The Lost Art of Navigating By Map
Moments later, in an uncanny conflation of worlds real and imagined, I found myself reading about that same experience.
“No invention has been more contrary to the spirit of cartography than these airplane maps,” writes Valeria Luiselli in her 2013 compilation of essays, Sidewalks. “A map is a spatial abstraction; the imposition of a temporal dimension—whether in the form of a chronometer or a miniature plane that advances in a straight line across space—is in contradiction to its very purpose.”
This passage resonated with the plans my partner, Vanessa, and I had made for our California holiday: a two-week California road trip that would begin in the Bay Area, trace the coast down to Big Sur, then zip back up through Napa Valley and the redwoods before heading north into Oregon.
At home in Toronto, booking campsites and bed and breakfasts online, Vanessa had mentioned that, years ago, her family had blazed a similar trail using something called a TripTik Travel Planner. I’d never heard of such a thing, as my own family vacations had tended to involve rented cottages (fun) and culturally edifying visits to India (less so).
TripTik, she explained, is a service provided to members of the Canadian Automobile Association. Back in the late 1980s, when Vanessa was a kid, her dad would head to the local CAA outlet with a holiday plan, and an agent would plot a route for him in highlighter on a series of coil-bound maps. The TripTik was supplemented with relevant TourBooks, which detailed regional attractions, accommodations and restaurants along the way. I was intrigued: like many quintessentially Canadian experiences that often elude the kids of South Asian immigrants (hockey, sloppy joes, sunburns), this seemed like something I might reclaim now, as an adult.
One of the great ironies of the coast around Silicon Valley is that it hosts a number of wireless dead zones. So, faced with the prospect of being technologically marooned, we decided not just to TripTik our route but to forgo satellite navigation entirely—no GPS, no Google Maps, no smartphones. Maybe freeing ourselves from virtual mediation would foster a more engaged travel experience; maybe it would be inconvenient and irritating. But for the sake of nostalgia, both real (hers) and invented (mine), we thought we’d give it a shot.