The Latest Booming Travel Trend Is…Paper Maps?

Put down the smartphone, unfold an aesthetically pleasing map

A close-up of a paper map. Paper maps are becoming more popular in recent years, with Millennials and Gen Zers taking advantage of the low-tech travel option.
Millenials and members of Gen Z are showing an increased interest in paper maps.

Many of my young, formative years were spent in the front seat of my mom’s 1994 Jeep Cherokee frantically shouting directions from a MapQuest print out. I can so distinctly recall the stress of trying to keep pace with my mom’s (bless her heart) erratic driving and to relay the information as accurately as possible, despite the fact that I could barely even read. God forbid I took two seconds to look out the window, we’d have ended up in the next state over!

It’s why, when GPS came into play, I was more than prepared to swear off printed directions and paper maps for the rest of my life. And thanks to smartphones and an overabundance of other modern-day technology, I’ve never had to go back on that vow, either. In fact, at the ripe old age of 31, I don’t even think I could navigate my way out of the woods using a paper map if my life quite literally depended on it. If Google Maps can’t help me, I most certainly can’t be trusted to help myself — and I don’t lose a wink of sleep over that.

That said, my position on paper maps might actually be the exception rather than the rule. Per a report from The Wall Street Journal, paper maps are making a huge comeback.

“According to a spokesperson for Ordnance Survey, the national mapping agency of Great Britain, ‘sales of custom-made maps exploded in 2020, with an increase of 144% compared with the year before. A year later, in 2021, there was a further 28% increase,’” Kate Morgan reported. “The AAA produced 123% more maps in 2022 than in 2021.”

The bulk of new AAA members over the last three years? Millennials! And Gen Zers! Which begs the question: what in the fresh hell?

Some cartographers believe the trend has less to do with function and more to do with aesthetic, or trip-spo — a surprise to no one who has ever come in contact with a Millennial or member of Gen Z. But there is something to be said for our exclusive reliance on digital maps as a means of navigation. What happens, for example, when you lose service or your phone dies? Do you follow the setting sun or North Star and hope it gets you to your final destination? Of course not. But maybe you’d use a physical map, if you had one.

“[While] a smartphone can easily direct you to the quickest route, taking it often means you’ll miss the best scenery,” Morgan wrote. “A paper map, more like those made by early humans, can provide a bigger picture. You can think of them less like comprehensive guides to reaching your destination, and more like detailed portraits of areas of interest, created by someone with deep, experiential knowledge. After all, while a satellite can highlight unpaved paths, cartographers actually walk down them.”

A beautiful sentiment, and a strong argument for keeping a backup map in your glove compartment. Not enough to convert me, obviously, but maybe you.


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