Some things in life, to some people, are preferred in their “originally-intended” state. Digital watches should be the future, yet the beauty of analog watches prevail. Likewise, when done correctly, maps are often quite 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.
Dictionary – The Prague map offers a dictionary of “important” words to know while traveling through: beer, one more beer, shit, and cheers are just a few of the helpful choice words and phrases 🙂
History – Many of the maps offer a brief history, and personally, this is one of my favorite features. As I like to promote here on Dauntless Jaunter, I believe that it is important to learn a bit of everything about the city one’s in or about to be in, such as the history, language, culture, and traditions. The history section in many of the USE-IT maps gives a quick overview on key dates that are important to the city’s and country’s history.
Walking Tours – A few of the maps offer several different suggested walking tours. For example, the Thessaloniki map has a “Markets” walking tour, a “Seaside” walking tour, and an “Upper Town” walking tour, each with six or seven points of interest to fully experience that subculture or theme.
History of USE-IT Europe
USE-IT Europe traces its roots to Copenhagen, Denmark, back in 1971. As their history notes, “The Danish capital, that year, was swarming with beautiful people: hippie travellers (drifters) from all over the world, who slept wherever they found a place: in parks, on benches… Mayor Andersen decided something should be done about it.” He set about to transform an old military barracks into a dorm-like place of accommodations for these drifters, with rates even lower than hostels in the area. An information desk was set up, which answered three main questions:
- Where to sleep?
- Where to eat?
- Where to meet other people?
This information desk was given the name “USE-IT.”
Almost two decades later, in 1989, another USE-IT branch was founded in Oslo, Norway. In 1997, USE-IT Rotterdam got off the ground. Then, in the 2000s, the USE-IT brand really started to take off, as many more cities in Europe were added. In 2008, all the separate entities using the USE-IT name came under the supervision of USE-IT Europe.
What Cities Have USE-IT Maps Available?
Currently, there are USE-IT maps available for:
Aachen • Antwerp • Augsburg • Belgrade • Bologna • Bordeaux •
Bratislava • Brno • Bruges • Brussels • Calais • české Budĕjovice • Charleroi • Coimbra • Cordoba • Cork • Dresden • Ferrara • Funchal • Ghent • Graz • Helsinki • Kutná Hora • Leeuwarden • Leiden • Leuven • Ljubljana • Magdeburg • Mechelen • Nantes • Nicosia • Nijmegen • Olomouc • Olsztyn • Oslo • Ostrava • Oulu • Porto • Prague • Prato • Rennes • Rotterdam • Rouen • Thessaloniki • Torino • Vienna • Warsaw • Zagreb • Zlín
New offices are currently being set up in Amstelveen and Portici.
Where Can I Get My Free USE-IT Europe Map?
Some USE-IT cities have a physical information desk, such as in Brussels (the head office) and Oslo, where free maps to these and other cities can be picked up. The maps also can be all accessed from the main website of USE-IT in a PDF version, which can be saved and used on a smartphone or computer. However, the niftiest feature of their maps is the fact that each one can be printed on 8 pages of paper and taped together to form the full-sized spread as it was intended.
* A special thanks to Nicolas Marichal, USE-IT Europe’s editor-in-chief, as well as the team at USE-IT, for answering every question I had and for sending some samples over to me!