by Doc Smith
17 April 1998
It's 1 p.m. on Friday, the last day of work before you go on vacation for a two week motorcycle trip. Your head keeps banging on the keyboard. You can't even THINK about work. So, let's surf the web, do some last minute trip planning, eh? Yes, Bubba, you can get free maps on the Internet!! Here's some information about nine Web sites that will help you plan your trip, and most of the capabilities are FREE!!! Question is, are they worth the price? Well, if you just need "final approach" directions, like the directions to an address for a bike products store in Elko, Nevada, you can get them online, if you have the street address. If you're running a touring bike and trailer combo, or if you make several short tours a year (such as several three to five day rides & campouts several hundred miles away), you might want to shell out money for a CD-ROM-based street atlas or trip planner. They often are much faster; their travel information is better integrated (you don't have to go to a new page for more facts); and you won't have to rely entirely on an Internet connection while traveling.
Here's a brief review of the major map sites, each followed by a score rating the usefulness and quality of the maps. I'd also like to mention that Rand McNally has a web page that lists roads under construction in the US. I don't think it's 100 percent complete or current, but at least it's a start. It's designed to serve as a way for users of their TripMaker Deluxe trip planning program (described elsewhere in the Pit Stop).
MapBlast: Its route planning is fairly basic--no interim stops or door-to-door directions. But if you're looking for an easy way to create a map to your office or home, this is the place to go. Good.
MapQuest: The door-to-door directions are often quite detailed and accurate--much better, in fact, than some of the street guide software reviewed elsewhere in the "Pit Stop". You can print just the directions, an overview map with text, or turn-by-turn maps with text. You can zoom in, or out, getting a very detailed, almost block by block map, or a multi-state map. A related site, TravelQuest, provides hotel and restaurant ratings, though you'll be inundated by flashing ads. The site also has a useful trip-planning resource section. Very good.
Maps On Us: These guys offer interim stops, door-to-door directions, and four routing choices--fastest, shortest, and greatest or least use of freeways, many more features than any of the other mapping sites. You can set up checkpoints or mid-trip stops with the Plan Best Tour feature, which arranges the order of your stops for maximum efficiency. The site supplies a Yellow Pages business search tool as well. If you sign on as a member, you can even set routing and other preferences for future trip planning. The maps can be slow to draw, but they come with many useful viewing tools. Excellent.
Microsoft Expedia.com: The Evil Empire has MAPS!!! (well of course they do - they use them to plan the conquest of the Internet!) This is supposed to be an all-encompassing, everything under one big tent, travel-planning and travel resource site. Expedia.com has the same easy-to-use interface as the Streets 98 and Trip Planner 98 CD-ROMs. Unfortunately, it also has the same mapping engine, which can give you some downright foolish driving directions. But hey, it integrates well with Windows 95 and Internet Explorer! Fair.
Travelocity, Internet Travel Network, Yahoo Maps: These sites use the same mapping software engine, and usually give you similar, if not identical, results. The first two are travel supersites where you can make airline, hotel, and other reservations, and choose short, easy, or fast routes. The short routes were I made, for getting around the D.C. area, didn't make any sense. The accompanying maps don't offer much detail, though. Finally, Yahoo's map service primarily gives driving directions. Fair.
Zip2 Yellow Pages: Instead of mutilating a perfectly innocent Yellow Pages manual, let this site give you simple door-to-door directions. Simple, fast, not a lot of chrome. Good.
CyberRouter: created by DeLorme, is an EXTREMELY scaled-down version of their trip planning software, described elsewhere here in the Pit Stop. You can specify a start and end city, whether you want the quickest or shortest route, and how fast you plan to drive on the Interstate (minimum value, 55 mph). Punch the button and get the directions and a map. DUMB program. Had me run from outside the D.C. Beltway (I495) to "inside the Beltway", then back outside the Beltway on streets with LOTS of slow moving traffic and intersections (instead of taking the Beltway). Sure, maybe during rush hour . . . Poor.
So, guys, we're running out of reasons for getting lost! Maps that tell you where to go, when to turn, and how much mileage there is between points . . . You KNOW she's gonna bug you to print out a trip plan ("so I can follow along, read the trip plan, while you're driving, honey!"). Sheesh!