As someone who spends a great deal of time traveling, I find myself constantly using mapping software. One of the things that I have come to realize is that an incredibly diverse variety of mapping software is available. This article discusses five options for computer-based mapping.

Note: This list is also available as a photo gallery.

1: Microsoft Streets & Trips

Microsoft Streets & Trips has been around for more than a decade and has always been my mapping software of choice. The software sells for $39.95, but there is also a $69.95 version that includes a USB-based GPS receiver.

The thing I like best about Streets & Trips is that unlike many other mapping applications, it works even when you don’t have Internet connectivity. That makes the software perfect for use on the laptop I use when I travel. Another thing I like is that mapping data can be exported to a mobile device. And I really like the fact that Streets & Trips lets you mark up maps with notes and doodles (Figure A).

Figure A

Microsoft Streets & Trips

2: Google Maps

Google Maps is a free cloud-based mapping application from Google. Like most mapping apps, Google Maps is really good for getting directions. But the thing that makes Google Maps really worthwhile is the way Google augments mapping data with supplementary data such as weather and traffic. Google Maps even provides information about bicycling paths and can overlay links to relevant Wikipedia articles onto the map (Figure B).

Figure B

Google Maps

3: 3D World Map

3D World Map (Figure C) isn’t suitable for getting directions. Instead, it’s designed to serve as a reference tool for those who are interested in geography. As you move around its 3D globe, the software displays stats (such as population) about the various locations. The database used by the software seems to be quite extensive. The only thing that appears to be missing is a zoom feature for the globe (although such a feature might exist in the retail version).

Figure C

3D World Map

The software, which retails for $29.95, can also be used as a screensaver and includes a built-in MP3 player.

4: Bing Maps

Bing Maps is a free cloud-based mapping application from Microsoft. It’s similar to Google Maps, in that you can use it to get directions, view traffic, and explore imagery. Once you get beyond the basics, however, there are two things I really like about Bing Maps.

First, Bing Maps is designed to be extensible, and there are numerous apps that build on its capabilities. Many of these apps are free and work seamlessly through a Web browser. Developers have also created countless mapping apps for Windows Phone 7 devices.

By far my favorite feature of Bing Maps is its venue maps (Figure D). Venue maps provide indoor mapping of places such as airports, casinos, shopping malls, and stadiums.

Figure D

Bing Maps

5: USAPhotoMaps

USAPhotoMaps from JDMCox is a free mapping utility that lets you build custom maps from Microsoft’s TerraServer database. The software finds locations based on name, address, or GPS coordinates. Once a location is found, high resolution imagery is displayed for it. You can pan and zoom the image until the desired location is displayed and then create a high resolution JPEG of the selected area (Figure E). The software can also display elevation data for the selected area.

Figure E