One of my earliest travel memories has nothing to do with backpacks or trans-continental trips. It's about personal travel maps, and the power they have to inspire us.
30 years ago, when I was just a little kid, I vividly remember a world map my Dad kept in a storage closet in the basement of our house. A thumb tack was stuck in each country he or my Mom, or the both of them together had visited.
When it came time for me to plot and plan my dream trip around the world as an adult, I too taped up a world map in my home, and circled all the places I wanted to go. I'd see my map every day, and it kept me motivated to keep saving money, until finally, I made my trip a reality.
So when Nick Rader of Personal Travel Maps invited me to review his new online map making service, I was immediately interested in learning more.
The concept is simple: empower travelers to create their own personalized maps online, which they can then purchase and have mailed to them for display at home, or in the office, etc.
To get started, create a free account. This allows you access to the map making tools, as well as a JPEG version of your map for display on websites and social media sites like Facebook.
But, there's currently a great deal for those willing to commit to a physical map up front. You'll save $50 immediately, plus 50% off all future map purchases.
That second part about future savings can do a lot to bring down costs, especially if you want to give these maps as gifts.
Once you're logged into the site, it's time to begin customizing your map. The first step is to choose which kind of map you want.
Options include a world map, as well as regional ones (North America, South America, Europe, Australia, Asia, and Africa). For the purpose of this review, I chose to a world map.
The next option allows you to choose the style of your map, either vintage, or satellite. At this time, only the vintage option is available, which is my preference anyways (as I believe it's easier on the eyes).
The third step allows you to control whether the oceans are colored blue or not, as well as whether you want capital cities, other major cities, and roads to appear on the map. I customized my map so that capital cities were present, but the others were not.
The roads might work OK for the map of a continent, especially if you want to plot a road trip, but it created too much clutter on the world map so I left them out too.
Next comes the fun part, choosing the colors to shade in the countries where you've visited. There are five options, green, blue, purple, yellow and red.
I decided my map was going to show all the countries I've visited so far, and set about shading them in with alternating colors.
One thing I noticed early on was that some of the very small islands, like French Polynesia, weren't available. Tahiti was the first place I visited on my trip around the world, so I wanted to see it represented somehow.
I shared my feedback with Nick, and he began to work with his developer to allow such countries to be chosen, even if they're so small they may not appear on the map. As I write this, French Polynesia is now an option.
For places like Singapore, the tiny country in southeastern Asia, I was able to choose it, but it was so small it was unable to reflect the color I picked. These are minor points, but for those who make the effort to go to far and away places, it's nice to be able to see them represented on a custom map.
To make up for this limitation, I suggested to Nick that there be a way for users to have a “country count” that indicates the number of countries he/she has visited in a Map Legend.
In addition, I thought it would be cool to see those countries listed by name. There's plenty of space to do this in the Pacific Ocean area. These new features will be available any day now.
I appreciated the responsiveness Nick showed toward my suggestions, and it's a good indication he'll continue working to refine and improve Personal Travel Maps going forward.
Once you've selected all your countries, and picked their colors, you can move on to adding icons. These are added simply by dragging and dropping them on the map.
Icons include the old school pins and thumbtacks, as well as ones to represent activities like cycling and skiing. You can also choose to number the places you visited if you want to create a sense of direction. The size and color of the icons can also be customized.
For demonstration purposes, I added some icons to my map, but my preference is to leave them off and simply have the countries I've visited shaded in different colors. I think it looks a clearer that way.
Adding the icons (if any) is the last step. After that, you can then choose to purchase your map in one of the four sizes: small ($149), medium ($199), large ($249) or huge ($349). There's also the option to download a JPG version of your map (see mine above), or simply save it for later.
Shipping is included in the price, and currently available in the United States only. I have a feeling that will change down the line, but for now the physical maps are only available in the USA.
For the purpose of writing this review, Nick was able to ship me my medium-sized map here in Colombia. The print quality is excellent, and it appears just as I customized it on the website (and as can be seen in the image above).
I posted the map above my bed with some tape. A simple frame would dress it up nicely, and make it more fitting for a home or office.
There's no easier way to gain a visual representation of where you've been, or where you want to go, than hanging a world map on your wall.
Plus, creating a custom map is the perfect gift for any traveler, and with that in mind, I'm happy to share our readers can save an additional 10% off the regular cost by using the discount code “gobackpacking” at checkout.
In short, Personal Travel Maps takes an old, inelegant process, and brings it into the digital age.
I received a complimentary map for the purpose of reviewing this service.