The Best/Worst Gift Ever… A Map.

I have a friend… you know, one of those people who is just awesome at being a friend.

She always comes up with these thoughtful little gifts that are just perfect and always remembers birthdays and holidays. (If I believed in New Year’s Resolutions, I would say that I want to be a better friend like her next year.)

So, she just sent me a map for Christmas.

And this isn’t your ordinary world map to put up on the wall. This is a “reveal where you have traveled” map… a color map covered with gold foil that you can remove like scratch tickets to reveal detail underneath. (Amazon, if you want to give or get)



The important thing is that it’s a pretty amazing gift. But it is also terrible. Here is why:

It’s the Best….

  • It’s a map. I love maps. I love the visual of them and always have. It can happily join the ranks of other maps already on my walls.
  • It looks cool. The gold foil with the random pops of color is nice. (Remember, I am a designer by trade and at heart… the visual matters.)
  • It’s fun and personal. Because it is all about me and where I have been. Personalized is always fun and keeps my place from looking too much like an Ikea advertisement.
  • It triggers great memories. Just by looking at it, (and by the scratching-off process), it reminds me of so many neat experiences. Plus, it has potential to be a humble-brag visual aide when I am feeling all humble-braggy about travel.

But it’s also the Worst…

  • Unfortunate Perspective.  I realize I am not as well-traveled as I thought. I realize how much of that darn map is not scratched off. Scale and perspective = sad face.

Including the US, I have been to 15 different countries. I only count places where I feel I have really been and experienced enough to talk about. I don’t count airport-only experiences.  And there are approximately 196 countries in the world. The number is up for contention apparently and is constantly changing.

That puts me at seeing around 7.5% of the countries that exist. Not too impressive.



Of the 7 continents I have only really spent time on two of them, plus a little Nepal blip.

  • My semester Euro-railing through Europe to see all things Architectural accounts for most of my foreign travel experiences. Scratched off 98% of my countries over those three months. (Just realized that was 8 years ago. Yikes, I am getting old.)
  • A grad school trip to Sardinia was super cool, though technically part of Italy. I did get to scratch off some foil on my map but it’s a pretty small island… not even labeled.
  • 5 weeks trekking and working in Nepal? One tiny reveal in a sea of unseen Asia.
  • Solo adventure to Puerto Rico? Seemed like a big deal at the time, and I did know I was visiting a small island but still… do you have any idea how TINY Puerto Rico is when you look at it in context? And technically it’s still the United States.

I use the same no-airport philosophy for counting states as I do countries. In our good ole’ US of A., I have experienced 26 states. Actually that isn’t too bad. Breaking 50%. And I will be honest that there are a handful of states that simply don’t appeal to me.

(I would like to see Maine and South Carolina though… I hear they are B-E-A-utiful)


Sometimes taking stock of your experiences is a mixed-bag of emotions.

Obviously these percentages and counts and the visual representation of how “worldly” I am wouldn’t bother me so much if I didn’t love to travel. If I didn’t have the underlying need to explore and experience new places and cultures and worlds, I wouldn’t care about a mostly un-scratched map.

But I do. I want to reveal ALL OF THE PLACES. (Yes, even those that are probably a bad idea for me to go visit as a solo white female. I probably won’t, but the desire exists.)

I know that travel isn’t about the numbers. And deep down, I don’t care about the numbers and percentages. What bothers me… what makes this the best/worst gift ever is just looking at the whole wide world up on my wall and realizing how much of it I have seen.

And how much of it I haven’t seen. And how much of it I WANT to see.

It’s one thing to express desire to experience Morocco and New Zealand and Argentina and Moscow and Tanzania. It’s another to see them waiting on your wall every day.



Or maybe this was my friend’s secret and maniacal plan to motivate me to visit her in Japan where she is currently living?

If so, then well played my friend… well played.

3 thoughts on “The Best/Worst Gift Ever… A Map.

  1. My parents got me this map a couple years ago for Christmas, and I like you thought it was the best/worst gift ever! I thought I was well-traveled, but this map broke my heart a little. Ha! At the same time it’s inspiring! You have me beat on countries- I’ve only been to seven countries including the US and I’ve been to 47 of the states! I’m hoping to add a lot more next year! Cheers to 2014 and great post!

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