Love your GPS? Love how easy it makes getting from Point A to Point B? If you’re like me, your GPS saves travel time, keeps you from getting lost, and provides an Australian or British voice so you can get directions from Ned Kelly or James Bond, depending on your mood.

But while GPS is a great tool, I think we’re losing the skill of navigation. And basic navigation is one of those skills we need to possess in order to be confident that we can find our way, no matter where we happen to be. Navigating with a real map means–

  • You’re self-reliant. Not wholly dependent on electricity, satellites or the phone company.
  • You’re in control over where you are going and willing to learn new skills along the way.
  • Personal achievement! Another deposit into the emotional bank account!

Plus you get a really cool souvenir.

Related Post: The Art of Travel Without a Camera

In the Ice Age, before internet and GPS, I traveled with (gasp) paper maps! Newer maps, like the laminated Streetwise series by are compact accordions that fold to the size of a business envelope. The older maps are Technicolor murals that led me across Europe, the South Pacific and Down Under.

Revelation time

I recently sifted through the box where I keep those old paper maps and had a revelation:

I probably wouldn’t be writing books or this blog if I hadn’t had those formative experiences, if I had never learned that I could do things and go places on my own with just the help of a map.

Where I’ve been

map of Florence, italy

 Tourist map of Florence, Italy, circa 1981. A friend studied there during my year in Paris.  We met up several times in Florence and made the rounds of the museums. I learned about male anatomy staring at Michelangelo’s David


Map of Venice, circa 1981. The paper is stiff. the muted colors are those of the sea beyond San Marco’s square. Of all my maps, this one is the closest to artwork.


 Map of Biarritz in the south of France where I lived for a month, taking and failing an intensive French course prior to the school year in Paris.

Related post: Girl Meets Paris

Amsterdam mapMap of Amsterdam by Amsterdam is not big but it is incredibly picturesque and very walkable. The Anne Frank House was more than moving; it was a powerful lesson in history. And humanity instead of hate.

BrusselsBrussels is a lovely blend of big metropolitan city and old Europe. French fries are served with mayonnaise. Still getting over that.

Oslo city

 Oslo is one of my favorite places. The sky is bluer in Oslo than anywhere else on earth. The seafaring tradition + Scandinavian design + the legacy and legends of polar exploration make it a fascinating place to visit. Travel by ferry to the Fram and Kon-Tiki Museums was a highlight.

Pot MoresbyThe map of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, is a huge affair from the country’s National Mapping Bureau. The thick paper is only printed on one side.

Related post: Land of the Unexpected

map of PompeiiI walked around Pompeii in August and the temperature was around 100 F. I felt like I was inside a volcano not viewing the ruins of one. Sweaty hands nearly turned the map (came with admission) to mush. This is the eastern side of the site.

Rome italy subwayRome, Italy is noisy, chaotic, crazy, amazing. Every street is full of clothes I want to buy, food I want to eat, and books, art, & pharmacies with unique lotions and potions. The city is compact enough to walk nearly everywhere but Streetwise’s metro map was very handy.

Mexico City street mapMexico City is so big you need a whole book, called the Guia Roji, to navigate. My copy was falling apart after three years there! This page is the Lomas de Chapultepec area where THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY is set.

Sydney, AustraliaIf you ever get a chance to visit Sydney, Australia, take it! Sydney is a beautiful city with lots of things to do and friendly people. This map helped me navigate to the first Virgin Records store I’d ever seen, where I bought Midnight Oil LPs for a friend and Man of Colors by Icehouse (“Had a little accident, nothing too serious“) for myself.

Fremantle, AustraliaThis map of Fremantle, Australia, on the country’s west coast, was created by the Western Australian Tourism Commission. Below the seal it says William C. Brown, Government Printer, Western Australia. The map itself is about six square inches; the rest of the big foldout (both sides) lists things to do such as the America’s Cup Museum or the Royal Australian Navy Corvettes Association Memorial Monument Hill.

As a final inducement to brush up on your navigation skills, here’s what author and Jeopardy champ Ken Jennings had to say in his great book, MAPHEADS:

“Almost every map, whether of a shopping mall, a city, or a continent, will show us two kinds of places: places where we’ve been and places we’ve never been . . . We can understand, at a glance, our place in the universe, our potential to go and see new things, and the way to get back home afterward.”


  1. pov53

    Cool post. Can’t believe all the places you’ve been. Think I’ll start keeping my maps.

    • Carmen

      Actually, was sad to realize how many maps I’ve thrown away 🙁

  2. Lady Balde

    Hi Carmen. Love this post! I love maps too. Have an old box myself from a few trips I’ve taken over the years.

    • Carmen

      Thanks for stopping by. How many great memories are tied to those maps? Time to get them out of the box!

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navigation with a map


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


navigation with a map
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