Ain’t no better gift or keepsake than a visual of the ground you’ve covered. Check this list of our 10 favorite maps and globes from artists, printmakers, and websites around the world.
By Maryann Jones Thompson
It’s not shocking that travelers love maps. I’m no exception. I love ‘em all – from antique maps with sea monsters splashing in the oceans to highway maps from the early days of road trips to the multiple free AAA maps that cover the same ground in different versions (Driving to Tahoe? Better get California, Northern California, SF Bay Area, Sacramento, Gold Country, Reno, AND Lake Tahoe – just to be safe 😉 )
And globes! I’ve only got one (to avoid divorce) that I found at a garage sale. It’s a midcentury one in rough shape but it sits proudly atop my bookshelf. I can’t figure out the exact year it was made: It has Vietnam labeled “French Indochina” and there are some colonial names for African countries but maybe that’s why I like it: The mystery.
So if you’re a traveler looking for a way to document your journeys or preserve memories from your trips, maps are one of the best ways to do it. And if you’re someone who loves a traveler, maps are always fabulous gifts to give – and to receive 😉
In my galivanting around the world – and around the Internet – I’ve found a bunch of great innovative and classic map-based options that travelers would love to have in their homes. Here are my 10 favorites.
1. Your Map from the Road – Did you scratch off each Gaudi on a free tourist map of Barcelona? Did your backup paper topo map survive a week of backpacking? Did you highlight your route from home to a national park – and did you scribble your License Plate Game standings near the legend? Well, frame that baby! You won’t find a cheaper or more satisfying souvenir.
My favorite well-traveled map is from our most epic-ever family road trip – from SF to LA to Yellowstone to SF during the 2014-2015 holiday season. We clocked more than 2,600 miles on our Toyota Highlander. After the journey, I cut and pasted the two AAA maps we needed to cover the route and taped it to the back of our office door – a C- for presentation but makes me happy every time I see it – and it may yet find its way into a real frame, someday.
2. Wall Maps – If you’re looking for simple map of the place you just visited – or maybe a larger view of the whole country or world to see where you’ll go next, check Mapshop. The North Carolina retailer has maps of every imaginable spot and you can get them in multiple sizes, mounts, frames and even mounted on foam board so you can stick in pushpins (also sold on the site) on the places you’ve conquered 😉
3. Scratch-off Maps – There’s nothing as satisfying as a “scratch off” opportunity. Think about it – lottery tickets, gift cards, “scratch & sniff” stickers – every time we scratch off that weird patch of whatever that substance is, something exciting lies beneath.
Maybe that’s why scratch-off maps are such a perfect product. What delivers more of a fun surprise than a new destination? These maps now come in a variety of geographies and sizes, which makes it possible for one family to scratch their trail around a state, country or world.
While its getting easier to get your hands on these maps, I still love the classic look of the original Scratch Maps by Luckies, U.K. You can also find more unique and artistic versions on Etsy, such as the watercolor versions made by Waypoint Wanderers.
4. Custom Globes & Maps – The “Gold” Standard in one-of-a-kind globes and custom maps comes from Wendy Gold Studios in Marin County, California. Wendy scours flea markets for vintage globes and covers them in unique artwork, decoupage titles and imagery – from butterflies to fish to flowers. See a sample below or on her website.
The studio also offers numerous beautiful, original, customized push-pin maps, with the ability to customize it with a family name or for particular hobby – be it scuba diving, skiing, mountain biking, baseball, golf or other options. Check her site for the possibilities.
Consider the World in Atlanta offers new globes customized with hand-painting in eye-catching colors. While I thought it’d be a cool thing for a family or couple to have on a shelf, with tags of all their trips, apparently, it’s the hot trend in weddings: Offer a custom globe with the couple’s names calligraphed on it. Then, guests sign that instead of a guestbook. That would sure get a lot more real estate on a shelf than our current guestbook is getting in a box in the attic 😉
5. Custom Digital Maps – Several sites/apps now allow you to create a custom a map and print it with a personalized title. Customaps of Montreal offers a wide variety of outputs, including wallpaper, framed and unframed posters, and even a digital version for just $15 that you can download and use in a photo book or print into a canvas, mug or poster via Shutterfly, Costco or whatever service you prefer.
