I Might Never Use A Paper Map Again

In the middle of completing my month long work/vacation tour of Europe and Asia (as I sit on a plane on my way to Doha), I keep reflecting on the experience that has been these past couple weeks hopping around from London, to Amsterdam, to Switzerland and Ireland and never relying on a paper map.

I didn’t have data on my phone, but what I did have was the ability to download Google Maps to use offline. It is a feature that came to Android last June. After experiencing using the offline maps the past couple of weeks, I really think the paper map’s days are numbered.

Why my digital map beats your paper map

Constantly Updated:
Let’s start with the fact that the map that we had in our guide book was two years old. Two years, it seems, in Ireland is a long enough time for roads to be built as we found ourselves on roads that didn’t exist on the paper map we had.

Where Am I Now:
By far the most useful feature is the ability to know exactly where you are. GPS works all over the world and by turning on my GPS and loading the offline maps we knew exactly where we were on the bus, on the subway, on the running trail or on the street. We were able to plot our route with precision instead of “I think we’re somewhere around here.”

Ability to explore and get lost with confidence:
What the GPS mentioned above allowed us to do was to explore with confidence. I was able to mark our B&B as a favorite on the map and then off we went. Walked around Amsterdam and when it was time to return home, pull out the map find where we were and plot a route home.

Ability to expand and zoom:
Your paper map can’t do this which is why you travel with a couple different ones. But on my phone the downloaded Google Map allowed me to zoom all the way in and all the way out to the point I downloaded the map from. Allowing me to see exactly where we were in the larger picture of the city.

Ease of carry and no folding:
Let’s face it, folding maps is never easy…..in fact I always used to see it as a traveling challenge that I had to solve. Now with the maps on my phone, nobody knows I’m a tourist. I just appear like everyone else looking at my phone and figuring out where to go next. I had the whole of Ireland in great detail in my pocket. Simply amazing.

Off the beaten path:
My wife and I wanted to go for a run in every country (mostly because we thought it would be cool to have it show up on our runkeeper timeline but also because we have a race coming up the beginning of April!). The Google Maps allowed us to find trails and details that were not possible on the tourist map we had. We were able to find running trails, to figure out our route and if we did get off track simply look it up on our phone. A great example was a trail we found that followed the subway line in Lausanne, Switzerland from our hotel down to the lake shore. We were thinking we would take the subway down to the lake, but after finding this hidden trail on the map we got an extra Km in on our run that we would not have known existed on the city map.

I could go on and on but I won’t. This is a game changer in all sorts of ways. Are we teaching students how to read a digital map? How to expand and zoom, how to orient the map to north vs the direction you’re walking and when to use both? Are we teaching the benefits of GPS, how to use it, how it works, and why it is a technology we all take for granted today but by itself is an amazing little feature built into almost every product?

This changes map skills, this changes what we need to be teaching students because the excuse of “what happens when you don’t have the Internet” just went out the window. With technology getting cheaper and cheaper, I wonder when a city might start distributing digital maps like this. Or what if you could check one out on a iPod touch from your hotel during your stay?

Game changer I tell you…..and one I’m not sure we’re preparing students for.