The very first thing to do when you arrive in a foreign city is find a paper map. Whether you get it from a tourist information booth at the airport or from the hotel concierge, it’s the single most important task you have to accomplish upon arrival. After that map is in your hands, You can unpack your suitcase, have a shower, and take a nap. Then, sit down with the map and study it carefully.
That map, you see, is the key to getting around the city. It allows your to orient yourself before you even set foot in the street. Learn where you are in relation to the rest of the city, the names of neighborhoods, the major streets and the directions in which they run, the transit lines. Figure out where the rivers and waterfronts are, where the subway stations are, how you can get to the best walking and cycling routes.
Use that paper map to figure out which sights are closest to each other and how you can use your time most efficiently by visiting everything in a specific area on the same day, put dots where the bookstores, restaurants, markets, and museums are that you most want to see and note which neighborhoods you want to visit along the way.
A paper map does not run out of battery. It never has a poor connection. It is easily replaceable. It’s a great conversation starter for locals who can immediately peg me as a tourist — not always a good thing, but there is something about a paper map that softens people up. They’re curious about who would use a paper map these days and are inclined to talk.
For a passionate travelers consumed by wanderlust, that paper map is like a portal into another world. Staring at it transports you into a dreamlike state, where you imagine all the places you’ll go and things you’ll do. And simultaneously, it enables you to begin planning and strategizing how you’ll make it happen.
Then the map comes home with you. It bears the battle wounds of the journey, creased and torn and stained. It’s proof of the places you’ve been and, while it would have little meaning to anyone else, it comes alive when you open it up and take a glance. You don’t usually have to keep it long, knowing it’s served its purpose, but it can be a good reference if you end up heading to the same place again, helpful when wanting to book accommodations in a good area. But never take it with you, knowing you’ll get a fresh map when you land — and start all over again.