The Art Of Being Lost

If there was one thing I learned going on family excursions growing up, it was how to be lost. Hiking in the woods, driving in an unfamiliar town, you name it, we could get properly lost in it. But this was not because we had a poor sense of direction or poor map reading skills, quite the opposite; we simply took a “big picture” approach to directions, which at times would roughly encompass half a national forest into simply, “over there”. And we always found our way, because really, we knew where we were headed. We just couldn’t tell you with reliable accuracy where we were at the moment.

As I’ve expanded my travels on my own, this foundation has served me very, very well, particularly in places where there was very little chance anyone spoke English. Some of my best experiences traveling have actually been in the process of trying to figure out where I was and what to do about it. The real key is all in not just preparing to be, but expecting to be lost.

Know where the edges are

Like putting together a puzzle, defining the edges of the space you’re going to explore first helps you limit just how lost you can get. Major freeways, suburbs, mountain ranges, lakes and rivers, any of them can provide that reference of, “I now know where I am.” Odds are you won’t know how you wound up there, and that it’s not where you wanted to be, but you will at least know to turn around.

Get a clue, preferably a tall one

In order to find a very specific spot in the constantly changing landscape of the ocean to line up for breaking swells, big wave surfers have to rely on distant landmarks to line up relative to each other, which will tell them where they are. Identifying visual cues like distinct mountains or hills, tall buildings, or best yet rivers or the ocean will give you points to orient by, as well as offer familiar sights to help keep you calm if you’re feeling frustrated with just how lost you’ve gotten. On more than one occasion I’ve been reassured by the simple reminder, “Okay, well, I recognize the ocean…”

Head games

On the topic of frustration, if it’s getting late, or you’re on a tight schedule and in danger of being late for an appointment or train, or you’re simply getting tired, it’s easy to get flustered and upset. Again, a broad perspective is the best thing to keep in mind; you may be lost right now, but you’re not going to stay lost.

During a trip to Tokyo, I felt I’d gotten comfortable enough with my immediate area to go for a jog in the park a short distance from my hotel before meeting friends for dinner. Unfortunately, I over-confidently took a shortcut, and managed to completely bypass this massive park, leaving me wandering unfamiliar streets with nothing but an MP3 player, my hotel key, and a nonexistent grasp of Japanese as night fell. While there are absolutely no street signs in Tokyo, and attempts at asking directions were completely useless, I was able to orient myself by familiar district names and train station maps, and finally found my way to the park and back to my hotel. I was over an hour late and dead tired, but I had kept my head and even enjoyed seeing parts of Tokyo I likely would’ve never seen. I just had to occasionally remind myself that not making it to dinner was not the end of the world, and that as big as Tokyo is, odds were very low I would spend my life wandering its streets in running shorts.

Don’t go crazy

Of course, all of this will likely take you outside your comfort zone, but there is a line between getting recreationally lost and getting in far over your head. Sketchy parts of town at night and remote wilderness areas, especially going to either one on your own, are best left to well-informed exploration. Having room for error ensures you’ll be able to keep losing your way just for the sake of finding it again, and be able to recount the stories of how, this one time, you were so lost.

One Response

  1. Love that you put this into steps.

    I’ll try to remember it next time I get lost, although that doesn’t happen as often when you aren’t there to “help”. lol

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: