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My Travel Map

January 5, 2012

There’s something about remembering things the way they were which is really important to me.  When I walk through old cities, I wonder what everything looked like when it was new.  Having lived in places like Bern, Switzerland, Kostroma, Russia and Charleston, South Carolina I used to imagine how people may have dressed or what the streets looked like without pavement.

As a student of history, I find it important to trace my travels.  I love taking pictures.  I love being able to look at an old picture and remember where I was when I took it, what was going on in my life, and how I felt about it.  For a matter of years now I’ve been toying with how to track my travels.

Computer programs, albeit orderly and convenient, often have some major drawbacks.  For one, they’re constantly being upgraded and made obsolete.  Without getting off on a bunny trail, I hate needing a specific platform to view them on (i.e. a computer screen).

I like making things that are permanent.  As one who has studied Rome, I’m drawn to things that don’t fall apart and disintegrate after a couple of years.  I don’t like things that need a ton of maintenance or special care.

I knew I wanted a wall map of some sort, one that I could mark on, one that would last for a long time.  I originally considered using a piece of wood.  It would be beautiful, but wall-map-size pieces of wood aren’t very convenient to take with you places.  They’re heavy, bulky, and non-compactable unless you use hinges or something, but that’s way too complex.  Either way, not something you can use when traveling lightly.

What about a paper map?  Not that there’s anything wrong with buying a paper map—it’s certainly more detailed than any map I could make with my hands—but the problem lies with its longevity.  Paper gets wet and sticks together, it falls apart.  It’s very easy to accidentally tear if you’re not careful, especially when it is creased.  You can laminate it, but then it’s difficult to mark on.  Also, your foldable National Geographic wall map isn’t exactly something most people hang up in their living room.

What I wanted was something relatively lightweight and foldable, that could be tossed into a backpack.  I wanted something tough, that didn’t need to be babied.  I also wanted something I could continue to add to for years to come that would be among my personal treasures.  I wanted it to tell my story somehow.

That’s when the idea of canvas came into my head.  Much like wood, canvas can be burnt to leave a permanent mark, while also being extremely flexible.  Canvas can be washed.  Canvas is tough.  Canvas can be painted on.  Canvas has a really old-world look to it.  That would be perfect.

This project took me several months to complete.  I don’t remember when I started it, but it was in the summer months of 2011.  I didn’t complete it until the very end of December.  But it’s pretty simple.  It’s a world map.  Countries or territories I’ve lived in are colored red, while ones I’ve visited are colored blue.  I’ve left a few places off which I’ve only made stopovers in, having never left the airport, or in some cases the aircraft.  I’ve also highlighted specific trips I’ve taken with white lines.  Black dots indicate stops along my travels or cities I’ve lived in.  Highways are gray, and rivers and shorelines are light blue.  Every time I go to a new place I just have to fill it in.

My most recent travels. Charleston, SC to Jacksonville, FL to Pensacola, FL to New Braunfels, TX (San Antonio) to Benson, AZ to Corona, CA

Bern, Switzerland: My old haunt, and other European countries.

My travels through east Africa: Bujumbura, Burundi to Muyinga, Burundi to Kahama, Tanzania to Morogoro, Tanzania to Mbeya, Tanzania to Nakonde, Zambia to Mpika, Zambia to Lusaka, Zambia to Mpulungu, Zambia across Lake Tanganyika to Bujumbura again.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 6, 2012 19:22

    What a terrific idea John. You’ve inspired me to consider doing the same even though my map would be a bit impoverished. At very least it might motivate my family and I to do a bit more traveling now that the kids are a bit older now.

    • January 6, 2012 21:57

      Yeah, go for it! Even if you decided to get a wall map and fill it in and make notes on it, you would have something very special to help you keep track of all your travels… and of course, inspire you to cross new borders.

  2. Cynthia Manrique permalink
    March 1, 2012 18:00

    I just now saw this blog post about your travel map, What a cool and original idea!! I like that tons!

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