I’ve always liked maps. I like knowing where I am and where I am going. Call me a control freak but that’s just the way I am.  And in the 21st century, it’s all very well to rely solely on the internets on  smartphones but, as I discovered in Paris recently, when your phone goes down you are royally screwed. I was left wandering fruitlessly with no idea how to find a metro at one end, or where the museum I was heading for was at the other end. (And, yes, I do speak French, but there was no one around, and anyway I was a fifteen minute very indirect route from the metro. I didn’t fancy my luck.)

My obsession with knowing where I am going, both in advance and in real time, has been the cause of some spectacular arguments. I will never forget the giant battle on the French peage that I had with an old boyfriend when we were driving home to England from Angles where I go each summer. I was driving my old scarlet boy racer Toyota; he had the map in his hands.

And that’s where it stayed. He refused point blank to let me look at the map. I am one of those lucky people with a photographic memory, so I find that if I read a map once, I will remember the broad outline of where I need to go during my journey, with little or no need to recourse to the map again.  So, whilst I always appreciate a co-pilot or GPS reminding me where to go, I like to have a route in in my head so I know where I am going well in advance. (Co-pilots – both human and mechanical – are overly fond of making you turn at a moment’s notice.)

Unfortunately this boyfriend felt that it meant I didn’t trust him, hence the huge fight.

Fortunately, in these days of GPS the map thing is no longer such an issue, and I have come to rely on it to the extent where in a strange place I been known to leave the house without actually checking my route in advance.  And I do wonder how I ever got anywhere quickly without having a disembodied voice guiding me to my destination.

Driving out of LAX for example onto the freeway back in 2009 I think I would have died if I haven’t had a GPS commanding me to change lanes. With all those lanes of traffic and a paper map I would have been screwed. That being said I don’t use it in cities like  London and New York which I know like the back of hand. But mostly I rejoice that there will be no more driving down country lanes in the pitch dark squinting at an upside down map, trying to steer with one hand.

BUT. Even with my new found love of the GPS, there are three mini street atlases that I wouldn’t be without. They are:

My friend Emma introduced me to the Plan de Paris par arrondissement, available at all Parisian newsstands for the grand sum of six euros. It’s a small map of the city, arranged by its numbered sectors (the arrondissements), which is incredibly useful when people start referring to the 1e or the 6e and so on. Reading this is a great way to learn what is exactly IN each arrondisement, and helps understand the character of each neighbourhood.

Pre-smartphone, no Londoner could possibly have existed without multiple battered copies of the A-Z, produced by The Geographers A-Z Map Company. Essentially: these are the maps are kept London going. I had them on my desk, by the ‘phone, in the car, in my handbag… I still find them helpful, and still wouldn’t dream of driving anywhere without one in my glovebox.

I was sent Philip’s Street Atlas of London recently with its natty Union flag cover. It’s perfect for keeping on my desk for quick reference, and it has handy things like bus routes in the back. I think it would make a lovely present for someone visiting, or new, to the city.

Philip’s Street Atlas of London £6.74
Plan de Paris par arrondissement, £3.96
London Mini Street Atlas (paperback) by Geographers A-Z Map Company £4.75

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I love maps and have a photographic memory too! I used to let ex-boy ‘be in control’ on the road. In the end, I had to butt in and help. A better win that way 😀


When I moved to London in 2008 my A-Z was my lifeline. It got so battered and became a bit of a talisman as I got to grips with the city. Only a few years later … it is completely obsolete! I definitely think I got a better geographic sense of the city with a proper map though and I like to keep my old copy on my bookshelf.


I too love maps but have awful sense of direction and often get lost royally – just last night I couldn’t find Soho House in London (I’ve been a member for at least 10 years!!!) after the new iPhone map told me Greek Street in London doesn’t exists.



One of my favourite ways to spend an afternoon is to pick a page on a map and go and have a wander. I’ve been doing this a lot since I moved from the UK to Brussels a couple of months ago. It is a wonderful way to get to know the neighbourhood, find handsome streets, gorgeous parks, cafes and shops of course.


Buying a London A-Z was the first thing I did after checking in. It was invaluable.



Do you have a sat nav for the UK and Europe and a separate one for the USA?

Last time I was in the States I had a rental car with one in it and there is no way I could have gone anywhere without it. It was also the first time I had been driving on my own. I was driving in Washington DC and surrounding areas. I would have had a nervous breakdown and an accident if I’d been forced to use a map.


Although I’ve come to rely on my smartphone for directions, I find it frustrating that I can only see “bits” at a time. There’s nothing like spreading a good ol’ paper map and seeing the whole picture.


That’s a great tip re. the Paris map. I’ve taken to screen grabbing the route to and around where I want to go on my phone just in case my 3G dies when I’m out – a trick that’s saved me a few times on holiday. Fun map fact: a friend who worked for one of the major map companies said they add in the odd non-existent, made up street to their maps in case anyone tries to copy/reproduce without permission.

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