My problem with scratch maps
I have an unpopular opinion to share today, but we need to stop commoditizing the world.
Do you know those fun maps of our planet where you can “scratch” off a layer of metallic protection to reveal specific countries underneath? Those maps designed to showcase your worldly insights with a side of bragging rights. Yea those.
Well now is a good time to thank my friend Tricia (who doesn’t know I’m writing this) for so kindly gifting me one of these scratch maps this winter. See I live abroad and I travel a lot so it would seem like the perfect collector's item for me.
But this is not the case.
And to explain, I would like to start with a rhetorical question: Why do you travel?
For me, it’s easy. I travel to connect to a unique culture with the goal of learning something I can take with me; I hope this mindset is similar for others.
To learn, grown, and expand ourselves should be a top reason to chose to travel abroad.
Countries and cultures are getting more accessible, but learning about the world does not a marathon make. A quick weekend for two days to check-off another capital does not give the same experience as a longer deep dive into the countryside. But are both deserving of scratching the new country off my map? Do airport layovers count? (No layovers don’t count — but a stopover could maybe)
An additional problem is the size and variety of individual countries. I’ve been to Barcelona for 5 days, but should I be scratching off all of Spain? It sure doesn’t feel like I’ve “been to Spain” or have a full grasp on the Spanish culture.
Many capital cities feel like insulated bubbles within the rest of the country. Because of this, I have rarely felt like I could personally fully grasp a culture after a simple city visit. While walking tours and exploring the cuisine do go far, those experiences alone rarely make me want to “check” a destination off of my list.
All of this boils down to a much more important mindset. When traveling for enjoyment, we should prioritize quality over quantity. Giving yourself time to take in the minutia of a destination will give you a further nuanced perspective. If you are traveling to learn, then time is the greatest gift you can give yourself.
Scratch maps remind me a lot of our desire to brag on social media. It’s only human to search for positive feedback from our peers and showing off our recent holiday on social media will typically receive plenty of attention. And to remind others of our past “cultural exploits” via scratch map visualization may be another great example of how our trips aren’t providing any extension in cultural awareness.
I for one, hope to continue to see our world with open eyes. In traveling to 30-ish countries in my lifetime, I feel the authority to say that we need to slow down! A bragging list of locations you’ve stepped foot into isn’t going to make you a better person.
If we are able to think of these scratch maps like street maps, then I may be on board. Exploring a city is best taken one step at a time.
Neil Brinckerhoff. Travel Specialist. Californian-Czech, Neil currently lives in Prague, Czech Republic which he uses as a home base to travel and explore our world. neilbrinck.com