A Case for Traveling with a Paper Map

If you were as fortunate as we were growing up you had the opportunity to go on a few road trips before the cell phone was invented. I remember riding in the trunk of our 90’s Chevy Astro Van on a trip to South Dakota and the navigator was armed with three tools at their disposal: a bag phone that was astronomically expensive to make voice calls on, an AM/FM radio that played cassette tapes, and a paper road atlas. Consumer GPS and Google Maps were still at least a decade away and the only way to get from point A to point B was to follow the map. 

To this day, we still travel with a paper map for a few reasons. First, technology is fickle. Although phones, tablets and computers have come a long way since they became commonplace in most every American home, there are still times where batteries die, maps don’t load, and phone GPS beacons simply don’t work. Once while exploring the four corners region of the Southwest US, our phone started giving us wonky directions. More than wonky, it was telling us to go South when our destination was clearly North. We opened the Apple Compass app and sure enough, the compass was pointing the opposite magnetic direction that we were traveling.

We use paper maps when we are backpacking, bike touring, or exploring in our kayaks too! Follow the link below to find out how we download and print National Geographic Topographic Maps:

Download FREE Nat Geo Topo Maps

 A second reason that we prefer traveling with a paper map is the value that we place on the big picture. By looking at an entire state you have options- when you work remotely and you don’t always plan where you will be at the end of the day, it’s nice to have a big picture view of where you are off to next.

The third and most important reason that we keep paper maps in our bus is the tangible feel associated with a paper map. Similar to a good soft cover book or journalling on high-quality paper, holding a map in your hands is warm, simple, and relaxing. Technology is cold and brings along all of the other distractions of email and application notifications that are normally the reason why we are navigating out to the wild in the first place. A paper map is honest and true (if it’s current) and it doesn’t present you with the fastest route or a way to avoid traffic, it takes you where you want to go with as much true adventure as a piece of paper can generate, and that’s very valuable to us.

One of the best gifts we received from our wedding was a Rand McNally print atlas that we still travel with today. We plan with it, we real-time navigate with it, and we will only give it up when it is too torn up to use.

Just a head’s up: this page contains affiliate links. If you use one of the links scattered throughout this page, a portion of your purchase price will help fund our adventures (at no cost to you). Thanks for reading and shopping with our links!

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