At one point or another, everyone has to figure out geography. This isn’t my favorite area of expertise, but there are ways to make yourself a bit better at knowing the world around you, and get more oriented to the Earth. Here is a list of sites and how to use them to find out where you are or where you’re going.
To get a good idea of the world’s overview, I recommend Google Earth. This is a program (online atlas) put out by the search engine Google that is free to download to your computer. (One note: older computers may not be able to run this program.) Once you’ve downloaded Google Earth, you can use this program to search for geographic destinations and actually see arial and space photography of these places. It includes a direction program (Google Maps, also available online) and you can print both maps and the photos via the Google Earth program. Searching online, there are many sites devoted to using this program to find specific areas of the world, including famous landmarks.
All you need to do to use Google Earth’s online atlas and online maps is once you download and install the program, you can put in an address (such as your home, work or school) and it will zoom in on your target. Then you can easily get directions from your point of origin to anywhere in the world. The map that shows your path, the written directions and the actual arial photos are all available to print once you’ve gotten the information you are searching for.
If you’re looking for more of a traditional world atlas/map feel, I’d suggest National Geographic’s Xpeditions, a site aimed at classrooms and educational printing of maps. This online map and online atlas site will allow you to print out different maps and also select whether the maps are detailed or basic, and how far they zoom in (for example, by continent or country). Just select an area via the drop down on the page I’ve linked here, and you can print out or view the map with or without country borders, according to your specifications.
Looking at local online maps, I’d recommend Mapquest. This site has been around for many years, and it is very user friendly. The site allows you to search for minutely detailed directions to and from places in the US and Canada. They have added new technology which allows you to find things on their maps even if you don’t know the exact address of the location or the exact name. If you click on the directions icon, you will be able to enter your starting address (or thereabouts) and the final destination, and the directions and a couple of small maps will be produced, showing your route in both a paragraph and graphic form. This site allows you to email these directions to others, and even download them to your phone or PDA (technology allowing, not all are compatible).
If you can’t find what you are looking for on these sites, I would recommend doing a search for your location on Google, directly in the search field. Sometimes localities will provide their own in depth online maps. As well, AAA (American Automobile Association) has a comprehensive mapping system at your disposal. If you are a member of this association, you can get all of these benefits of online atlases and online maps free with your membership fee (sites vary according to individual auto club locations). Discover the world!