Don’t forget the good old paper map

I simply cannot travel without a good paper map! I like the feel of a paper map and I also need it to orientate myself to ‘the bigger picture’. Modern day travellers cannot imagine themselves overlanding without electronic devices like GPSs, smartphones or tablets/iPads. True, these are invaluable, but the reality is that they can fail you. Therefore you should always travel with paper maps too.

An electronic device with a built-in GPS and a good map or app can indicate your position to within 5m or navigate you to your destination. However, such a device may give you tunnel vision as you usually look at a small screen zoomed in to see detailed information. Also, the device can let you down when it loses satellite signal or its power fails.

I am one of those people who simply loves a papermap as I can orientate myself easily in respect to the region or country. Apart from that I want to have a papermap as backup, as an electronic device can run out of power or the friendly voice of ‘Emily’ can navigate you incorrectly. Also, during our recent seven month overland trip we did on a couple of occasions find roads on paper maps that weren’t on any electronic versions.

How to navigate with a paper map

Many people consider navigating with a paper map much more exciting than merely following a GPS because they don’t have a pointer permanently indicating their position. However, if you use a paper map, you need to firstly understand the distances represented by the scale of the map. Next, you need to be able to correctly orientate yourself by aligning north on the map with north on the ground. If you are driving major routes it is easy to find your position using road signs. However, when you are travelling in remote areas where the landscape is unfamiliar and there are no such aids, it becomes much more difficult to plot your exact position on the map.

If you are going to rely only on a paper map for navigation, you must study it carefully before you set off for the day.  Look for prominent features like river crossings, major intersections, villages or mountain passes that will help you to pinpoint your position along the way.

As you drive, plot your progress and mark each position that you are absolutely sure of on the map.  Also keep an eye on the distance you have travelled and jot down odometer readings if necessary at each of these positions. Always be mindful to where north is using a compass, GPS indicator or the sun and determine if you are driving in the correct direction.

If you do get lost, stop and try your best to orientate yourself.  You should be able to follow your tracks back to the last known position on the map by remembering prominent features you have just passed or by even following your own vehicle tracks.  Get yourself to the last known position on the map and then start your route planning over again. If all else fails, no one will criticise you for turning on your GPS!

Bots map (Copy)

To encourage you in this interesting adventure, the updated version of the T4A Botswana map should be available by the first half of April 2016 and we also currently have paper maps of Namibia and South Africa.

SA and Namibia maps

If you are using a Tracks4Africa paper map, you will find travel time in addition to travel distance indicated on the map.  These are handy when planning ahead for your trip and can be trusted as they are derived from the real travel times of the community of travellers who contribute towards the T4A maps. Variable road conditions and therefore travel time in Africa can differ vastly to driving time on good roads.


4 thoughts on “Don’t forget the good old paper map”

  1. And also a paper map tells you a lot of the surrounding in the areas you heading to, little roads you can plan to travel then you in that area to get the optimum nature out of your planned trip.

  2. Hammer – nail!
    A paper map gives us overview which a gps can’t. From the paper map I derive points I want my gps to navigate to. And it is fun as well to have your location, planning and maybe even fate (!) in your own hands not depending on a gps. You know, the grey brain cells up above…

  3. I totally agree! We always had paper charts on board. People forget, too, that GPS has inherent errors! Plus, each hour it inspired us to plot our position on the paper chart and draw that line across oceans so we could see were were actually making progress!

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