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The one tip I’d give to anyone who wants to travel is to buy a Peters Map of the world. It should in fact be a mandatory possession for anyone who goes through education in a developed nation, but it’s not – so go fetch one now.

A Mercator Projection (Source: Wikipedia) - It's great for navigation but it distorts the world we live in.

Why? Because the map we’re all used to and the one that appears on pretty much every atlas and every globe is a Mercator projection. OK, but what’s wrong with that?

The Mercator map is a very clever concept, and was invented by a chap called Gerardus Mercator a Flemish chap who ended up in Germany to escape persecution for his religious beliefs. His map was intended to help solve problems for those who wished to navigate the globe, however he had to overcome a problem – the earth is a sphere. It’s very difficult if not impossible to make an accurate spherical map.

So he cheated and used cylinders as his basis for mapping the world, this is very handy for navigators at sea. It means that the gridlines used are straight and function that way in the real world, so plotting courses is simply a question of drawing a line and then heading that way.

Don't let the criticism of the map in today's world fool you - Gerardus Mercator was a very bright chap and his map is a very useful tool in the right circumstances. (Source: Wikipedia)

However this approximation (which is a series of mathematical rules applied to scales to get an accurate map of longitude and latitude) – distorts the sizes of countries, particularly as you get closer to the equator. In fact Greenland is shown on a standard Mercator map as being the same size as Africa, and that’s not terribly useful as Africa is in fact 14 times the size of Greenland! This also affects China (and is thus relevant to this blog) again Greenland and China appear to be the same size, and yet China is 4 times larger! You also can’t properly show the Polar Regions on a Mercator projection as the distortion factor becomes infinitely large at the poles, thanks to the equation.

So what’s a Peters Map? It’s a map where all countries are shown by the same measurements of area, and the axes (North-South, East-West) are all given equal bearing. It may not be as useful to navigators but for the traveler –it opens up your eyes as to how big things really are. A quick glance at China or Africa, shows this to be true – they’re huge! Where once they were tiny blobs on the map, now you can appreciate the scale of a place you travel too.

A Peters Map (source: Peters Map) - See how different the world looks? It's a much more exciting place.

I had a Peters Map on the wall back home in the UK, I used to sit there with my (now ex-) girlfriend and marvel at it. It takes some time to understand how euro-centric the model you are used to is, and how enormous the world is. It also enables you to see a lot of countries much more clearly, and inspires you to try and see a lot more of the world in your lifetime. But one word of warning, please don’t use it to pilot a ship – not unless recreating the Titanic is on your list of things to do anyway.

You can buy a Peters Map direct from them at http://www.petersmap.com/table.html – please note, I’m not on any comission for this recommendation. Nor do the folks at Peters Map endorse this blog, or content in anyway shape or form.