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Maps and Guidebooks

There are many different kinds of maps that have been designed for specific uses.  In our article, we cover the map types most commonly used for vacation and recreational purposes.  Take a peek at our recommendations before you buy your map.


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Travel Advice - Buy a map that meets your needs

While preparing for vacation, many travelers ignore buying a good quality map. Instead, they use one provided by the rental car agency, a clerk at a hotel, or one on the back of a brochure. If you are looking for a way to make a journey difficult, not having a good map is one of your best bets. A good quality map adds a geographical context to your vacation and serves as your guide to safe travel.

The type of map that you need for a trip depends on the type of vacation that you will take. We advise you to consider buying a map and using it as an integral part of the planning process and for navigation or reference during the trip.



 • If you are planning on an extensive driving vacation in one country, your best bet is to purchase a "Road Atlas" that contains highly detailed maps of the country’s entire road network (see How to select a good map and Who produces the best maps where?).

 • Conversely, if you will be intensively driving only a region of a country, we advise you to purchase a high quality, folded map of the region. These maps are known as "sectional maps" to denote that they are part of a series that "fit" together.

• If you will be driving through several countries, we urge you to collect an integrated set of high quality folded, sectional, roadmaps usually designated as touring maps.

• If you will be staying in a city and pursuing mainly local activities, you should buy a high quality street map focused on tourism. However, if you will be exploring only the tourist areas of a major city, better hotels and most information bureaus will have a map that will adequately meet your needs. Take two copies, as the maps are usually printed on thin paper that has a very limited durability.

• If you will be hiking, biking, or adventuring in one way or another, we suggest purchasing a  local set of topographic maps, produced by the official mapping agency of the country that you are visiting.

• If you are taking a cruise, we suggest that you take a concise, pocket-sized world atlas, which will allow you to follow your route and note the geographical setting of your ports of call. Most cruise lines will provide useful maps of the local ports symbolized with the location of most tourist highlights. Note:  these maps usually focus on limited areas and are not good references for street names and are of little value if you need to find where you are located by referring to the map.

• If you are taking a tour, you will not need a map for navigation but we suggest taking a generalized map of the area you will be visiting. The best of these types of maps contain both a country map and inset maps that cover (in limited detail) major cities and significant places of interest.



In preparation for a recent driving vacation in France, we examined a variety of products ranging from road maps of France (a single sheet showing a generalized road network) that were inexpensively priced to Road Atlases of France (a multiple page atlas showing highly detailed road network) that were relatively expensive.

We knew that we would start the trip in Calais, tour through Normandy, and then head wherever we wanted for another week or two. Our footloose planning made it impossible to map routes before we left and we wanted detailed, up-to-date maps featuring countrywide coverage for our touring. Since we were uncertain where that tour would take us, we decided that we would benefit from a detailed, road atlas product.

At the end of our deliberations, we purchased the Michelin “France Tourist and Motoring Atlas” which covers the entire country at a relatively large scale. Although the Michelin product was expensive, the atlas proved an indispensable aid due to its comprehensive portrayal of the road network in France.

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