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Chapter 4 Basic travel geography.


At the conclusion of this chapter, you should be able to

* identify the various aspects that make up geography.

* identify the continents, oceans, and navigation lines.

* define various geographical terms.

* understand the effects wind, ocean currents, and weather have on various destinations.




Greenwich Meridian

Gulf Stream


International Date Line (IDL)

jet stream

Meridian of Longitude


parallels of latitude

trade winds

Ask twelve different people to define the word geography and you will undoubtedly receive twelve different answers. Interestingly enough, each answer may be correct, as far as each answer goes. Most dictionaries and encyclopedias define geography as "the study of spatial variation on the Earth's surface and of humankind's relation to its environment," or something similar. Think of the world's great oceans, deep gorges, majestic mountains, and raging waterfalls. Think of humankind's development and migration throughout the centuries and how we have adapted to particular terrains and weather conditions. These are part of the study of geography as well.

Knowing the height of various mountains and the length of particular rivers will certainly be helpful to the game-show contestant, but what geographical knowledge is important for the travel counselor? Knowing where major cities are located, why travelers want to visit particular destinations, major sightseeing attractions, and the best time of the year to visit are certainly all part of the study of geography viewed from a travel perspective. However, as you advance your study of geography, you will find that understanding each destination's history, culture, ethnic groups, religion, and art is of great benefit to your clients.

This chapter covers only the most basic elements of travel geography that will give you a firm grounding of the subject. There are a few excellent books about travel geography from which you can acquire a much more thorough knowledge of the subject. One of the best books available to travel students is Travel Around the World, published by Weissmann Travel Reports. To learn more about this book, use the Web site


Maps come in all sizes, shapes, and colors, but all of them show, to one degree or another, the world's land masses, known as continents, and the four major oceans. It is interesting to note that some maps, or rather those who make the maps (cartographers), do not always agree on the number of continents. Everyone agrees on the first five: Africa, Antarctica, Australia, North America, and South America. But some maps identify two more, Europe and Asia, while others show these two combined into one continent called Eurasia. Of the oceans, everyone agrees that there are four: Atlantic, Arctic, Indian, and Pacific.

When looking at different types of maps, it is important to know about land mass distortion. Depending on the map, areas of land in the northern and southern regions may appear larger than they actually are. For example, look at any rectangular flat map of the world and compare the size of Greenland to that of Australia. You would say that Greenland is most definitely larger. Now compare the size of Greenland and Australia on a globe. Which is larger? The correct answer is Australia. Why? Because the world is a globe, land masses become enlarged as they are stretched to fit into a flat rectangular map. The only true way to judge size is by using a globe.
   If you compare a map that was prepared in the United States to
   one published in Europe, for example, you will notice that certain
   locations do not have the same names. A typical example
   of this is Vienna, Austria. Vienna is the English spelling; the
   correct spelling is actually Wien! At the end of this chapter you
   will find a list that details many similar spelling differences.

Depending on the type of map you are viewing, you may see horizontal and vertical lines, some of which have names. You may also notice that these lines are marked with degrees. These degrees, both horizontally and vertically, equal 360, the total number of degrees in a circle. All of these are used for navigation and location.

The horizontal lines are called parallels of latitude. Of the five lines that are named, the equator (0 degrees) is the most important. By following the equator around the world, you see that the Earth is divided into two halves, called hemispheres, and you see the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Starting at the North Pole and moving south, the other named lines are the Arctic Circle, the Tropic of Cancer, the Tropic of Capricorn, and the Antarctic Circle.

Because the Earth is tilted on its axis, the seasons are reversed in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. During June, July, and August, the Northern Hemisphere is warmer because it is tilted toward the sun, and thus these months are considered summer. But during December, January, and February, the Southern Hemisphere is closer to the sun. If your client says he wants to go snow skiing in August, don't discreetly laugh at him; send him to New Zealand, Chile, or Argentina!

Of the vertical lines, called Meridian of Longitude, two are named. At zero degrees, you will see the Greenwich Meridian, also known as the Prime Meridian. On the opposite side of the Earth at 180 degrees is the International Date Line (IDL). By starting at the North Pole and following these two lines to the South Pole, the Earth is once again divided into halves. These are the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. Which is which? Because time is measured in relationship to the Greenwich Meridian, everything from this meridian west to the International Date Line is the Western Hemisphere, which includes North and South America. From the Greenwich Meridian east to the International Date Line you see the Eastern Hemisphere, including Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.
   The United States and a handful of other countries measure
   map distances in miles. The vast majority of the world uses
   kilometers. A kilometer is .6 of a mile.

By studying maps in closer detail, you also see a variety of terms, some of which may be familiar to you.

Geographical Terms

archipelago (say "are-keh-pel-ah-go"): an island group atoll: a coral island, generally shaped like a ring or a horseshoe

bay: a body of water that is open to the sea and mostly surrounded by land

canyon: a gorge or deep chasm that has steep sides

cape: a narrow strip of land that projects into the sea cay or caye (usually pronounced "key"): a low coral or sand reef or island

delta: the area at which a river or stream empties into a larger body of water

fjord (say "fee-ord"): a sea inlet bordered by high cliffs

glacier: a mass of slowly moving ice that has formed over thousands of years

gulf: a body of water, usually circular in shape, that is part of a larger body of water

isthmus (say "is-mus"): a narrow strip of land that connects two larger land masses

peninsula: a landform, larger than a cape, that extends into the sea

plain: a large area of flat land that usually has few trees plateau (say "pla-toe"): an area of flat land that is elevated from the land around it

reef: a line of coral or rock formations located under the sea

strait: a narrow channel of water that connects to larger bodies of water


Wind patterns and water currents, in addition to land topography, help determine our weather. These factors are instrumental in understanding the best time to visit various parts of the world.

