Why People Are Ditching GPS for Paper Maps

Paper maps are making a comeback. Here’s why it’s smart to get one.

With GPS in our cars and on our smartphones, gone are the days of massive paper maps directing us where to go—or so we thought. Those old foldable maps are actually making a comeback, not just among the older generations that grew up with them.

The Ordnance Survey, the national mapping agency of Great Britain, saw a 144 percent increase in sales in 2020 compared to the year before, a spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal. And AAA said it produced 123 percent more maps in 2022 than in 2021, a boost the organization noted is being driven by millennials and Gen Zers.

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In Northern New Jersey, Stephanie Kivett Ohnegian keeps an atlas in her car because “there are places where the GPS signal doesn’t work” or “the routing is ridiculous.”

In Portland, Oregon, Kimberly Davis has paper maps in her earthquake go bag—just in case.

And in Newport Beach, California, Christine McCullough has another practical reason for keeping the once-ubiquitous thick, spiral-bound Thomas Guides in her car. As the kids prepare for their driving tests, her edict is no phones.

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Few folks would dismiss the fact that GPS for all its imperfections can be a godsend when we’ve lost our way—assuming it wasn’t GPS that sent us wildly off course in the first place. The same goes for Apple Maps, Google Maps, and Waze. And those apps are constantly evolving, too. 

Apple just delivered a redesigned Apple Maps experience with what the company insists is faster and more accurate navigation and more comprehensive views of roads, buildings, parks, airports, malls, and so on. 

Apple unveiled a new Look Around feature that is similar to Google’s Street View leveraging high-resolution photographs to let you see what major cities look like. 

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As part of its 15th birthday, Google is rolling out a refreshed look of Google Maps on iOS and Android devices and adding such new features as the ability for some transit riders to determine whether their bus or train is likely to be on the warmer or colder side.

GPS receivers are great for navigation and getting to where you want to go. Though apps like Google Maps are surely convenient there are a few downfalls to digital navigation, the first being that a smartphone battery can die. In a survival situation, paper maps provide a reliable backup to GPS receivers, smartphones, or tablets.

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The apps are also driven by artificial intelligence and satellite imagery to take you to your destination in the fastest way possible meaning you may miss out on scenic views and the expertise of a cartographer-drawn map.

Over-reliance on GPS has eroded our spatial awareness. You become more focused on your phone and less on your overall surroundings. When you follow directions from GPS apps or navigation systems, you don’t gain a full understanding of your environment. Instead, you become dependent on technology.

Despite its convenience, GPS receivers make us less aware of our surroundings. The broader scale and greater details in paper maps give us an advantage in geographic perception.

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Where does that leave printed maps?

“Do they still make, even sell, paper maps?” That question from retired New York marketing executive Michael Lissauer is emblematic of our daily reliance on digital navigation.  “Other than in a history class, Europe before World War II, who needs a paper map?” 

It may surprise Lissauer and others that the answer to the question is yes. They’re actually on the rise. U.S. sales of print maps and road atlases had have had a five-year compound annual growth rate of 10 percent, according to the NPD BookScan. For context, in 2019, the travel maps and atlases category sold 666,000 units with year-over-year sales up 7 percent.

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Tony Rodono owns and runs The Map Shop. “We’ve had a retail location in Charlotte, North Carolina for about 30 years and every day we get somebody walking in saying, ‘How in the world can you stay in business?’”

Not only is The Map Shop still in business but it is also moving to a bigger facility partly to manufacture three-dimensional raised relief maps that are vacuum-formed over a mold to help people get a better representation of an area’s topography. 

A few of The Map Shop’s older generation customers are skeptical of GPS, he finds. “They have a flip phone that’s tucked away with their map in their glove box for emergencies,” he says. But he’s seeing fewer and fewer customers who fit that description.

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Members of AAA can still walk into a local branch and request a TripTik, the spiral-bound notebooks filled with fold-out maps tracking the route to their final destination. An AAA agent would highlight the route with a marker and point out sightseeing spots, restaurants, perhaps places to spend the night. You’d typically walk out with tour books as well.

As a signpost of the digital age, people nowadays can order TripTiks which first surfaced in 1937, online or through the AAA app and create a digital version.

Dave Arland still frequents an AAA branch before a big car trip. The Indiana public relations executive insists, “Nothing beats the high-resolution printed map! Plus printed maps don’t have an attitude like Siri, Google, or others!”

