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Get out the maps

Matt Villano

Forget those GPS units, parents; if you have kids and you travel, it’s time to whip out paper maps once again.

My theory: These maps are the best way to get the littlest little ones stoked about a road trip (or any kind of trip, for that matter). The old-school options are easy-to-read, easy-to-understand and tangible manifestations of the act of travel, demonstrating in one digestible glance where you’ll start, where you’re headed and precisely how you’ll get there.

Beside, toddler-aged kids love repetition—meaning they might be the only humans on Earth who actually enjoy folding and unfolding paper maps.

We learned all of this first-hand in the context of our recent trip to Canada. For the first few days of the week before we left, L and I spent hours in front of the PC, studying static maps on Google that charted our trip. She never really seemed interested. I, in turn, got frustrated.

When I pulled down a shoebox of paper maps, however, her entire demeanor changed.

Suddenly, she had questions. Why are some roads red? Why are others blue? How many miles is it from A to B? If a place is written in small letters and not big ones, is it a city or a town?

I responded in kind, then used a highlighter to mark our particular route (if you’re old enough to remember AAA’s flip-top TripTik, this was my inspiration). She must have traced the line with her finger three dozen times. Then she folded and unfolded the thing three dozen more.

My big girl’s love-affair with maps culminated on the road itself, when she asked to have the map in the backseat, scanned it like a scholar, and proceeded to offer a precocious running commentary on our progress (“We're driving toward the ocean” or “Nanaimo is in big letters; it must be a big city”). She sounded like one of those automated GPS robots, only cuter.

With our next trip on the horizon—we’re living in Hawaii for the month of June—L has been clamoring for maps of Maui and the Big Island (they’re coming, I swear). Her interest and curiosity has been infectious, sparking new excitement for me and Powerwoman every time.

In my opinion, this shared sense of wonder is what family travel is all about. We haven’t even left the mainland yet, and already, we’ve won.

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