Oceanic currents in the Northern Hemisphere generally move in a clockwise direction. If you look at a map of the North Atlantic, you can visualize water known as the Gulf Stream, moving from the northwest coast of Africa toward the equator, along the northeast coast of South America, past the southeast coast of North America, and on toward Europe. The water is warmed near the equator and carries this warmth as it moves north. This warmth gradually dissipates, so we can understand why the water off the coast of Florida is warmer than off the coast of northwest Africa.

The United States measures temperature in Fahrenheit, but the rest of the world uses Celsius, also known as centigrade. To convert Celsius to Fahrenheit, use Celsius x 2 + 32. To convert Fahrenheit to Celsius, use Fahrenheit x 32 + 2. Please note: These conversion formulas result only in approximate temperature, but they are quick and easy.

In other parts of the Northern Hemisphere, similar movement of water is taking place: the cold California Current in the eastern part of the Pacific and the warm Japan Current in the western Pacific. In the Southern Hemisphere, oceanic currents generally flow in a counterclockwise direction. These currents include the cold Humboldt, which is located off the coasts of Peru and Chile in South America, and the cold Benguela current off the coast of southwest Africa.

Air currents generally move in an eastwardly direction north of the Tropic of Cancer in the Northern Hemisphere and south of the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere. These winds are called the jet stream, or the westerlies. Have you ever wondered why a flight from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco might take four hours, while the return flight only three and one half hours? The answer is the jet stream!

Winds between the two tropics typically flow in a west-wardly direction and are known as the trade winds. This air movement is usually very humid and is especially noticeable in Central and northern South America as well as northern Australia because there are no major mountains or other features to disrupt the air flow.

Mountains have an effect on both weather and temperature. As damp winds run into mountains, precipitation is released on the side of the mountains the wind first hits, known as the windward side. The leeward, or opposite side of the mountains, receives less rain and/or snow. As damp winds hit very high mountains, the direction of the wind turns back on itself and fog is often the result.

As one climbs a mountain or simply travels to a higher elevation, the air becomes less oxygen-rich and cooler. For every 1,000 feet/305 meters in elevation, the air cools 3.5 degrees F/1.5 degrees C. Air temperature reduction due to altitude is know as lapse rate. The reduction in oxygen is not usually a problem below 5,000 feet/1,524 meters, but at higher elevations, travelers may experience altitude sickness. (See Chapter 16 for more on altitude sickness.)
Important Industry Web Sites

Time Zone Converter:
Weather Worldwide:
World Tourism Office:

Common and Proper Spelling Chart

Variations of Major European Place Names

Common Name--Proper Name--Country

Antwerp--Antwerpen--Belgium *
Balearic Islands--Islas Baleares--Spain
Brussels--Bruxelles--Bruges--Belgium *
Canary Islands--Islas Canarias--Spain
Carlsbad--Karlovy Vary--Czech Republic
Courtrai--Kortrijk--Belgium *
Doomik--Tournai--Belgium *
Ghent--Gent--Belgium *
Ieper--Ypres--Belgium *
Kortrijk--Courtrai--Belgium *
Leuven--Louvain--Belgium *
Liege--Luik--Belgium *
Oostend--Ostend--Belgium *
Pilsen--Plzen--Czech Republic
Prague--Praha--Czech Republic
Slunichev Bryag--Slancev Brjag--Bulgaria
The Hague--Den Haag--Netherlands
Tournai--Boomik--Belgium *

* Note: French and Flemish are both official languages
of Belgium. The variations of place names in this country are
not a matter of common and proper names but are of the
two languages.

In many parts of the world, weather determines the best or the worst time of the year to visit. There are some very good weather-related Web sites that you can use to learn about weather trends and conditions for any destination. You will also find this information in many of the travel reference sources and guides.


Knowing the length of a river, height of a mountain, or population of a country is fine, but the successful travel counselor knows that the subject of geography is much more varied. To adequately assist their clients, travel professionals must have an understanding of how to use maps and the general dispersion of land and water upon our planet.

The equator creates the Southern and Northern hemispheres, and because of the Earth's tilt on its axis, the seasons are reversed. Because of this, so-called "high-season" is not the same time of the year worldwide. Being aware of other factors such as air and oceanic currents helps us to understand why weather conditions in a particular location are what they are. All of these are within the study of geography and understanding them is crucial to helping travelers select appropriate destinations.

For additional Travel and Tourism resources, go to


Review Questions *

1. Identify the seven continents.

2. Identify the four oceans.

3. Why is a globe usually more accurate than a flat map when comparing the sizes of land masses?

4. What are the Parallels of Latitude?

5. What are the Meridians of Longitude?

6. What two lines create the Eastern and Western Hemispheres?

7. What line creates the Northern and Southern Hemispheres?

8. Are the seasons the same throughout the world? Why or why not?

9. How is distance measured in most of the world?

10. Convert 30 kilometers into miles.

11. In your own words, define these terms.

a. plateau

b. cay or caye

c. peninsula

d. glacier

e. delta

f. fjord

12. What is the Gulf Stream?

13. How is temperature measured in most of the world?

14. Convert 27 degrees Celsius to Fahrenheit.

15. What is the jet stream?

* Source: "A Guide to Becoming a Travel Professional" Student Workbook.
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Title Annotation:SECTION II Geography for Travel Professionals
Author:Gorham, Ginger; Rice, Susan
Publication:Travel Perspectives, A Guide to Becoming a Travel Professional
Article Type:List
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2007
Previous Article:Chapter 3 Travel in the twenty-first century.
Next Article:Chapter 5 Travel destinations.

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