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Virtual Road Trip Tours

A photo of a map app on a laptop computer, showing GPS driving directions.

Use the digital maps to scout around before you go.

There are two great ways to see what’s near your vacation destination. One is with a stand alone GPS unit and the other is with a maps app on your tablet, smartphone or computer. You don’t need to leave home, to scout around a destination that you have in mind.

Just enter your city name, or the address of the hotel you plan on staying in. Then tell the GPS or app to look for landmarks near the hotel. You can select grocery stores, attractions, gas stations, restaurants, entertainment, just about anything you can imagine.

I use Apple maps as my GPS while driving. I set the hotel and attractions that I want to visit as favorites. But when I want to scout a new place in detail, I use the Google Street View. It lets me drive at street level and see actual photos of buildings.

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With a maps app, I can tell if the hotel I’m staying in is near a mall, subway, airport, train station, big park, etc. Some of these are convenient and others are just plain noisy.

If possible, I like to pick a hotel that’s central to all the sights that I want to see. I want to use it as a base for a series of day trips to the surrounding areas.

For example, the first time I went to Vancouver, I decided to stay in the suburb of Burnaby. I found a Holiday Inn Express that’s right beside the biggest mall in BC. It would give my wife plenty of shopping, while letting me stay back at the hotel and get work done.

The hotel is about two blocks away from the LRT (light rapid transit) station. That let us use the hotel as a base and do day trips downtown to see the sights. It’s also a couple of blocks from their huge Central Park, with old growth forest, making for excellent walks.

If I had just booked in Vancouver without looking, I would have wound up downtown, where it’s crowded and busy, especially on weekdays. By doing a virtual look around first, I was able to find a hotel that’s central to everything and saved a lot of money too, by booking a hotel a little further out from the city center.

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Once I’ve decided on the hotel and booked it, I put its address and phone number into the maps app. I scout out the area virtually to see what’s around. I note the grocery store locations and save a couple of them to favorites.

Another tip is to put the location into Yelp and look for restaurants near the hotel. You might find several highly rated ones that you’d like to try. Be sure to save their addresses and phone numbers to the GPS or map as favorites, so you can find them later.

When we arrive at the hotel and check in, we’ll be tired after a long day of driving and sight seeing. After sterilizing the room (there’s a whole section on that) the first thing we do is think about food.

Usually that means heading to the nearest grocery store and bringing our bounty back to the room. Since we’ve already saved the hotel and grocery store addresses as favorites to the maps app, getting to the store and back is a snap.

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