The importance of a good map, and why you should get your nose out of your phone.

Whenever I travel, where ever I travel, I always buy a map before I go on the trip. They are an essential tool to discovering a city. And being overdependent on our smart phone is making us dumber.  Just Google “Are Smartphones making us dumber?” And if you do it on a cell phone you enter a world of meta self reference.

I look up stuff on my smartphone all the time. Movie times, articles, and social media. But I draw the line at using it for directions and a substitute map.

Walking a city with your face in a phone means you miss observing a neighborhood’s architecture and culture. It also makes you focus on the destination, not the journey, which, if you believe the trope, is the opposite of travel. Google (even on your phone) “It isn’t the destination it’s the journey” and you will be awash in heartfelt memes asserting this.  Despite the infusion of saccharine, there is a truth there and you don’t get it from depending on directions from your lying phone.

The phone is not the only culprit in hijacking your best experience of a city. There is also the lousy free maps.

When I walk the streets of San Francisco I see dozens of visitors clutching their hotel issued maps looking confused. I stop and give them directions, and assist in deciphering their crummy map.  Hotel maps suck. They’re free and still overpriced. They’re printed on cheap paper and tear after a couple of uses. And they’re difficult to read. But the main reason they’re terrible is they don’t have a street index.

Private tour San Francisco

You need an index to look up streets and places and generally get around. Also, a laminated map will last much longer than a paper one.
I’m a fan of the Streetwise Maps. They’re easy to use, and have public transportation information as well as streets and sites. I used them all over the world and my wife and I navigated the cities with ease.

private tour San Francisco

We also get lost occasionally. It’s worse when depending on the phone, because we all tend to give it an undeserved level of authority.  Outside of Lisbon the phone lead us to the wrong train station and wrong train. We ended up having the type of unexpected adventure that travel is supposed to be, involving the kindness of strangers pointing us in the correct direction. Colorful story aside, had we had a map, we would have got on the right train, and got lost in Lisbon. Which we did anyway. Getting lost is an important element of good traveling.

So when you come visit San Francisco, get a good map. You’ll be glad you did. And you can give directions to people with crummy hotel maps.

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