10 Great Gifts for Map Lovers and Travelers

Check out our list of unique maps sure to please your geographically inclined friends and family.

If you’re looking for a holiday gift for someone who loves maps—or someone who loves to travel, or loves where they live, or drinks beer, or went to college—you’ve come to the right place. We love all those things too, so we’ve made a wish list of cool, mappy stuff that we’d be thrilled to see under the tree this year.

With prices ranging from US$13 to a thousand dollars, there’s bound to be something for everyone. You might even find a gift for that one person who’s always so hard to cross off your list.

If you really want to make an impression, though, take a few minutes before you present this gift to read up on the Dymaxion map—Buckminster Fuller’s world projection that makes Earth’s landmass appear as a single island in one ocean. You could casually mention that Fuller called his map a “satisfactory deck plan of the six and one-half sextillion tons Spaceship Earth.”

(And if you think the Dymaxion projection is cool but your budget is small, get this nifty little Dymaxion folding globe for just US$15.)

Haptic Lab has lots of other great map quilts of cities, coasts, and constellations, including quilts for babies and DIY quilt kits for your crafty, mappy friends that cost just US$38 (fabric not included).The waterproof, dot-gridded pages of the Expedition notebook from Field Notes are super-practical for sketching maps out in the real world. But it’s the added touch of a topographic map of Antarctica—subtly printed into the varnish on the front and back cover—that makes these little notebooks supercool. Measuring 3.5 inches by 5.5 inches, they retail for US$12.95 a three pack—the perfect stocking stuffer.


A subtle topographic map of Antarctica on the front and back of Field Notes’s Expedition notebook adds a cartographic flourish.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BETSY MASON

Field Notes makes another fun series of notebooks for geography nerds. Each of the 50 states (and Washington, D.C.) gets its own version of the County Fair edition, filled with state facts, figures, and weird trivia. Did you know, for instance, that California’s official state insect is the California dogface butterfly? We all have people on our list who seem to already have everything—and who also seem to come up with thoughtful gifts for you every time. The pressure’s always on to reciprocate in kind.


Get your hometown on a USGS map made into a puzzle.
PHOTOGRAPH BY NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC 

Fortunately, if this person likes maps—or puzzles, or where they live—you’re in luck. They almost certainly don’t have a custom-made National Geographic puzzle—made from a US Geological Survey topographic map—of their hometown. But now you can buy one, on sale, for US$70. How thoughtful of you!


This map of natural and industrial resources in the United States is based on a style from the 1940s.
MAP BY STEPHEN SMITH

The map lovers in your life probably have several atlases and coffee-table books full of historically important maps. But they probably don’t have the brand-new Atlas of Design—and they’re sure to love it. It’s a collection of beautiful, modern maps made by working cartographers, hand-selected by members of the North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS).

You can read more about it—and see a few more of the 32 maps inside—in my previous post. Featuring great cartography, this lovely book has a sleek, black, minimalist cover. It costs US$35, and you’ll need to order it directly from NACIS. (You can also get a print of the map above directly from the cartographer Stephen Smith.)

I wouldn’t wait too long, though. Last I checked, they had just 42 copies left.


Wear your geography with these T-shirts that feature cities all over the world, including Amsterdam (left) and London (right).
PHOTOGRAPH
BYCITEE FASHION

Citee Fashion was born out of a Kickstarter campaign that earned 10 times its funding goal. Today, the British company makes T-shirts printed with black-and-white road maps of cities all over the world. There are 174 to choose from, so you’re bound to find one you like. I think the maps of New Orleans and Helsinki are particularly nice.

These maps are made using data from OpenStreetMap. The shirts, from American Apparel, are 100 percent polyester and will run you £28.


You can help save this 1775 map of the Florida and Louisiana coasts by British cartographer Thomas Jefferys.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY NORMAN B. LEVENTHAL MAP CENTER, BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY

If you have serious map lovers on your list this year, they’ll undoubtedly appreciate a donation in their names to save an actual, historical map in desperate need of restoration and conservation. The Boston Public Library’s wonderful Norman B. Leventhal Map Center has hundreds of maps—like the 1775 nautical chart above—that are torn or stained or otherwise need help.

You can choose to save a specific map or atlas for anywhere from US$75 to US$24,000. Or you can give a gift of any amount that will go to the map in greatest need at the moment. Once a map is saved, it will be digitized and put online for anyone to enjoy.


The best-selling town for these college-map glasses? State College, Pennsylvania—home of Penn State University’s renowned geography program.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY THE UNCOMMON GREEN

Know anyone who likes beer and went to college? If so, that’s a friend worth keeping. Shell out US$28 for pair of pint glasses wrapped in street maps from the home base of your friend’s alma mater.

You can choose from dozens of major college towns in the US, including Cambridge, Massachusetts; Madison, Wisconsin; and Berkeley, California. And if the beer drinker on your list went to a less well known school, you can get a custom-etched glass with a map of Orem, Utah, or Conway, Arkansas, for just a few dollars more.

The Uncommon Green has a bunch of other mappy glasses and gifts as well.


See how Boston grew with these cool map coasters that show changes through time.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY UNCOMMONGOODS

You’ll obviously need some coasters for those map glasses you bought, and UncommonGoods has several options. My favourite is the acrylic coaster set, which illustrates how different cities grew over time. Boston (shown above) is a great example because so much of it is on man-made land; you can see how the city expanded into the harbor as it grew. Los Angeles is another neat one. Other options include Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, and Austin, Texas.

Until December 13, you can get a customized set of four map coasters for US$65. If you miss the deadline, you can print out a card with a photo of the coasters, then put that under the tree. I think the best thing about these coasters is that they actually include a scale bar! Another option from Uncommon Goods is a neat set of wooden coasters with a map of neighborhoods from select US cities, including Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon.

A 3-D printed map of Canyonlands in Utah will make a unique and surprising gift.
PHOTOGRAPH BY
LISAGRAHOFF

A three-dimensional relief map of a beautiful landscape like Canyonlands (above) or the Teton Range of the Rocky Mountains will surprise map geeks, travellers, and hikers alike. Made by digital cartographer Ian Grasshoff, who makes 3-D printed models as well, these maps are based on open-source data and software.

Grasshoff has already created plenty of models of places like Lake Tahoe, Mount Hood, and Hawaii, with prices ranging from US$56 to US$470. But you can also ask him to make a model of any place you like. A custom map might not arrive in time for the holidays, but it will surely be worth the wait.


Put a piece of Italy, in 3-D, on your wall.
PHOTO COURTESY CHISEL AND MOUSE

If a 3-D mountain scape isn’t your taste, how about a 3-D map of an iconic city, like Rome (above)? You can also choose from Venice, London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, New York, or Chicago, with prices ranging from US$215 to US$965.

Chisel & Mouse makes models of individual buildings as well. If you’ve got a little more time and a lot more money, they’ll make a map of any cityscape you like.

Betsy Mason is a science journalist who co-authors the National Geographic blog All Over the Map.

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