Where are you headed?
You probably spent time planning for this trip; a year or more maybe? Or six months? Probably this was a last minute deal that precipitated your decision. Whatever the situation, the general rule is that : the further away you will be from home, the more attention to detail is needed for planning ahead. If you are traveling out of the country, there is a long checklist to go through to ensure nothing important is missed.
From experience you know that when you are abroad and some small unexpected thing happens, it could throw the entire trip into jeopardy. Checklists help to minimize the unexpected, up to a point, but there are often other unforeseen issues like, losing your wallet or cellphone, that could cause much anguish, especially when you are in a foreign country far from home.
One of the small things that can ruin your vacation, is not having a paper map.
You may be tempted to ask : “Why do I need a paper map when I have my cell phone or iPad (and maybe other electronic devices) that provide detailed maps of most places on the planet, at the touch of a button?”
You want to cover all angles. So let’s take a more in-depth look.
Practically everyone who owns a cellphone knows about Google Maps. Google has invested heavily in mapping the well known as well as lesser known places. They claim to have mapped 99 percent of our planet. The application attracts about one billion users monthly. You can get detailed street maps of well known places like California or London England, as well as maps of far away places like Da Nang, Vietnam!
Similar electronic mapping services are available from others like : Microsoft Maps, Bing Maps, Mapquest, maps.me and citymaps2go.
If you have geo-positioning set on your cellphone, it will automatically show where you are on the map. This is very useful as you can use your phone as a GPS (Global Positioning System) device.
Google Maps also provides an application with which you can download a map of selected areas that you can view offline. You can download driving direction of a destination for use to help get around while on your trip without a wifi connection. You can also connect your phone to a GPS to navigate your driving in most places.
Beware, however, some travelers have complained of blank or defective files after downloading some maps. Check your maps soon after downloading to make sure it is valid.
What Can Go Wrong : A Case for Paper Maps
With all the electronic mapping tools available today, there is no need for an old fashioned paper map. These electronic means should be sufficient to aid your journey and get you around the destination. So why worry about getting a paper map for your trip? Most of you reading this post may be inclined to think so.
Before jumping to such a conclusion, remember you don’t want any small incident to spoil your vacation. Here are some things to consider before you decide whether you should get a paper map or not :
- your cellphone is stolen, lost, or gets damaged or stops working
- no wifi connectivity especially in remote areas
- cellphone battery went dead
- electronic map information is defective or incorrect
- cellphones restricted in the area
- poor, or in some destinations, no street signs
- expensive local roaming charges
- local traffic conditions, detours, roads closed, accidents, poor signage
- you are lost, no street signs and you don’t speak the local language
- you need bus route or train route not in your downloaded map set.
Some travelers find the small screen of a cellphone is too restrictive when traveling in unfamiliar places and a tablet device like the iPad is too clumsy to tote around while traveling.
As the saying goes : ‘Better safe than sorry!’
So here is our recommendation as supported by hundreds of travelers based on their experience : ‘Never go without a paper map! Always keep one handy wherever you go.‘
These comments were cited by some experienced travelers that support traveling with paper maps :
- when your electronics fail, paper maps are the most reliable alternative
- paper maps are convenient and available whenever you need them
- most paper maps can be folded up and easy to carry around
- they can be easily opened up to give you a larger/wider view that you can’t get from a GPS screen
- a paper map is always fastest when you need a quick answer
- maps are cheap, readily available, and freely available from most hotels, car rental outlets or brochures
- bus routes and train maps are indispensable if you are traveling alone.
This is not to say that paper maps are better. Paper maps are not searchable but good ones include an index. Street maps generally contain just that, no restaurants, monuments or tourist markings. Unlike electronic maps or GPS, you have to chart your own directions. Like electronic maps, paper maps can fail too. They tend to tear at the fold, get wet, smeared or damaged with coffee!
Neither electronic maps nor paper maps are infallible. So the advise is to use both when traveling.
Here is what one of these very experienced travelers had to say : ‘When it comes to reliability, I always trust paper maps as they don’t run on batteries, or electronic signals!’
Use your electronic maps when convenient. Compliment your journey with a handy paper map whether you are driving or walking.
Paper maps are becoming scarce. However, there are still some good sources you can try like :
- Bookstores like Barnes and Noble, Chapters or Indigo
- Public libraries
- International Travel Maps
- Rand McNally or AAA
- National Geographic
- Amazon for multiple sources
- Rick Steves guidebook
Be sure to check your hotel front desk, brochure racks, car rental desk, rail and bus station for route maps. Make sure you get your language version
In summary :
- Carry both electronic as well as paper maps
- Don’t wait till you get there to figure your way around
- Don’t depend on the hotel, concierge or taxi driver to figure out the journey.
Plan ahead. Remember Murphy’s Law : “If things can go wrong, they will.’
The small investment in a paper map can save your trip