Photograph by Kirsten Sparenborg Brinton
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A watercolor map of Spokane, Washington in the process of being painted by Kirsten Sparenborg Brinton of Turn-of-the-Centuries.
Photograph by Kirsten Sparenborg Brinton

10 unique gifts for map lovers and travelers

Make it a "Mappy Holiday" with this list of unusual, map-inspired gifts.

Do you have map-lovers, world travelers, or geography nerds on your holiday shopping list this year? Of course you do! And we’re here to help you find a perfect mappy gift that will surprise and delight them. We’ve been collecting unique, map-related ideas all year long, and with items ranging from $15 to $2,350, there’s something for everybody’s inner explorer in our carto-gift guide this year.

1. Putting it together

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Continents can be arranged in different configurations with the wooden Earth Puzzle.

This gorgeous 442-piece Earth Puzzle features satellite imagery from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites printed on thick birch plywood. The puzzle has 16 special pieces in the shapes of animals found around the globe, while the rest is carved into a swirl of interlocking appendages that resemble a brain coral. But the coolest feature of this puzzle is that it has no edges and can be assembled into countless different configurations.

The Earth Puzzle, made by the Nervous System design studio, costs $120, and because it is made on demand, you should place your order right away. Nervous System also makes a Moon Puzzle (186 pieces, $60), and an Infinite Galaxy Puzzle (236 pieces, $120).

2. Reading all about it

All Over the Map is a beautiful new coffee-table book published by National Geographic (October 2018) showcasing more than 200 gorgeous maps and the incredible stories behind them. Written by journalists Betsy Mason and Greg Miller (full disclosure: that’s us!), this collection of short stories about maps and mapmakers will take you around the globe, through history, and into imaginary lands. It features the stories of 17th-century maps made by pirates, a map sent into space by NASA to help aliens find Earth, and the schematics to the Death Star.

Designed by Rolling Stone alumni, the book is as beautiful as it is engaging. If you need a gift for someone who likes maps, history, science, culture, design, or good stories, this $50 book will do the trick.

3. Moving and shaking

For geographiles on the go, these insulated, mappified drink containers will be a definite hit. They come in 20-ounce tumblers and 21-ounce bottles (shown above), and can engraved with a huge variety of maps. Choose from a college-town map, a topo map of your favorite mountain, or a custom street map of virtually any location you’d like.

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Insulated drink containers etched with maps of mountains or cities are great gifts for both urban and wilderness explorers.

The insulated drinkware goes for $34.50, and you can further customize them with a name or message for an extra $5. Uncommon Green will also put your custom maps on beer, wine, and rocks glasses as well as coffee mugs, mason jars and wine carafes.

4. Painting places

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New Orleans is beautiful in green on this watercolor map from Turn-of-the-Centuries.

City grids come to life in these watercolor maps from Turn-of-the-Centuries. Prints of original artwork are available depicting dozens of cities in the US and Europe including Paris, Salt Lake City, Warsaw, and Philadelphia. Trained in architecture, artist Kirsten Sparenborg Brinton calls her shop a “one-woman studio,” but if you follow her on Instagram you’ll see that she is sometimes joined in that studio by her two young boys.

Turn of the Centuries offers city maps in sizes from 11x14 inches for $20 up to 17x20 inches for $44. And if you plan ahead for next year, you can commission an original custom map.

5. Woodworking

Layers are the secret to these beautiful wooden maps. Each one is created by designer David Kidd, carved by laser, and assembled by hand -- a process that takes a full work day. This year, Kidd’s maps earned an award from the British Cartographic Society. “Cartography has always been my passion,” Kidd writes, “and now I get to bring my work to you.”

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These gorgeous multi-layered maps are laser-carved from birch wood and assembled by hand.

Maps start at £135 ($172) for a 10x14-inch piece and are available for a selection of cities around the world including Austin, Stockholm, and Melbourne. Or, you can have a custom map designed for the location of your choice for £199 ($253). Because the maps are so time-intensive they may not arrive by Christmas, so consider a gift card so that your map-loving recipient can be involved in the design process!

6. Going global

Why waste space in your house with patterns or designs that aren’t maps? Mapology will help you fix that problem with a nice selection of shower curtains, bedspreads, pillows, and more bearing different vintage maps. Designer Catherine Holcombe is constantly combing used book stores and scanning digital collections for new maps to use in her designs. “I find that maps connect people to the important places in their personal history,” she says. “ I love their beauty and intricacy.”

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An early 20th-century world map makes a beautiful shower curtain at the Etsy shop, Mapology.

Choose from a shower-curtain map of monuments in Paris, a Pugent Sound pillow, an Arctic map duvet cover, and many more. Throw pillows start at $22, fleece blankets at $44, duvet covers at $86, and shower curtains at $77.

7. Taking notes

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Paula Scher’s notebooks are little bits of carto-graphic design for your pocket.

Graphic designer Paula Scher’s mesmerizing map-inspired artwork covers this collection of three notebooks. “I began painting maps to invent my own complicated narrative about the way I see and feel about the world,” Scher has written about her art. “I wanted to list what I know about a place from memory, from impressions, from media, and from general information overload. They are paintings of distortions.”

At $15 from Princeton Architectural Press, these colorful little notebooks make a perfect stocking stuffer for the map lovers on your list.

8. Going cross country!

Looking for a gift that will make someone say, “Wow”? Here it is. Artist Aaron Foster’s U.S. maps are one-of-a-kind, made out of vintage license plates from each state. His work has been displayed in the Smithsonian Institution (and Stephen Colbert has one, too).

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A little piece of history from each state makes up Aaron Foster’s original license-plate maps.

The license-plate maps come in several different styles starting at $2,350. Make sure there’s a big enough wall to hang it on though, because they measure around five feet across. If you happen to have a really big empty wall, there’s a “ridiculously large” option for $9,500.

9. Taking a bird's-eye view

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Get a new perspective with an intriguing image of Earth from space from Point Two Design.

High-resolution satellite imagery can be captivating, offering a different view of our planet that often resembles art. So why not hang it on the wall? Point Two Design offers poster-size photos of Earth from space featuring 176 different views of cities and natural features, from Africa’s Namib desert to New York City’s Central Park.

Satellite-image posters range from $39 for a 12x18-inch print to $69 for the 24x36-inch size. Point Two makes beautiful city map art prints and wallpaper as well.

10. Tying the room together

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Make a state-ment with the gift of a side table in the shape of a state

Every sofa would look better with a side of map in our opinion. Reclaimed poplar wood in the shape of any of the 50 states propped up with iron legs makes a perfect place for the travelers on your list to set their coffee, road atlas, or travel journal. The location of state’s capital is stamped with the state’s nickname.

The state side tables are $250 from UncommonGoods and shipping is just $11. If furniture is out of your price range, the shop has many fantastic mappy gifts, ranging from $18 transit map socks, to a $55 National Parks explorer map, to $184 hand-embroidered state-map pillows.