Paper Maps Are Making a Comeback


GPS may be the go-to for a suburban trip, but paper maps are having a resurgence for that holiday adventure feel - and keeping us on our journey when the phone signal fails.

“People are thinking about more than simply typing in a destination, you’re more involved in the journey when it becomes part of the holiday," says Neil James, RACV's General Manager – Leisure Products and New Product Development. 

"The tactile experience of handling a map, knowing where they are and what’s around them is something they appreciate that they don’t get from a screen. They get to stop at more interesting places. There’s a river nearby, or a particular town that’s interesting, rather than stopping at a service centre on the side of the road where they could be anywhere and nowhere.”

For firefighters and other emergency workers though, the value of a paper map goes beyond exploring your country. Because Google Maps is two years behind the good old suburban street directory, the detailed information it holds about newer suburbs is crucial to their work.

"Firefighters need a hard copy," says Murray Godfrey, director of Melway Publishing, "because they found in the bushfires that there was so much material in the air their GPS units failed”.

It's also significant for kids to learn to read a map. Mr Godfrey says teachers complain that those who rely exclusively on phone navigation lack spatial awareness and are less likely to understand their surroundings and their place in it.

The niche market of custom maps is also seeing up uptick in demand. HEMA have recently launched their latest edition, the Australia Motorcycle Atlas + 200 Top Rides. With a first run of 20,000 copies, they're meeting the rising demand for region- and demographic-specific maps with this latest edition to their collection of 25 custom maps. 

Continued issues around connectivity to digital devices in regional and remote Australia mean they're providing a valuable service as well as contributing to an enhanced road trip experience for many Australians.

Digital maps may be quick and convenient, but they don't allow you to understand where you are so you can find your way around when they get it wrong, and you can't draw the route you discovered when you went off the highways either.

It seems no amount of clever technology is going to replace the tattered paper map that took you on your best journeys, with all those side roads you travelled down drawn on in pen. That’s something special only paper can give you.