INSTANT SURVIVAL TIP: Trade in your GPS for some good maps

Somewhere in the back of my mind is the question, “Will we ever have to evacuate our home?”  Natural disasters, severe weather, and civic unrest are just some of the things that could cause our home to no longer be a safe place.  An emergency preparedness checklist is important, but a simple road map might make the difference between a quick and safe evacuation and getting caught in a nightmare traffic jam.

image by sludgegulper

One very simple item to always have stashed away in your vehicle is a road map of your state and maps for each adjoining state.  GPS systems are all fine and good, but I’ve noticed that when I rely on mine too much, I don’t have a good bearing on where I am or how I got there.

“Prepare to turn left in a quarter mile.”

“Make the next legal u-turn.”

How can the little tiny woman inside my GPS know what the weather conditions are like or whether or not my kids are screaming, and I’m in desperate need of strong drink?  An emergency evacuation is stressful enough without having the GPS lady nagging at me!

(Here’s a quick aside.  The first time I ever bought my daughter a Happy Meal, she was having a complete meltdown.  I handed the meal to her and moments later heard her voice from the back seat, “THIS IS NOT MAKING ME HAPPY!!”)

When I have a map in my hands, I feel more in control of my situation.  I can look for alternate routes, rest areas, and the next town with a McDonald’s.  If a major evacuation should ever force us to travel into the next state, I have maps of California, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico handy in my Tahoe’s glove compartment.  At about five bucks each, it’s a small price to pay for some peace of mind.

I love technology as much as the next person, but be sure you don’t lose your navigation skills with an actual map because you’ve relied on a GPS for too long!  Also, make sure your kids know how to use a map.  There may come a time when they’re the ones doing the navigating, and you want to make sure you’re in good hands!

There may be links in the post above that are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, which does not affect the price you pay for the product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

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  1. says

    I totally agree. Technology can never replace skills and your brain. We used our GPS extensively last week on a trip and it was actually wrong several times.

  2. Dagny says

    The military can scramble those GPS satellites, too. So depending on the reason for the evacuation, GPS could become far less accurate.

  3. says

    While the $5 maps are handy, especially if you stick to major routes, everyone else will be doing the same thing. I like the $20 per state 'Gazetter' books, which have every road, trail, cow-path, farm-to-market road and more. Every town, city, ghost-town, everything is listed.

  4. LizLong says

    If you're a member of AAA, take advantage of their free maps. You can get state maps, regional maps, and city maps for free from the local AAA. You can also get Guidebooks that will list all sorts of things, including state parks, as well as places to eat and sleep.

    If you know where you want to Bug Out too, then you can also order a trip tik there. They are designed like a flip book that follows the route you will take. You get all the map pages specific to your trip without a bunch of extra paper. While those extra sections of map could come in handy, that's what you have the other maps for. The Trip Tik is a whole lot easier to handle when you're navigating and driving – even if you're riding shotgun – those maps can be a pain when they're wide open in front of you and you're trying to follow a route. Trip tiks also have your route already drawn in a highlighter.

    I've said it before and probably will again, but I think topographical maps are a great item to keep on hand, and to teach the kiddos to use.

    • TheSurvivalMom says

      The one time I used a Trip Tik worked out okay, but the directions were just from Mapquest. I could have printed them out on my own. Has your experience been any different?

      • LizLong says

        I haven't gotten one recently, since we have the GPS, but when I did they were free and the way they were put together was convenient for travel. They didn't list the directions, turns, etc, so you do need to actually read the map, but the actual trip tik was about the size of a folded up map and spiral bound. It is easier, IMHO, to keep all the pages in order (since they're bound) and to keep track of where we are because the maps are together and in order – including and more detailed ones needed for cities. I like the size and that they are spiral bound, in short. :-)

  5. galen066 says

    Big plus for maps: No batteries.

    Second plus for maps: They don't give away your position in the dark. Especially if you use a red or blue lens over your light.

  6. Kandi says

    Where are you guys getting $5 maps? I will check out the Gazetter. I checked with my local city departments and they are sending me a city map. These are nicely detailed ones. I also checked with my local state givernement and they have a variety of county maps. I thought the countys around me would be helpful to have.

  7. JLW says

    If you have more than 100 hundred miles to traverse, might I suggest creating your own using a good mapping program like DeLorme's Street Atlas USA ( which can print up a map with points of interest, such as gas stations, listed right on the map. Then bind the map pages into a soft cover folder and make a copy for the car and each adult in the house.

    I'm currently working on a state map where I'm strategically highlighting rail right-of-ways and my best WAG on utility right-of-ways.

  8. Mike in Virginia says

    Every vacation we take with the family, we always stop at each new state's Visitor Center on the interstate(s) to get a FREE state highway map. Or two. Or three: one for the truck, one for the van, and one for under the seat of the motorcycle (hey, you never know). So over the years we've collected reasonably recent maps for almost all the states in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions of the country, where we and most of our family live.

    And for extremely detailed info on our own state, I ordered a complete set of county maps from our state DOT. These show any road with a number, which includes most all dirt and gravel roads as well as paved streets and highways, and also some "roads" that are little more than cow paths or goat trails. Good for a dirt bike, at least, if not a 4×4 truck. But unfortunately there's no topo info on them; for that you need the topo version of the Gazetteer books that other posters have already mentioned.

