10 Geographical Terms Every Traveler Should Know


As I continue to write about many of the places I visited, will visit, or simply interest me, I come across terms to describe the features of the terrain, geology, and geography. Some I know, some I don’t; so I assume that some you may know, and some you won’t. Here are some of the geographical terms which I think each traveler should be familiar with in order to better understand their different travel destinations:

Continent – Large landmasses that the world is divided into, by convention, although it is generally-accepted that there are seven. The continents are (from largest to smallest): Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe, and Australia.

Subcontinent – A geographical landmass that is large enough and distinct enough to be separately distinguished from its larger body, the continent itself. The Indian Subcontinent is a perfect example, since it is quite large and distinct, in that it takes up most of southern Asia.

Archipelago – An archipelago is a grouping of islands, essentially. Indonesia and Japan are both archipelago countries, as their borders are not connected to any larger body of land and each is made up of numerous islands.

Confluence – This is the meeting point of two flowing bodies of water, such as streams or rivers; the place where they come together. It can also be where a smaller body of water or tributary comes into a connection with a main body of flowing water. Also known as a conflux.

Cay – Pronounced like “key” and also spelled as either “caye” or “key,” a cay is a type of island that is a low bank or reef made of accumulated sand, coral, or rock. Usually, if the accumulated sediments are predominantly sand, it is a cay; if it is predominantly rock or gravel, it is a motu. Well-known examples are the Florida Keys and Heron Island of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Peninsula – Also called a byland, it is a piece of land that is connected to a mainland or larger piece of land on only one side, while the other sides are surrounded by water.

Cape – A cape is a small version of a peninsula, usually long and narrow, that juts far out into a body of water.

Estuary – A body of water connecting a flowing river and a larger body, such as a sea or ocean. Because it is the transition point, an estuary is subject to both the tides of the sea or ocean as well as the mixture of the fresh water with salt water that happens. A good example is the New York City region, which sits in an estuary body of water, as the Hudson River drains into the Atlantic Ocean.

Prime Meridian – An imaginary and completely arbitrary line that runs on a north-south axis. By convention, the Prime Meridian separates the East and West Hemispheres and passes through the Royal Observatory, Greenwich in southeast London, United Kingdom. It is located on the opposite side of the earth to the International Date Line.

International Date Line – Opposite the Prime Meridian, the International Date Line is another arbitrary line going from north to south that advises where one calendar day ends and another begins. Unlike the Prime Meridian, it does not go straight north to south, but rather goes around several island groups for logistical reasons. Traveling east over the Int’l Date Line will cause one to go back one day, to the previous calendar day by about a full 24 hours.

For more definitions, check out the Dauntless Jaunter Glossary page, with a broad range of definitions!