper maps. Marked out where we wanted to go from Lonely Planet. Purchased GPS in London loaded with 27 countries (MIO). Leased a LHD wagon, camped in tent for four months, covered 22,000 km and had an absolute ball.

Our MO on the road was paper maps on the open road and GPS into and out of cities. Paper maps let you see what is coming on the big roads - but the GPS must have saved us hours and our marriage in the cities.

Our best fun day was after travelling the British Isles for five weeks in a LHD car, hopping on a cross channel ferry, driving off at Calais onto a massive roundabout with about ten exits all of which were wrong way round on the wrong side of the road!

First big discovery for us was that no matter how much you try you can't see everything. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip and sincerely hope you do too.

Cheers David & Kerry
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