  9. Barbara says

    Sometimes I think my GPS is out to get me. If I followed it blindly, I'd be dead! It once told me to turn left off an overpass. Once, it told me to drive into a river. And once it wanted me to go the wrong way on a VERY busy one-way street!
    It's a somewhat useful toy, but I rely on maps and the computer map sites.

  10. says

    It was only this year, that I noticed the road signs in my town were altered. Big time. There are now arrows below the signs, pointing the way out of neighborhoods. Red arrows lead to green arrows which lead you to facilities. I've followed these routes, simply by following the arrows, or the 'dated stickers' on the backs of signs from one end of town to the other. I've also noticed groups of 3-4 arrows very close to hospitals in 2 different states, posted on phone poles. TacMars are for the UN/Nato peacekeeping troops to evacuate areas and lead the way in the event of blackouts. Very effective, but denied by village officials. Anyone noticing sign changes in your area?

  11. says

    I'm a midwestern gal. I live close to the Ind border and can see Sears Tower in Chg from 1-80 and Rt 1. Since I've lived 30 yrs in this house, I noticed one day 'bike route' signs changed or gone. The 'no parking between
    signs –> <–" were altered so the last sign has a green arrow below the sign, not embedded like the other signs.
    I know it sounds a little bit crazy, but I know this town. Bike signs in black circles, I believe are train or airlift signs.
    The black arrows, or rather white arrows on black cardstock are stapled to a wooden pole, two point up , one points right and these are by the hospitals.
    There's also something else. This word- Neibezpieczenstwo- was on the 911 callboxes in the forest preserve in vertical lettering next to the word Emergency.Hmmm, I thought, that's a strange word.Since I was in the woods and only had my lighter with me, I burned the end of a twig, found a piece of cardboard in the trashcan, and wrote it down so I could google translate it when I got home. I was startled to see it was the Polish word for Danger. (the Polish word for Emergency is Awaryjnych) I called the chief of the preserve to inquire and he said that was the word the Polish Embassy gave them. Good thing I photographed it, cause an officer was removing the letters two days later. I live next to this preserve so I'm there alot walking MurMur and exploring.
    The peacekeeping troops in IL are Polish. The Polish population in my county is less than 4%. Whatta think?!

  12. Fla SD says

    GPSs and Maps go TOGETHER (and also back each other up.)

    The "idiot" street-only GPSs (like Tom-Toms and such) are decent first-line. They tell you the "easy directions" during "easy situations." As we all know, they are fairly dumbed-down (roads-only,) and have their faults (e.g. we bought a brand new GPS in San Francisco a few years back, and the stupid thing didn't even know that the Golden Gate Bridge existed! It kept telling us to drive completely around the Bay to get to the other side of the bridge. Even once we drove over the bridge — it didn't "learn" the new route!) Nevertheless, it has been priceless on MANY occasions (especially when you download all of your bank's ATM locations, and the locations of all your favorite restaurants, etc.) Tommie may not always take the fastest or most-direct route, but she (almost always) gets us to our destination (sometimes even AGAINST our own guesses/estimates towards the right direction?)

    For bug-out purposes, however, get yourself a truly-mapping GPS (like GoogleEarth in the palm of your hand.) When you go off-roading — your TomTom-like road GPSs are useless. Whereas, a mapping GPS unit is still functional and helpful.

    We were boating from St. Louis, MO, to Florida down the Tenn-Tom waterway. SEVERAL times, we received rains so heavy (of fog so dense) that you couldn't see more than 20 feet in front of us. We then steered 100% via mapping GPS!!! (Sounding our horns regularly — in case there were other boats in the same situation.) The river was moving too fast, and was too narrow, and banks too rocky, and river too twisty to stop and drop anchor anywhere. If we had stopped, surely a tug+barge (from one direction or the other) would have mowed us down! Without our mapping GPS, we would SURELY have run around!!!

    A week or two later, we were on our final leg/day, preparing to cross the Gulf of Mexico to Clearwater Beach. It was SUPPOSED to be a clear/calm day, with seas of 1 foot or less. The weather forecasters should have been FIRED!!! We had 3+ foot seas for 30 hours. Halfway across, we hit a true/hard squall. Rain was coming down in BUCKETS (like I've NEVER experienced before.) So much rain, that it pooled-up ankle-deep on our flybridge (even with the bimini top up.) It then flowed under the upper-help counsel, and through the steering/cabling/winging holes in the deck, and down into the electronics inside (in the lower helm.) It took out BOTH of our VHF radios, our GPSs, and our laptop computers. We were truly blind, in the storm of our lives — with no radios to call for help (and WAY outside of cell phone range.)

    Our ONLY OPTION was paper charts, and a compass. Fortunately, we know how to use both, and made it back home like pros (even through the night/dark — arriving and dropping anchor behind Clearwater Beach at sunup the following day.

    Maps & compasses have their place (even in a digital world.) But, GPSs also have their place!

    Fla SD.

    • TheSurvivalMom says

      I'm pretty old-fashioned, I guess. I do appreciate my GPS for finding the nearest Starbucks (sorry, but I have to be truthful!), but on trips, there's nothing like a real map in my hands. I've been working with my kids, appointing one or the other as our official navigator so they learn map and navigation skills also. Sounds like you could write a book or two about all your adventures!

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