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“I am a paper girl all the way,” says Cindi Gildard, a bookkeeper at Chase Leavitt in Portland, Maine. “I’m not a navigator. I wouldn’t know how to use a GPS if there was one in my vehicle.”

Instead, Gildard relies on the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer which she says is awesome and shows “old little dirt roads and where bridges were washed out.” The Gazetteer uses dotted lines, she adds, to indicate areas in the backcountry where you need four-wheel drive. 


Worth Pondering…

It finally happened. I got the GPS lady so confused, she said, “In one-quarter mile, make a legal stop and ask directions.

—Robert Breault

You Need a Vacation from Social Media: Unplug and Reconnect with Wilderness

Now that we all have smart phones, smart TVs, and even smart refrigerators, these digital “conveniences” have become intrusions into our lives

There are a hundred reasons why you shouldn’t embark on your right now—but there are even more reasons why you should.

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You need a vacation—there’s no disputing that. What is in dispute is whether you’ll actually take one. According to a 2017 study by Glassdoor, the average American worker uses barely half of their annual paid vacation time. Worse, even those who do take a vacation generally fail to use it for rest and relaxation. What are they doing instead, you ask?

Well, what do you do when you leave town for a few days?

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Think through the steps of your last vacation. You made the reservation, endured the arduous flight, you arrived at the hotel, put down your luggage—and then what? You immediately checked your smart phone, of course. That’s what you do, even when you know you shouldn’t. The last thing anyone needs to do during a vacation is to watch their queue of emails multiply in real time.

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It’s true the phone itself isn’t that big of deal. It’s not the main culprit. There’s only so much time you can spend checking your email or the weather.

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It’s social media that’s the true soul destroyer. On social media platforms there’s always something else to click on, another rabbit hole to tumble down. There’s always something trending, some scandal emerging, a person’s life being ruined with a rumor or a dumb joke—the parade is always passing and urging you to join it.

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Between Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even LinkedIn, social media is undoubtedly an outlet that engages most online users. However, according to mental health consultants, social media has become an anxiety-provoking factor. In addition to attracting more anxious users, the University of Chicago found that it’s also “more addictive” than tobacco.

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Overall, about 30 percent of those who use social media spend more than 15 hours per week online. This can greatly reduce your ability to enjoy real life. If you are spending several hours a day on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, you are not going to have enough time for things that really matter. You may have social media anxiety disorder and it can also affect your health, both physically and mentally. 

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And, habit is a hard thing to break. Not just the habit of being constantly online, but the habit of being incessantly busy, of somehow loving the stress of being so freaking important, of doing just one more thing before you finally let yourself relax.

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It shouldn’t be this hard to take a vacation. And back in the day, it wasn’t. Taking a vacation meant really getting away from it all. You fled the city and the cares of workday life for a restful week of camping at the lake or national or state park and rediscovered the joys of roughing it.

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Believe it or not, these rustic getaways are still possible. In this modern age of constant connectivity, they’re more necessary than they’ve ever been. That’s why we’ve pulled together a shortlist of five sites located within some of the country’s most beautiful, largely overlooked natural settings.

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A visit to Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is a journey into the heart of the Florida’s Everglades ecosystem. Visitors will find a gentle, pristine wilderness that dates back about 600 years. A 2.25-mile boardwalk meanders through pine flatwood, wet prairie, around a marsh and finally into a large old growth Bald Cypress forest.

Free ranging horses at Cumberland Ialand National Seashore in Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore includes one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands in the world. This Georgia Park is home to a herd of feral, free-ranging horses. Most visitors come to Cumberland for the natural glories, serenity, and fascinating history.

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If you really want to experience nature, Congaree National Park in South Carolina is a perfect place to go. Home to one of the tallest deciduous forest canopies on earth, it offers great bird watching and wilderness tours. For those feeling more adventurous there is also kayaking, hiking, canoeing, fishing, and even camping. There are tons of trees to delight in, and you’ll feel super connected to the planet.

Valley of the Gods in southern Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A little known valley filled with sandstone formations and starry night skies is located in the southeastern corner of Utah out of the way of the main national park loop. To drive through the Valley of the Gods you will take a 17-mile, unpaved loop. Similar to Monument Valley, but only a quarter of the size, it remains quiet and peaceful.

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Go back to a bygone age and take a horse and buggy ride in Amish Country in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The area offers tours, museums, children’s activities such as doll-making, and, of course, buggy rides. It’s an excellent opportunity to disconnect from technology and see how a resilient, devout group of people get by just fine without everyone’s favorite ladies, Alexa and Siri.

Worth Pondering…

Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.

—John Muir