I don't know where to start. The importance of maps.

My actual map and route for my round the world trip.
Yes, this is an after view of it, but you get the idea. Look at the whole picture. 

"Sawrah, I don't know where to start planning my trip." I hear this a lot, so I figured I should let you know how I start to plan a trip. (Everyone does it a little differently of course.)

If you are a normal person, aka not me, you probably have a list of places and things you want to see if you a) had the vacation time and b) saved enough money. If you don't have one of these mental lists that's ok, I've never had one. (I want to go everywhere anyways and who needs a list for that :)).Trips tend to show up in my dreams at night and then I start seeing things related to them in my waking life, that's how I know it's time to go. True story.

Whether you have a list or not, you should always start by looking at the map. A map, what's that? If you don't have a world map/globe in your home, I think everyone should, head on over to google maps and take a look. If you have a specific country in mind, start to familiarize yourself with that map. If not, just start looking and see what jumps out at you, what you are drawn to.

 For examples sake, let's say Ireland is at the top of your list (I'm using Ireland because it's one of my faves and it's a smaller country size wise). Familiarizing yourself with the map does a couple things for you, one, it shows you how big the country is, two, you can easily figure out what the major cities are, three, you can get a good idea of the terrain and four, it helps to have seen the map in case you get lost.

I know, I know what you are thinking, "who uses a map these days?" or "I won't get lost, I have GPS." This might be true but knowing where the major cities are and which direction they are located from each other and how far is very helpful once you are on the ground and in country. It creates confidence off the bat, helps you feel familiar with your surroundings even though you aren't and you can speak intelligently to local people when you are getting directions. People like to know you have taken an interest in learning about their country even if it is just the basic geography. It also helps a lot if you are driving or taking trains. And believe it or not, there are still places Google can't go. The Scottish highlands for one and Norway for another.  In fact, while in Norway, I saw an ad campaign with that exact slogan. "Go where google can't." Brilliant!

This may seem like an outdated method, but time and again, it has proven useful for me from safety perspective as well as a trip enhancement perspective. When you are stressed and freaked out about being lost in place you have never been, it changes the tenor of the day and could change the trip. Your driving changes, and so does your awareness of space and place. Some light research ahead of time can quell some of this. If only to help jog your memory while driving down the road, "I've seen the name of that town before! It's near x, in the direction of y." I am a wanderer and I always find things I am not looking for because I don't use GPS, looking at the map ahead of time and then running with it has served me in so many adventures and creating unique experiences for myself.

Visiting the map ahead of time informs you culturally as well by zero-ing in on natural borders, different landscapes and showing you what is in the area. It is always my first step in planning travel and I recommend it is yours too!

Thanks for reading! Open the doors to exploration!