When I think about getting lost, two particular instances stand out in my mind. One was when I was in my late teens and I drove out to a forest in the middle of nowhere with a group of friends. It was daytime, sunny, and perfect for a picnic. We found a lovely spot deep in the forest and enjoyed a selection of tasty food. Soon dusk arrived and it got a little cooler, so we built a fire. We stayed so long that complete darkness fell and the fire died down. We were cold and tired and ready to go home. Except… which way was that again?
We looked around us and all we could see were the trees directly in front of us. One of my friends has one of those mini torches on his key-ring, but that was about as useful as wearing flip flops in the snow. Just to clarify, this was also before every man, woman, child and baby owned a mobile phone, so if we wanted to find our way out of that forest, we had to find use more traditional methods. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t absolutely terrified.
Somehow, we managed to find our way out of there and I cannot begin to describe the relief I felt when we saw the car parked up on the roadside. It had taken us well over an hour to find our way out of that creepy black forest and it was a situation I never wanted to repeat.
Fast forward several years and we come to a more recent experience. I used to have a satnav, but when I got a smart phone I wondered why I bothered carrying several electronic devices when my phone was able to do everything. So I tapped in the address of my friend’s house, a friend I had never visited before. To be fair, I did know most of the way to her house, I was just a little unsure of the last few miles of the journey. I plonked my phone on the non-slip mat on my dashboard, turned up my tunes and set off.
It was a beautiful day and the sun was hot on my face. Unfortunately, it was a little too warm for my phone, but I didn’t realise that until I got closer to the destination and needed that little extra guidance. I looked at my phone, expecting to see a map and an arrow but to my horror there was just a black screen with an error message reading ‘Temperature Too High’ or something like that. I pulled the car over to a safe place and pressed all buttons, but nothing happened. My phone had overheated in the sun.
Now not only was I unable to see the directions, I couldn’t phone my friend either in order to ask how to get there. I had been so reliant on my phone that I didn’t have her number written anywhere else and I couldn’t even remember the name of the street she lived on! I felt so stupid for putting my entire trust in this minicomputer that was now just bits of overheated plastic, metal and glass.
In the end, I had to wait until the phone had cooled down before I could start again on my journey.
I expect you have had experiences of getting hopelessly lost too, otherwise you wouldn’t be looking at my eight fantastic ways to avoid it! In an attempt to prevent others from experiencing the sheer panic that washes over you when you realise you’re lost and/or stuck, I have put together some tips and tricks on how to get yourself back on the right path – literally!
1. Recognise the landmarks
I now make a point of paying particular attention to things that catch my eye when I’m out and about somewhere unfamiliar. You can either use your memory, a small notebook, or if you’re confident of the battery life of your camera or mobile phone, you can take pictures of where you have left your car and then several landmarks along the way. You can note down street names, pubs that you pass, memorable places such as cemeteries, churches, schools etc. It’s much easier to find your way if someone gives you directions such as “Keep going straight on until you see the giant doughnut on the left, and when you see that take the next right and look out for the pub covered in hanging baskets, when you see that, turn left.”
Getting directions like “Drive for half a mile, turn right and in a quarter of a mile turn left” can be confusing, so try to give people directions using landmarks too! They will thank you for it.
2. Follow the people
If you’re in a city and you’re not familiar with the language, you can follow the general flow of the people to find the most popular parts of town. Especially during rush hour. Using this method, you’re most likely to follow people to the train station or bus terminal and from there you will be able to get public transport to wherever you’re trying to get. Terminals and stations also often have an information desk which will hopefully have information in several languages.
3. Look at the roads
Find the biggest road you can if you’re lost. The wider the road, the more traffic it is designed to carry, which means it is a main route. Follow the road and you will find yourself in a town centre before you know it or you will see road signs along the way which should point you in the right direction.
4. Learn to use a compass
You can either carry an actual compass, or if you have a smart phone, you can use a compass app. Learn to use the compass in places that you know well to get to grips with directions. You will notice that satellite dishes on houses all point towards south-west and churches and gravestones usually face east. When you arrive in an unfamiliar place, take a note of which direction you are facing. Keep checking your compass to see which direction you’re walking or driving. If you get lost, you will be able to go back in the opposite direction until you find familiar surroundings again.
5. Use nature
If it is night and the sky is clear, the North Star is always helpful in giving you a sense of which direction you are heading in. If you checked your position when you arrived, you will be able to use the North Star to tell you which way to go back.
If it is daylight, you can push a stick into the ground and mark the end of its shadow. Wait a little while and you will see the shadow move. The direction the shadow has moved in will be east to west. This should give you some idea which way to go if you are in the middle of nowhere.
6. Read maps
It seems like an obvious point, but take a map with you whenever you travel to somewhere new or make use of the map app on your smart phone. Actual physical maps are ideal to have in your pocket, especially if you find yourself in an area where you don’t have any signal.
Study the map before you leave for your new destination so that you can get familiar with place names, landmarks such as big parks or lakes as well as train stations, rivers and visitor attractions. Have an idea of where you want to go and look at it on the map in relation to where you will be staying or parking. Once you’re there, the street names will feel familiar to you and you’ll have a good idea of where to go and how to get there.
7. Grab a GPS to go
Also known as a Global Positioning System or satnav, when you have a good connection to a satellite these pieces of kit are invaluable for someone who does a lot of travelling to strange places. You can use it whilst driving as it will sit on a special mount on your windscreen, or you can carry it when you’re on foot. You can even get a wristwatch with built in GPS so you can easily find your way in unfamiliar territory.
8. Learn the basics
If you’re going to a foreign country, make sure you learn some simple phrases to ask for directions, and make sure you will be able to understand the answer. Also learn words that appear often on road or street signs so that you make sense of your surroundings once you arrive. If you’re really struggling with the language, go to or call a nearby hotel as they almost always have someone who can speak English and they will be able to help you.
Featured photo credit: Jessica via flickr.com