I love road maps, even in the age of digital satellite GPS. I can sit at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and lose myself in a map. A voucher makes me feel like a kid again with my whole life ahead of me.
Yes, I have an iPhone that I deploy for doing short jumps. But most of the time, the teenager in me takes the wheel. I hide the phone and navigate by paper and a well-honed instinct that comes from years of riding all over the lower 48s, back when I drove a timber truck on country roads by day and navigated by night as a as a generalist journalist.
But it’s more than an ode to nostalgia and romance, or a yearning for analog objects in a digital world. Even in 2019, there are good reasons to own a paper map, whether it’s the one you can pick up at the gas station or a solid road atlas (I recommend this one) that lives in your car.
The paper never stops
Paper is the ultimate in analog. It never freezes while you’re watching it, kicks up an annoying software update message, or runs out of battery at the most crucial moment. Even if you spill a cup of coffee on a roadmap, it’s not ruined, and that’s more than I can say for my phone.
Paper maps are accurate
I am amazed by the satellite views of roads and rural areas. Most of the time they are very accurate. Curiously, however, there are times when the program that translates between the satellite view and the map view struggles to do the translation.
Unless a paper map is out of date, I’ve found them to be nearly perfect.
Paper maps connect you
A paper map is a simple and proven way to connect to your surroundings, spatially and directionally. With the help of an atlas or a fold-out paper map, I can estimate the mileage extremely accurately and get a better idea of the travel time, the obstacles and the duration of the different stages of the journey.
Using a paper map, I can mark my preferred route and, most importantly, landmarks and intersections along the way. The roads, railways, bridges, lakes and rivers that cross or run parallel to my route are all important indicators that I am going in the right direction and, just as important, they tell me how close I am. or far from my destination.
Recently, I cruised from my home in New Jersey to a place in rural central Pennsylvania that lacked cellphone connectivity about a five-hour drive away. My only guide was a series of step-by-step instructions that I kept on a clipboard in the front seat, the result of careful reconnaissance using a paper map before I left. I could peek at the clipboard while driving or my wife could check directions. We arrived at our destination, quietly and without missteps. When our phones were connected, my wife used her phone to find local restaurants.
The paper helps you choose alternative routes
GPS navigation users dread the familiar word “recalculate”, when the system detects a slowdown and attempts to find a faster route. Your phone just might send you down a new path that’s either ridiculous or loses connectivity. Again, you are at the mercy of an algorithm.
If you have a map, you can plot your own detour, especially in a rural area. Pull over, pull out the trusty road map, take the nearest exit, and you’re back in the game.
Paper maps are comparative
You can check a paper map against a Google map, satellite view, another map, or a larger atlas. When you have nothing but your phone, you don’t have a second or third reference unless you’re willing to jump back and forth between rival mapping apps.
Paper maps are easy
Someone tells you that a paper map is hard to read? Don’t believe them. Reading a map is as easy as reading this sentence. here is great basic tutorial.
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