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Whenever I travel, I browse through my fun book, 52 Ways to Walk, to see if I can find one that works with my trip. So far, I always have.
On my recent trip to Savannah, Georgia, I selected number 24, Walk With a Map. With my illustrated map of historical downtown Savannah packed in my carry on, I looked forward to carrying out this activity.
Check out why using a map in an unfamiliar area is actually beneficial!
Imagining a Place
In her book, author Annabel Streets tells the story of a young woman who finds herself homeless in Paris in 1924, after her brother disappears. Phyllis Pearsall quickly learns how to navigate the city, even though the only map she possesses is one she memorized. Covered with newspapers at night, camped under a bridge, Phyllis pulls up that mental map and practices finding her way around Paris.
As she explores, she learns landmarks and comes to recognize what time of day it is by the scents she sniffs in the air. Baking bread and hot chocolate mean it is still morning. Chicken and galettes signal midday. And frying fish, garlic and meat cooking mean evening has arrived.
Phyllis eventually becomes one of the most successful mapmakers in the world. She creates the first A – Z map of London and then the Geographer’s A – Z Map Company.
She is a testament to what neuroscientists have now learned: every walk is an opportunity to grow the brain.
How Walking With a Map Boosts the Brain
Neuroscientists suggest that the hippocampus, the part of the brain used for navigation, grows as we use it and shrinks in size when we don’t.
Studies of London cabdrivers, who must learn to navigate that huge city, have oversized hippocampi, due to their skills in finding their way through London.
Sadly, technology today takes away our ability to navigate by landmarks or maps. It’s too easy to pull up GPS to find our way to an unfamiliar destination.
Our reliance on technology is shrinking essential parts of our brains, making us more prone to dementia. How can we keep our brains more healthy?
Walk with a map. The hippocampus stores place memories. In a new location, we begin to create spatial memories that are stored in special cells. We create a brand new mental map as we walk and gather information.
Additionally, researchers found that the region of the brain responsible for spatial navigation also plays a part in prediction, imagination and creativity. It also helps with social navigation and building relationships.
Tips for Walking with a Map
In a new to you location, start with a general idea of your destination, without setting a time limit on getting there. Cities are good because they offer multiple ways to get to a place.
Study the map of the area before beginning the walk. Note the direction you’ll travel and try to stay away from overly busy highways or freeways.
As you walk, identify landmarks such as tall buildings, large trees, church steeples and anything that catches your attention because of interests you have. Using landmarks to navigate is known as landmark-based piloting.
And finally, use your senses. What do you hear as you walk? A chiming clock in a tower is good or the smell of bread baking in the corner bakery. Refer to your map to mark where those sounds or smells are and let those places serve as locational markers.
Pause as needed to get your bearings. Sit in a park, and remember that park as a marker. Study the map. Resist the urge to pull up GPS.
Once you find your destination, congratulate yourself! Well done. Now….see if you can find your way back to your hotel…or to another destination in the city.
My Experience on my Walk with a Map
I love the illustrated maps from Karpovage Creative. I have one for Charleston and Savannah and I’ve used them in both cities. One of the reasons I appreciate them is because they have historical buildings and locations marked on the map. That helps me find those visual markers more easily.
Every evening, I studied my map and made notes about what I wanted to explore the next day. It became a nightly ritual that I enjoyed as I sipped a cup of hot tea.
One of my planned activities was to find all 22 squares in Savannah’s historical district. They are laid out in a grid, so once you find one, you can figure out where the next one is.
However, more than once, I wandered away from the square I’d located. After realizing I had no idea exactly where I was, I’d pull out the map and study it to head in the right direction for the next square. I found them all.
The map also helped me get an idea of where the restaurants were that I wanted to try and how far the walk was to the meeting place for the ghost tour.
My Mental Map of Savannah
After spending five days in Savannah, and using my map as needed, I feel like I have a very good mental map of Savannah. Landmarks such as City Hall near River Street, Johnson Square, the Cathedral Basilica of St John and the Mercer House all became visual markers that helped me navigate. I knew I was headed in the direction of the river when I heard the barges or the cry of seagulls. And I could tell about what time it was by the trolleys going by and the delicious scents wafting from restaurants. I hope that means I came home with a bigger brain!
If walking provides an important form of exercise and relaxation for you, then 52 Ways to Walk is for you!
The activities are so varied and the information in each chapter is well presented and motivational.
Interested in Savannah?
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