My mother taught me how to travel smart at a young age. I’m not sure she set out to do that, but she grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia and when summer rolled around, she’d long to visit her family and friends there. She and my reluctant father would wake us up before dawn, pack us into the car with egg salad sandwiches, TAB, Auto Bingo cards, and maps. Back then that was all we needed to get from the Jersey Shore to Canada. I few (long) days later, we’d magically appear on the wraparound porch of Uncle Everett’s enormous house on Poplar St. We’d spend the next few weeks climbing boulders on the shores of St. Margaret’s Bay, visiting Cousin Stan the lighthouse keeper, sailing around Halifax Harbor in the Scotch Mist, and swimming in the frigid water until our lips turned blue. Good times.
I remember one summer my father decided that he’d rather work double overtime than spend two weeks with his in-laws. I was 10 years old and that was the summer I learned to read maps. I thought it was a cinch, my mother thought I was a genius. Her bragging was beyond embarrassing but she and her sister-in-law had quite the rivalry as to whose kids were the brightest and when Marie saw an opportunity to score, she ran with it. While I don’t think map reading is a skill that necessarily qualifies one as “genius”, I do have exceptional long distance vision as anyone who’s ever road-tripped with me can attest. The combined talents of reading-a-road-sign-from-a-mile-away while reading-a-map meant I rode shotgun. My brother was relegated to the back seat, left to whine “Are we there yet?” and announce silos, railroad crossings, or whatever he needed to spot first so he could win at Auto Bingo.
I’ve embraced the navigation technology that’s evolved since those good old days…Rand McNally’s Road Atlas, The Thomas Guide, Hertz Never Lost, a myriad of GPS devices suction cupped to my dashboard, and iPhone apps that make my travels so much easier, that is, until they suck the life out of the battery, leaving me lost in a strange land. I admit I’ve lectured anyone under the age of 30 who’ll listen, “when I was your age…we had two choices: we read a map or we asked for directions!” I still think map reading is a good life skill. In fact, I think it every time I find myself swearing at my dead iPhone, wishing I’d packed a map.