This is a guest post from the Microsoft At Home blog.
Need directions to a meeting or the hot new restaurant across town? Want help planning a bicycle trek or a cross-country road trip? Curious about the location of your neighborhood or the small town your grandparents were born in?
Wherever you want to go, whatever you want to find, mapping software and websites can make finding what you need easy and fun.
With digital mapping tools, you can check directions to an address in an unfamiliar area before you leave home. You can print a map of the city you're going to visit, including the city's major attractions, transit centers, and restaurants. With GPS technology on your mobile device you can hear street names and directions en route. With Bing Maps and similar imaging technology, you can enjoy a bird's-eye view or 3-D view of any location on earth.
Find addresses instantly online
MapQuest, Yahoo! Maps, and Bing Maps are among the most popular map sites on the web. Enter an address and within seconds a color map of the location appears. You can zoom in for closer street information and get turn-by-turn directions to print out and take with you. Some sites calculate the number of miles from your starting point to your destination and estimate your travel time.
Steven Bernstein recently put these mapping functions to good use to find child care for his one-year-old daughter while he was out of town on business for a few months. "We used a map program to find out how close the day care that we got into was to the apartment we're renting," he says.
Help children locate their home, neighborhood, and family members who live far away
Ben Minbashian prints maps for his five-year-old daughter to help her orient herself in their neighborhood. He then helps her glue images of familiar landmarks—their house or her school—onto the right spot.
"We also go to Europe a lot," he says, "and we want to show how far relatives are from us and where the plane goes. We use mapping programs for that. Or, when the kids ask where Mom or Dad comes from, we print off a map of Holland."
GPS and earth-imaging technology now give families even more interactive ways to help children orient themselves in their world and get a better sense of what it's like where family members live, whether they're across the country or the world. UsingBing Maps, you can give them a bird's eye view of a location or house, for example, or a 3-D view of buildings and landscapes.
Plan detailed trip or jogging routes with map software
Installing a practical tool like Microsoft Streets & Trips on your computer can be very useful. It enables you to map routes that don't follow roads, map multiple destinations, send location information to your mobile phone, and find restaurants, landmarks, hotels, and public transportation stops in North American cities. It also gives you travel tips, such as how much gas you'll use getting to specific locations.
Paul Mero uses Streets & Trips to create jogging routes and track his time and distance. He likes being able to map routes that don't correspond with roads, such as footpaths through parks and along the edges of rivers.
"As a runner, one of the challenges is figuring out how far you've run and what your time is. Traditionally, people will jump in the car to figure out how far they're running," he says.
"And you don't want to do the same route over and over again. It gets boring. With this software, you can map out a bunch of five km or 10 km runs and pick which one you feel like running that day. You can also print them out and share them with your friends," he says.
Streets & Trips with GPS Locator adds the power of GPS to this best-selling travel and map software. Just plug the GPS receiver into your laptop's USB port and all the advantages of a global positioning system are yours, increasing your driving confidence.
Use map tools to simplify and enhance your everyday life
Maps are useful for far more than family road trips or driving directions. Try using these handy mapping tools in your everyday life. For example:
Print maps to your child's party to enclose with the invitations.
Map the carpool route that is used to transport your children and their friends to extracurricular activities like swimming lessons or hockey practice. Print a copy for each parent.
Include maps in email directions to your house when sending an electronic invitation.
Find out how far it is to walk different routes. Plan a "walking route" for each day of the week or to share with your walking group.
If you are an avid biker in a big city, use a map to find alternative side-street routes to your destination and to avoid the larger, busier streets at rush hour.
New to a city or area? Use maps to find the major routes to stores, your new job, and recreational facilities.
Consult additional resources
Mapping programs are handy and helpful, but they do have limitations. For example, they don't provide essential driving information that you may need, such as weather and road conditions and border crossing wait times. This information is available online.
Article written by Sharon Oosthoek and adapted from an original piece from Microsoft Home Magazine.