I love road maps, even in this digital, satellite GPS age. I can sit at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and lose myself in a map. A good one makes me feel like a kid again with my entire life ahead of me.
Yes, I have an iPhone that I deploy to navigate short hops. But most of the time, the teenager in me takes the wheel. I stash the phone and navigate by paper and a well-honed instinct that came from years of driving all over the lower 48, back when I drove a lumber truck down country roads by day and navigated by night as a general-assignment newspaper reporter.
But this is 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 kind you can grab at the gas station or a sturdy road atlas (I recommend this one) that lives in your car.
Paper Never Quits
Paper is the ultimate in analog. It never freezes up while you’re looking at it, boots up an annoying Software Update message, or runs out of battery right at the most crucial moment. Even if you spill a cup of coffee on a road map, it’s not ruined, and that’s more than I can say for my phone.
Paper Maps Are Accurate
I’m stunned by satellite views of roadways and rural areas. Most of the time they’re very accurate. Oddly enough, though, there are times when the program that translates between satellite and map view has a difficult time making the translation.
Unless a paper map goes out of date, I’ve found them to be nearly flawless.
Paper Maps Connect You
A paper map is a simple, time-tested means for connecting you to your surroundings, spatially and directionally. Using an atlas or a fold-out paper map, I can estimate mileage extremely accurately and get a better sense of travel time, obstacles, and how long various legs of the trip will take.
Using a paper map, I can mark out my preferred route and, especially important, landmarks and intersections along the way. Roadways, railroad tracks, bridges, lakes, and rivers that cross or run parallel to my route all form important indicators that I’m going the right way and, as importantly, they tell me how close or far I am to my destination.
Recently, I navigated from my house in New Jersey to a spot in rural central Pennsylvania that lacked cell phone connectivity some five hours away. My only guide was a series of step-by-step directions that I kept on a clipboard on the front seat, the result of careful reconnaissance using a paper map before I left. I could glance at the clipboard as I drove or my wife could check the directions. We arrived at our destination, quietly and without a misstep. When our phones had connectivity, my wife used her phone to find local eateries.
Paper Helps You Chose Alternate Routes
GPS navigation users dread the familiar word “recalculating,” when the system detects a slowdown and tries to find a faster route. Your phone may well send you on a new path that’s either ridiculous, or on which you’ll lose connectivity. Again, you’re at the mercy of an algorithm.
If you have a map, then you can plot your own detour, especially in a rural area. Pull over, whip 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, a satellite view, another map, or a larger atlas. When you’ve got 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
Somebody tells you that a paper map is tough to read? Don’t believe them. Reading a map is as easy as reading this sentence. Here’s an excellent basic tutorial.
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics