A Lonely Planet

How to Land a Jumbo Jet‘How to Land a Jumbo Jet’ is the catchy title of a little book published by Lonely Planet a couple of month ago. The book is a “visual exploration of travel facts, figures and ephemera” and a “visual guide to the way we live, travel and inhabit the globe”. Edited by the British graphic designer Nigel Holmes, the book follows the increased interest in information graphics that started to flourish yet again with the increasing availability of ever growing amounts of data. This reminds a lot of the ‘Golden age of statistical graphics‘ from the 19th century, where we have seen a manifestation of the prospering achievements in statistical graphics and thematic maps that we take for granted nowadays.
Jumbo jet is a mixed bag of visualised information that fits in that renaissance with a wide-ranging look into (as one might expect from Lonely Planet) everything travel-related (some sample pages can be downloaded from the link at the end of this page). And what would a travel book be without maps? Certainly quite incomplete, which is why there are some maps included that provide a different look at the world than that one usually finds in travel literature. One example for that is my contribution on visualising the more remote parts of our planet – the lonely patches on the world’s land surface.
Drawing a map of the remote areas (as also described in my PhD thesis) it is not simply a matter of putting the less populated area of the world in the foreground. Transformed maps that show the human spaces, such as a gridded population cartogram, work very well because of the specific distribution of people in a very limited amount of space. With more than 95% of the world’s population living in approximately only 10% of the land area, the remaining 90% of the land area vanish from a gridded population cartogram. Reversing this therefore is much less striking, because 90% of the land surface is almost empty and would remain on a transformed cartogram, making it look much more like a conventional map projection. The optimal grid data for a gridded cartogram transformation thus needs a high variation and a data distribution that has the highest values for the topic of interest in a limited amount of grid cells, like the major population densities cover approximately 10% of the full grid. A different approach is therefore needed when looking at the loneliest places on the planet. Such an indicator is the relative distance of areas to the majority of people, which can be measured e.g. by travel times – most of the remotest places are also hardest to get to (apart from flying over it and jumping out of the plane, which is when Nigel Holmes’ infographic on how to land a jumbo jet from that book may come handy for the remaining passengers).
In an analysis of people’s closeness, Nelson points out that only 15% of people in rich countries live more than an hour of travel time from a city (of at least 50,000 people), while the same applies to 65% of people living in the poor countries of the world. The information about the absolute travel time from a given point can be transformed into a grid that translates remoteness into a quantifiable measure which combines the human and physical space in one layer. The gridded dataset can then be transformed according to the absolute travel time that is necessary to reach the nearest major city that was defined by Uchida & Nelson, the authors of the study, as one of the 8,518 cities with 50,000 or more people. The transformed grid thus shows each grid cell resized according to that absolute travel time that is needed from that grid cell to the nearest major city by land transport, giving the remotest places most space on the map.
The following gridded cartogram of the remotest places visualises the picture of a lonely planet where the spaces shown are those that are furthest away from those places of civilisation that define the 21st century. The map is resized according to the estimated land travel time to the nearest large city (over 50,000 inhabitants). Antarctica has not been included in the calculation, as there are no cities of that category. More than half of the world’s population according to UN estimates now lives in cities, and this map shows those places that most of the people living in the world need the longest time to get to. It draws an image of the areas that are almost disconnected from those shrinking effects of globalisation. This world map is the striking opposite representation of our image of a globalised and interconnected world, of those vanishing places that we thought do not exist anymore:

A Lonely Planet Map / Cartogram of the Remotest Place on the Planet
(click for larger view)

“Getting yourself to one of the remotest spots in the world doesn’t necessarily mean flying to a distant Pacific island surrounded by nothing but open ocean: Some continental locations can be days from the closest large city” (quote from the Huffington Post).
Want to get away? No, really get away? This map is your ultimate guide…

Other maps included in the Lonely Planet infographics book show the world population, world tourist destinations, and the most crowded air spaces on the planet. Further questions answered from the other graphics include the best place to experience a volcano, which nation is the proudest in the world, or why your luggage occasionally disappear on flights. How to land a jumbo jet can be ordered from the Lonely Planet website. Here are some examples from the book:

A Lonely Planet Map / Cartogram of the Remotest Place on the Planet
Download a pdf preview from the book pdf icon

Update (2016): There is now also an academic publication available that explains the methods for creating this map in more detail:

  • Hennig, B.D. (2016). Visualising spaces of global inaccessibility. In, S. Carver and Fritz, S. (ed.) Mapping wilderness: concepts, techniques and applications of GIS. Heidelberg / New York / Dordrecht / London (Springer). pp. 103-116.
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