Why Buy Paper Maps?

June 18, 2009

photo by Dennis Coello

In an age where high tech seems to rule the day, I advocate for the use of the low tech, namely paper maps. I know GPS is all the rage among a certain circle of cyclists. There is also a world of online mapping options, some aimed at cyclists like bikeroutetoaster.com as well as a growing body of bicycling routes contributed to sites like mapmyride.com and bikely.com. These are all very useful, especially when making your plans in the comfort of your home.

I am aware there is a generation out there that doesn't think in paper. They'll jump online (or better yet, grab their phone) and surf to the answer without considering a book or paper map as a resource. Paper maps can be quirky and inspirational, handy and specific to a purpose. You can write on them, show them to the shopkeeper who will help you find your way to that night's community bbq, or as a trigger for reminiscence after you get home. I tend to think of our maps as vital to bike travel, and technology, such as a GPS unit, as supplemental; others think the opposite. I believe Adventure Cycling's paper maps have the edge in this instance due to the narrow focus they provide in regards to services desired by traveling cyclists.

In addition to the utility of a paper map, they can also be inviting. When we were in New Zealand, one of our favorite exchanges occurred in a coffee shop. We were poring over our map trying to figure out how to get out of town. A fellow caffeine devoteé saw what we were doing and offered to draw us her own map of escape. We talked about our plans in general and she gave us hints and tips for seeing her county that we wouldn't have gotten otherwise.

Who attracts attention these days when staring at their phone or laptop in a public place? Unless you're George Clooney or Angelina Jolie, it's not so likely. Pull out a map, look a little confused and voila`, others are drawn in. I say, viva le map! Long live the paper map! What do you say?

photo by Dennis Coello


GEOPOINTS BULLETIN is written by Jennifer 'Jenn' Milyko, an Adventure Cycling cartographer, and appears weekly, highlighting curious facts, figures, and persons from the Adventure Cycling Route Network with tips and hints for personal route creation thrown in for good measure. She also wants to remind you that map corrections and comments are always welcome via the online Map Correction Form.


Bill Harlan December 3, 2015, 10:17 AM

Right you are. This former 4th Grade Geography Teacher recalls how, even back in the 1990s, for navigating 120 miles from school to our Camp Week, the Moms/Drivers were fairly hopeless without a physical address to punch into their GPS. The nine year olds, however, could follow the paper map I provided. Fast forward to 2015, and the general population's map-reading skills have deteriorated to the point of virtual helplessness, should their electronic devices go on the fritz. Ah, well...

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