Some things in life are better in their original intended state; digital watches seem like they should be the future, yet the beauty of analog watches prevail. Likewise, when done correctly, maps are really most ideal in their paper form. Though books and everything else are becoming increasingly digital, one European company has found a way to allow paper to make a comeback.
What Are USE-IT Maps?
USE-IT bills itself as “tourist info for young people.” They take a dramatically different course than most travel guides and planners, catering to the younger and more independent travelers who want to have a taste of what the city really has to offer. It is a non-profit organization which seems wholeheartedly against making money off travelers, and the maps they offer are free of charge. Currently, it is a European endeavor, and there are not yet any plans to expand into non-European markets.
The maps which are created through USE-IT are unique; they are quirky, witty, and funky, and it becomes immediately apparent how they can be admired and appreciated by most travelers, whether or not they fit the organization’s primary target group. And since English has become the de facto language of choice among travelers around the world, it is the language of each and every USE-IT map.
Currently, there are USE-IT maps for about two dozen cities in 14 countries throughout Europe. The main office of USE-IT Europe probably has certain parameters for how each should look, but each map for every different city is unique, as it is curated by teams of locals in the cities they represent. The organization, though providing these free services, won’t accept sponsored listings placements from any restaurant, hotel, or other institution; every place that is listed on the maps are genuinely recommended places of interest. Local artists design each map to reflect the appeal and essence of each city differently.
Unique Features of USE-IT Maps
There are so many features that make the USE-IT maps great, that it is difficult to know where to begin. Most of the written content is humorously witty, and whether or not one travels to a USE-IT destination, its map is sure to be a delight to read. The maps, though different from city to city, all feature doodle-like drawings, colorful print that is easy to read, and concise, useful information.
The Map – The maps all have a similar legend system, denoting sightseeing, of course, but they also have color-coded markers which are numbered for food spots, metro stations, cash machines, hostels, bars, internet cafes, shopping, and more. These numbers correspond with a detailed paragraph about each recommendation spread around the map and on the reverse side. And the distance guide: rather than show what equals a kilometer, they give a line across that shows just how many minutes in walking that distance should be.
The Bruges’ map has an icon for fries on their legend, while the Brussels’ one has that and also an icon of a dryer for where to find laundromats. The map of Ghent has a legend that includes many popular graffiti walls around the city. The Ljubljana legend offers where to find the popular Slovenian treat, burek.
Act Like a Local – Other than the map portion, the “Act Like a Local” section is worth checking out. Advice is given here such as if and how much to tip, common social courtesy, streets to avoid (overly touristy), and what to buy as a souvenir. The Prague map colorfully warns you to “Watch out for dog shit! Some people say it brings money, but… you know….” Because it is curated by locals, it is full of up-to-date information that can show you the not-so-touristy side of the city, and with a comical flair. For example, here’s one fact from Antwerp’s “Act Like a Local” section:
Torino’s ALaL section has one that warns tourists there to “Never say you enjoyed Milan! We’ll take a day off just to show you around and convince you how much better our city is!” Though I went to Torino just recently with my best friends who are locals, I wish I had this map when I was there!
Around/Surroundings – Each maps seems to also include their version of what is worth seeing within a reasonable distance of the focus city. This section puts the city in the middle, with several points of interest on all sides of it, along with the time and distance to travel there.