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Maps and Guidebooks

Maps, schnapps!  Trying to decide whether one map is better than another is a hard task.  We describe how to evaluate maps for "goodness of fit" to your needs.  Many people just buy the first one they find. Don't make that mistake.  Read our article before you purchase.




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Travel Advice - What makes a "good" map?

The key to selecting a good map is based on your understanding of its currentness, coverage, and content.

Currentness  refers to whether the map is up-to-date.

  • The publication date should be noted on the map and is usually found in one of the following locations: on the cover, in the title/map information box, on the main map, or in the copyright notice.
    • Maps over two years old may not be a bargain.  Try to buy a map dated the same year as your travel.
  • Many map publishers disguise or omit the date in hopes that you will buy their product whether it is current or not.


Buying a current map is important since geographic information changes, especially information related to streets, roads, and route numbers.

  • Examples of common changes include new roads, streets, highways, highway exits, numbering changes,  ramp details, and construction.
  • Always buy the most current edition that you can find. If you find a map that appears dated, ask the store if this is the most recent edition or if a more current edition can be ordered.
  • If a store is unable to order the most current map for you, contact the publisher at their internet address (usually listed on their product’s cover), or try another store.
  • Most online bookseller Websites are not the place to buy road maps.
    • Often, searching for the map you want is difficult because no details on the map content are provided.
    • In addition, the list of maps online booksellers provide often include very dated titles.

Coverage (a real word this time) refers to the actual geography that is represented on the map.

  • Make sure that the map that you buy includes the geography that you will be visiting.
    • Map covers are often used to list the names of towns shown with detailed coverage.
  • The greatest variations in coverage between map publishers usually occur in “city street maps” and “sectional, touring maps”.
  • In general, “country maps” or country specific “road atlases” published by different companies should have approximately the same coverage.


Content refers to the data ingredients of the map.

  •  Don’t assume that all maps of a particular geography are the same, as cartographers make maps for specific uses and attempt to tailor the map content to enhance this use.
    • The amount of information and the detail of the information shown on a map are a function of the map scale which acts as a limit on the cartographer’s ability to represent information (see our article What does map scale mean and how to use it?).
    •  Publishers utilize different levels of detail, depending on the needs of the traveler they are trying to attract.
    • As a general rule of thumb, when comparing two country maps, the map on the larger sheet of paper will contain more detail at a larger, more readable scale.

You should attempt to match the kinds of content contained in the map with the type of vacation that you are taking.

  • If you plan to tour by driving, then, you will need map detail that includes towns (delineated by size), classes of roads (from highways to local roads), important details of road geometry (entrances, exits, bridges, tunnels, and ramps), and information on points of interest (things to see and do but also including the locations of hospitals, rest stops, toll booths, etc).
  • Conversely, if your transportation has been arranged, you might be interested in a product that has less road detail but is focused on providing detailed inset maps and photographs of the tourist destinations that you will be visiting.

The staff at most good map stores and some travel stores have are well versed on cartographic products. The problem here is that there are not many map stores to be found in the US.

  • While you will find good collections of maps in most major bookstore chains, it is likely that no one on the staff will have a good understanding of the relative merits of the maps they sell.
  • The best advice we can give, in this case, is to open the map, compare it with the competition, and decide which seems to meet you needs.
  • We have provided a list of the brands that we think produce the best products by country but these products may not always be available to you (see Who produces the best product where?).

One general rule of thumb that you might find useful:  maps produced by publishing houses that are based in a country will usually have better quality, more up-to-date maps than those products provided by a publisher located in a distant country.

  • For example, if you are looking for a good quality road atlas of France, consider a Michelin product rather than one offered by a publisher based in America. 
  • In some cases, maps provided by one publisher are "repackaged" for sale by a publisher in another country. 
    • Look at the copyright notice to determine the name of the actual map publisher.

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