You can customize the look of the map by clicking through the available designs, add three lines of personalized titles underneath, and even upload a KML or GPX file to print your route on foot/bike/car on the map.
Grafomap is another great custom map service. This site does not offer digital output but does offer discounts for multiple prints. It also has a map design that allows you to add “place” names on the map.
6. Wooden Maps – Remember the first time you saw that amazing wood-cut map of, say, Lake Tahoe, with layers showing the depth of the lake and the height of the surrounding mountains? Now you can get a 3D woodcut map of your favorite body of water from Lake Art on The Grommet. Not all geographies are available and they don’t come cheap, but these wooden relief maps look like they’re worth the investment.
Enjoy the Wood also creates incredible 3D wall maps made from wood. These Ukranian craftspeople will ship you the map of your choice with the cutest flags-of-the-world pins to show the places you’ve visited.
7. Photo Maps – For $31, KatsKreatives’ will arrange your travel photos on a world map – or a map of several other geographies, like Bali – customize it with your name/title, and deliver you a digital file to add to a photo book or print into a poster.
Several Etsy shops offer a large, 2’ x 3’ frame/mat of the U.S. states. You can print your own photo and cut it out to fit in the appropriate state. You can also buy a digital template of the U.S., print it and cut out photos to fit each state.
Minted artist Heather Buchma’s “art” offerings include the ability to load a few photos from selected states and have them printed as a photo collage or stationery. Check this link for the options.
8. Map Puzzles – No gift screams “2020!” like a jigsaw puzzle. Etched Atlas offers gorgeous wooden puzzles and maps of major cities around the world.
9. Maps on Everything! – Think you’d like to get a chart of your coastline on a tray? There’s a map for that. Seriously. You can get maps put on anything if you have the strength to Google long enough. Uncommon Goods delivers a one-stop shop, offering a wide variety of custom and/or personalized map gifts, including cutting boards, trays, clocks, throw pillows, wine coasters, color-your-own pillowcases and tablecloths, and more.
Maps on stickers or wall decals are also everywhere. Remember seeing U.S. map stickers on the back of RVs as a kid? There’d be outlines of each state and the ones visited would be filled? Turns out, you can still get those if you want! Check LushLeafDesign for some basic and prettier versions.
Not shockingly, you can also get any number geographical areas as a wall decal – the world, your state, or even your hometown. Again, search Etsy for the most interesting map decals and stickers.
10. Vintage Maps & Globes – There’s no end to the original and reproduction vintage maps available on Etsy, Ebay and at flea markets. I’m not emotional about insisting on an original print if I love the place and the look of the map. Here’s one Etsy shop with a variety of prints, ornaments and other products made from old maps, but there are dozens out there.
And don’t feel like you have to frame your map to make it fabulous. We inherited a large 1959 nautical map of the Bodega and Tomales bays near San Francisco. Instead of framing it, I ordered 2 custom pieces of acrylic from Tap Plastics, our amazing local plastic and acrylic retailer. They cut a black piece for the base, a clear piece for the top, and drilled 6 holes in the edges so that we could just screw it the whole thing into the wall. This mounting job was more expensive than we thought (you can save by getting the thinnest acrylic the shop expert recommends for holding the map’s shape) and it will not win any museum-quality framing awards, but for us, it’s perfect. We plan to use a Sharpie to scribble all over it with the spots we visit – because “used” maps are always more interesting 😉
Maryann Jones Thompson – April 2020
After a thousand years in publishing as a business journalist, ghostwriter, content strategist and market researcher, Maryann brings her experience traveling as a backpacker, businessperson, expat and mom to writing and editing for ROAM.
© ROAM Family Travel 2020 – All rights reserved
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