Call me old fashioned, a dinosaur if you must, but I feel paper maps are useful as far as travel is concerned. My travel plans start with a paper map and when I’m visiting a foreign country, I carry paper maps of the regions my husband and I will travel through. We carry iPhones with access to map apps, always rent a car with GPS when traveling but paper maps have been helpful more times than I can count.
Are paper maps still necessary in this digital age…I think so. When traveling in an unfamiliar area, especially if I’m in a foreign country, I like to have a map with me when driving. If there is a road closure or a temporary detour that the GPS doesn’t know about, a map gives you a big picture of the alternatives. When there has been an accident and traffic is backed up for miles, a map may provide an alternate route.
If you ask directions from a person who doesn’t speak your language, you can just point to where you are headed and they may be able to help you get there.
At the end of a trip, the maps I’ve marked and used are a chronicle of our travel adventures. You may have photos of quaint towns but unless there is a sign or prominent landmark you might forget where you were. If you have a map that is marked with the route you took through those small villages, you will probably be able to figure out exactly where the photo was taken.
If you are going to travel on a large underground metro system, say in Paris for example, you need a map to plan your route before you get on a train. Paris has a smart phone app that maps out a route but you need an Internet connection or data roaming. If not, you can find small paper maps of the metro system at most tourist locations throughout the city that will help you use the metro to get from one point to the other.
When my husband and I start to discuss making another trip to Europe yet are not sure where we want to travel or perhaps we are looking to discover somewhere new, the first thing I do is take out my maps. I have spiral bound atlases of countries often visited. I use large country maps that I can be spread out on a table when trying to plan routes from one destination to another. I also have a file box filled with pages that I’ve printed from Michelin and Google maps I’ve found on the Internet as well as regional and city maps I’ve collected from tourist offices during previous travels.
A paper map such a Michelin map shows road numbers, distances, interchanges, elevations, scenic routes, etc. Explanations of all the numbers and symbols found on the map are listed in a large index. I wish I had looked at my map more closely before traversing the High Blauen Road, indicated by a small red dotted line as a “difficult or dangerous section of road“, on my German Michelin atlas while crossing the mountain outside of Badenweiler, Germany. There are only a couple of roads that I have ridden on that I now say I don’t want to drive on again and that was one of them.
Once decisions have been finalized about where we will be traveling, I create my own personalized map book. I scan and print copies of pages from maps that pertain to our trip. I use transparent colored removable stickers on the maps to mark scenic routes, towns that we want to visit and where our hotel is located. The stickers help tremendously when you take your eyes off the map for a few minutes and then look back trying to find the small spot on the map you are looking for.
I place the individual map pages in plastic sleeves in a binder to create a small, easy to use map book. It is small enough to carry to breakfast where we can discuss our route before we head out to our next destination. While traveling in the car, I have the relevant page that shows exactly where we are traveling that day inside the clear front cover of the book. The map book I’ve made is more convenient to use in the car than trying to unfold and refold a large paper map that sooner or later will start to tear. It is also easier to use than sitting with a heavy, thick map book that covers an entire country when we are only going out on a short day trip to a nearby destination.
I have to say that I love the freedom that digital maps have given me as I get to experience more of the beautiful country back roads we explore while traveling. The car’s GPS will let us know exactly when we need to make a turn rather than me having my eyes always glued to a map so we don’t miss the turn. I also feel very comfortable knowing that I have a good paper map always at my side and feel both are necessary and valuable.
While I know that most of us have cancelled travel plans for the present, it never hurts to think about and work on plans for future trips. I believe it is part of a travelers way of life to dream about where we will go next. Even though we aren’t going to Europe this fall, I’ve been looking at my maps…I wonder if you have been doing the same.
Do you think paper maps are obsolete in this digital age or do you use paper maps when planning a trip as well as when traveling? Are you one of those people that can’t make heads or tails out of a map and would never considering using them? Have you faithfully followed the navigation system on the car you are driving only to end up at a dead end nowhere near where you should be? If you can’t find your destination or may have made a wrong turn following your GPS, do you stop and ask for help if you don’t carry a paper map?
I love the freedom that digital maps have given me as I get to experience more of a scenic route rather than having my eyes glued to a map but I also feel comfortable knowing that I have a good backup always at my side. As far as I’m concerned, paper maps will never be obsolete.