Like many dedicated travellers, I’ve lugged more than my fair share of Lonely Planet guide books across the planet.
It all began back in the days before the digital revolution, when my constantly-referred-to, dog-eared guides had a much wittier, wry and more conversational tone than they do in today’s world of editorial ‘listicles’ and must-be-short-or-the-reader-will-zone-out prose. Lonely Planet lost something in that transition. They’re still my go-to guides, but the magic of life on the road with a Lonely Planet guide book is less potent than it once was.
So it was with great excitement, and more than a moment of nostalgic euphoria, that I discovered that the company had recently gone old school and published an atlas. That’s right, not an app, or a portal, but an actual book of maps. Suddenly, the romantic notion of picking up a pen (once upon a time it was a compass), closing your eyes, flicking open your trusty atlas and jabbing the point down on your next mystery travel destination was a possibility once more (a process that doesn’t work on a computer screen, tablet or smart phone for obvious reasons).
Physical maps have become almost completely obsolete. Now you just tap your desired destination into your phone, and Siri and her cohorts tell you exactly where to turn next. You just do as you’re told. Reading a map is a skill we are losing fast, but it’s one that this publication seeks to revive.
The Travel Atlas opens with a bit of the history of the atlas itself. While collections of maps date back to Roman times, the earliest reference to an atlas as an ‘atlas’ was in the late 1500s. Maps were precious things. They contained everything we knew of the world at the time, and imagination filled in the blanks. As colonialism gathered pace, European powers drove the mapping of newly discovered territories and gradually the world was revealed and carved up amongst the great seafaring powers of the day. Today of course, Google Earth has taken matters to a whole new level, but this modern incarnation of the atlas fails to instil any real visceral association with the destination its mapping. The Travel Atlas, on the other hand, does.
The atlas’ 448 full-colour pages are broken up by country or country clusters, and then by key regions. There’s a map for each region, and they’re beautifully presented. Derived from the publishing company’s own bank of cartography, many of the maps are a full page, and Lonely Planet attempts to imbue them with more than just geographical data. There are key cities and towns highlighted as you would expect, along with main road routes, state lines, and the location of must-see sights and things to do. When it comes to finding a specific city or town, a cross referencing grid corresponds with the index in the back of the book.
Be warned that the procedure with the pen is likely to land you on a chunk of text at least 50% of the time. A lot of this atlas is words, rather than maps. It’s almost akin to a giant global guide book, but at around 35cm high, by 27cm wide by 3.5cm thick, and weighing in at a good two or three kilograms, it’s not one you’re going to pack and take with you on your next trip. However, it is the ideal planning tool if you are looking at possible destinations for the first time and want to get an overall snapshot of what you can expect — and how long, ideally, you should stay. Each map is accompanied by a concise listing of information on the key points of interest, and even one or two suggested extended itineraries. There’s a country overview, and information on major transport hubs.
At the back of The Travel Atlas you’ll find 28 key city guides. Each features a city map and a listing of must-see sights and attractions.
It’s not all words and maps. There are images, and for such a large, glossy book, and with exceptions here and there, I found the use of them somewhat underwhelming. Lonely Planet, I’m assuming, has access to the world’s most stunning travel imagery, and more of it would have upped the allure of this coffee-table-top-dwelling behemoth.
The Travel Atlas certainly isn’t a reinvention of the wheel, and overall, the practical question that lingers is ‘why?’ But for whatever reason Lonely Planet decided to do it, I’m glad they did. It’s a wonderful tribute to mapping — and a book that will beckon you from time to time with the promise of good old-fashioned global adventure.
Cover image: Machu Picchu, Peru. ©Philip Lee Harvey/Lonely Planet
Published by Lonely Planet
November 2018 | $80.00 AUD & NZD
345mm x 265mm | 448 pages
Hardback | ISBN: 9781787016965
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. Adam has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. He worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He also appears regularly as a travel commentator on Sky News Business Class. Adam loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.