How to Calculate Travel Distance on a Map

Described are 2 ways to calculate travel distance on a map. The first method uses the Google Maps Distance Calculator. The second method is using a standard paper road map.

Calculate travel distance using Google Maps Distance Calculator and map scale

1. Go to Google Maps Distance Calculator.

2. In the search box, type your starting address or location and click Search.

3. Zoom-in by clicking the vertical zoom tool slider located on the left side of the map. You can also use your mouse wheel or the plus (+) minus (-) keys on your keyboard to zoom-in or zoom-out. As you zoom in, you may need to intermittently center the map using the hand cursor at various zoom levels to keep it centered on the desired starting location. You will want to zoom-in just enough so that you can begin to see your starting location and the roads surrounding it.

4. Since you already see your starting location, use the crosshairs to click on your destination. This will give you a straight-line distance as shown under the map where it says Total Distance. If you want a more accurate driving distance simply follow along with the roads clicking multiple times to account for turns and using various roadways. The distance calculator allows you to readjust the map by clicking and holding down your left mouse button to move the map around. If you make a mistake there are buttons at the bottom such as Clear Last Point.

Calculate travel distance on a paper road map using a map scale

1. Get your roadmap, blank sheet of paper and a pencil.

2. On your map locate the Scale. This is typically on the bottom or top margin of your map. For this example, the map has a scale indicating both miles and kilometers. I’m going to use miles to calculate distance. The map has provided a 3-mile length to reference.

A map scale

3. Using the blank sheet of paper align a corner edge of the paper with the “0” and mark-off each mile mark with a pencil to where it ends at 3 miles. This creates a makeshift, moveable scale that can be used on the map to measure distance.


Using paper to transfer the map scale

4. Find the starting location on the map you want to measure from. Align the edge of the paper (from 0 miles) with your starting location and shift the paper or map so that the paper measuring rule portion is roughly aligned to the route of travel (see the example below). With your pencil mark a dot at the starting point and the 3-mile point on the map. Write “3” on the map to indicate your first 3 miles measured (this will become your new starting point if you are measuring a distance more than 3 miles). You can now advance your paper aligning the 0-mile edge of the paper with the 3-mile point you wrote on the map (the new starting point). Repeat the process only this time mark 6 miles on the map. Rotate your paper if necessary to compensate for curves in the road.

Measuring distance on a map using paper


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