All our flat maps compromise with reality and distort the true size or shape of continents in order to fit them on a 2D image. Here are 10 ways the Mercator map gets it wrong. iStock

What do the countries and continents of the world really look like? If we look at a map on a piece of paper or a computer screen, we are viewing a flat, two-dimensional representation of the world. It's inevitably wrong – to get from three dimensions to two, some accuracy of the real dimensions of the world's land and seas is lost.

There are different ways to compromise between the actual shape and size of land masses in the world in order to get them down in two dimensions. The most common way that the round world is shown on a flat map is the Mercator projection, first devised to aid sea navigation in 1569.

This projection tries to maintain the right overall shape of land masses, at the expense of accurately representing their actual size. This means that the further you get to the equator, the more land masses are stretched. So a square mile close to the North Pole appears far larger on this map than a square mile at the equator.

It's such a familiar map that it's easy to forget that countries don't in fact look like this at all. Our ideas of how big a country or continent is are often very far from reality.

There are other ways to compromise: the Gall-Peters projection preserves size at the expense of shape. This makes land at the equator appear elongated and land toward the poles appear squished.

To an untrained eye, the Galls-Peters projection looks very peculiar, but that's just because it never really caught on in and is seen so rarely compared with the famous Mercator projection.

Here are 10 ways that show just how wrong the much-loved Mercator projection is.

Maps of the world
Maps of the world Expedia