Maps: Confessions of a Cartophile

March 18, 2015

Maps: Confessions of a Cartophile - Sweet and Savoring

It’s true, guys. I’m sorry I  never told you, but I’m a cartophile: I love maps!

It’s amazing how squiggles and grids can fascinate me so much. I’ve always been interested in maps: atlases, globes, city maps, subway maps, and of course, world maps. 

I can stare at an atlas for hours, looking at the place I live on paper, seeing it flat and blue and green. I look at places I’ve been and places I long to visit. You Are Here: one of the most gleeful satisfying phrases I can think of. Here I am, here is where I’m going, let’s figure out the best route to get there and all the points of interest in between.

Maps: Confessions of a Cartophile - Sweet and Savoring

My map obsession is inherently linked to my passion for travel. Before I arrive in a new city, I study a map of it enough to pass a beginner’s geography quiz. In the weeks leading up to my Seattle trip, I spouted out geographical information to customers and friends. I knew all the bodies of water, which mountains were west (Olympics) and which were east (Cascades), and where the airport was in relation to the city. By the end of my first day, I knew the stops on the light rail, and therefore the north-south order of several neighborhoods . I read beforehand that the streets could be difficult to navigate, and so felt slightly apprehensive about getting around. It turned out that I had a pretty good grasp on the city by the time my week was up, and never once got lost. (is it even possible to get lost when Google Maps exists?)

Maps: Confessions of a Cartophile - Sweet and Savoring

Even on my first solo trip, I memorized the layouts of the European cities I visited so I wouldn’t have to walk around with a guidebook or paper map in hand (heaven forbid looking like a tourist!). A few years later, my couchsurfing host in Barcelona voiced his disbelief that I didn’t carry a map with me. It’s in my head, I said.

This is part of what I love about solo travel: I need to figure everything out. There is no one else to rely on or defer to, and for an introverted, often passive person like me, it’s an empowering experience.

Maps: Confessions of a Cartophile - Sweet and Savoring

We’re so spoiled in the twenty-first century, since we have mobile devices and apps that do everything for us. So many people give up control to their GPS, listening to whatever it tells them to do and never knowing which direction they’re headed without it. While I relied on Google Maps often on my Seattle trip, I know that I could have gotten by without it. This was my first trip with a smartphone: every other place I’ve been, I relied on asking locals for directions, or a guidebook, or researching online before I set out for the day.

I take inspiration from female pioneers in exploration, for whom paper maps were a necessity.  Famed travelers like Isabella Bird or Freya Stark, went where no other women had set foot before, often to the ridicule and disdain of their countrymen. I’m grateful that many of these daring women happen to have been eloquent writers and chose to share their stories.

Maps: Confessions of a Cartophile - Sweet and Savoring

A map is a pretty extraordinary thing. It holds history and science, treasures and dreams, possibility and opportunity.



A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected.   –Reif Larsen

Consulting maps can diminish the wanderlust that they awaken, as the act of looking at them can replace the act of travel. But looking at maps is much more than an act of aesthetic replacement. Anyone who opens an atlas wants everything at once, without limits–the whole world. This longing will always be great, far greater than any satisfaction to be had by attaining what is desired. Give me an atlas over a guidebook any day. There is no more poetic book in the world.    –Judith Schalansky

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  • Sue March 18, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    Nice post! I love that you love maps. Remember driving up to Vermont last year? You were my Navigator 😉

    • Christy March 18, 2015 at 11:04 pm

      Oh man, that was a year and a half ago! I can’t believe it. I love being the navigator!

  • Rebecca @ Strength and Sunshine March 18, 2015 at 8:04 pm

    I totally get this! I love looking at maps and the atlas! I think they can be so beautiful!

    • Christy March 18, 2015 at 11:06 pm

      Yes, they certainly are beautiful 🙂

  • Alex Hurst March 20, 2015 at 11:34 am

    Me too, me too! Do you have the “Antique Maps” book? It’s A-MA-ZING~!
    Alex Hurst recently posted…Archetypes: ExplorerMy Profile

    • Christy March 20, 2015 at 7:00 pm

      I don’t, but I’m going to check it out now, thanks!

  • Deb March 20, 2015 at 4:13 pm

    I love this descriptive post about your “penchant” for maps. It does seem that several members of our family share that trait! I am happy you enjoyed your exploration in Washington State, and also impressed at your skills finding your way, victorious pathfinder!! Good for you, girl!

    • Christy March 21, 2015 at 9:13 am

      Thanks, though finding my way certainly wasn’t without its frustrations at times!

  • Tamara March 21, 2015 at 12:43 am

    You just reminded me that I was the “map girl” during a ten day road trip through upstate New York and Canada with my Aunt. I really learned so much and I was amazed at what used to look like nonsense to me now made total sense.
    I’d love to say I retained my talents, but GPS has spoiled me.

    • Christy March 21, 2015 at 9:17 am

      See, if only more people would give maps a chance! GPS has spoiled us all, I think. Of course it’s useful, but sometimes it feels like we don’t have to think for ourselves enough.
      That sounds like a fun road trip! What did you explore in Canada?

  • Rea March 22, 2015 at 1:26 am

    I definitely love looking at maps. I even made a decor out of it. I want to have an entire wall with the world map on it. Unlike you, I easily get confused with directions though. LOL. Which makes me think I don’t have a sense of direction! I have to go back to a place again and again to be confident about its location.
    Rea recently posted…#BlissfulSnapshots: BreakfastMy Profile

    • Christy March 22, 2015 at 10:05 pm

      Yes, I’d love to have more map decor, too. So far it’s just one large map hanging in my bedroom of Long Island Sound/LI’s North Shore, where I grew up. But in our old apartment we had a whole map wall! I need to find those and hang them up again.

  • Rabia @TheLiebers March 24, 2015 at 11:20 am

    I, on the other hand, can’t walk out of a different mall entrance and still find my car!! My husband has a very good map mind. He memorizes driving directions before most of our trips and he gets really stressed out when I try to use GPS blindly.
    Rabia @TheLiebers recently posted…Celebrate All the Things!My Profile

    • Christy March 28, 2015 at 8:36 am

      Ha! Sounds like the reverse of my husband and I- well, the GPS in the car part 🙂 I don’t necessarily visualize directions but I do try to think ahead separately from the GPS to see if it’s making sense.

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