How to Calculate Travel Distance

How to Calculate Travel Distance
You're about to embark on a road trip through the desert and need to figure out the distance of the trip. Ordinarily, you'd just pull up Google Maps or MapQuest and get full directions, distance and estimated time, but there's no computer on this road trip. You look at the map and see that your route meanders on one road to the next, and it's difficult to get an accurate idea of how far you'll actually be traveling. You really need to know how long the trip is going to take and how much gas you'll need to finish it, so a rough point to point isn't going to work. To get a more precise calculation, look a little closer and take some basic measurements.
 

Instructions

Difficulty: Easy

Things You’ll Need:
  • Map Pencil and pad Ruler Calculator (for those who don't like old-fashioned math)
  • Map
  • Pencil and pad
  • Ruler
  • Calculator (for those who don't like old-fashioned math)
 
Step 1
Pull out your map and find your intended route. Check the scale of the map to determine a unit of measurement. The scale will be listed on the map key. For instance, maybe 1 inch is equal to 50 miles.
Step 2
Use a ruler that corresponds to the scale on your map (inches, centimeters). Measure your route starting at the place of origin.
Step 3
Keep track of how many times you measure one full unit. For the example we've used, mark down every inch that you measure.
Step 4
For a more accurate measurement, break the road down into tiny straight segments, and measure each segment. Measure each curve and fluctuation. Record every measurement on paper so that you can add them all together later. For a rougher, more general distance and easier measurement, just measure a straight line down the course of each road, and ignore tiny bends and curves.
Step 5
Measure each road involved in your trip this way. Take one last measurement for the last segment ending in your destination. If it's not a full unit, get the most accurate reading you can, and record it.
Step 6
Add the total number of individual segment lengths that you recorded together. Multiply your number according to the map scale (such as 10 1/2 inches x 50 miles = 525 miles). You now have your total distance.
 

Tips & Warnings

 
If you don't have a ruler, simply line a piece of paper up with the map scale, and mark one unit with a pencil. Then use the paper in place of a ruler to measure. This obviously won't be quite as accurate, but it will work in a pinch. For purpose of accuracy, check your total measurements twice to be sure you didn't make an error. To estimate the time of your trip, formulate an estimate of your average speed by considering traffic conditions and speed limits of each road, and then divide your distance by your speed. Estimate on the long side to ensure you have enough time.
 
If you don't have a ruler, simply line a piece of paper up with the map scale, and mark one unit with a pencil. Then use the paper in place of a ruler to measure. This obviously won't be quite as accurate, but it will work in a pinch.
 
For purpose of accuracy, check your total measurements twice to be sure you didn't make an error.
 
To estimate the time of your trip, formulate an estimate of your average speed by considering traffic conditions and speed limits of each road, and then divide your distance by your speed. Estimate on the long side to ensure you have enough time.

Article Written By Joe Fletcher

Joe Fletcher has been a writer since 2002, starting his career in politics and legislation. He has written travel and outdoor recreation articles for a variety of print and online publications, including "Rocky Mountain Magazine" and "Bomb Snow." He received a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Rutgers College.

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