Let me get right to it: I am a person who self-identifies as “directionally challenged.” I get lost exiting the front door of the apartment complex I’ve lived in for seven years. Even in Los Angeles, where I live, and even if I have the GPS up with the exact location I’m going to, I get lost ALL. THE. TIME. I somehow manage to convince myself that the left I’m supposed to take is actually a right, or that the street I’m meant to walk down is really a dead end and I should take a different one.
Yet I’ve still visited 22 countries and taken 19 solo trips. Does that mean I’ve got magical navigational powers that kick in the instant I get through Customs in a new country? Does it mean I suddenly feel geographically centered in a new city? Does it mean I somehow stop getting lost when I’m far from home? No, no, and definitely not. If you’re directionally challenged like I am, and if you’ve never traveled on your own, I realize this all probably sounds very frightening. And you’re right: it can be. But getting lost in a new place can also be incredibly rewarding, empowering, and downright fun. Here’s why.
You really understand the kindness of strangers
As an extrovert, I learned very early on in my travel career to be comfortable with asking strangers for directions. And to my surprise, everyone I’ve asked has always been so kind and welcoming.
I took a trip to Japan for Christmas in 2017 and was walking around one day looking for a specific restaurant. I must have taken the wrong road (again) because the restaurant wasn’t where it showed on Google Maps. Now, do I speak Japanese? Not a lick. But I stopped two nice-looking men who were walking in the area and asked them for directions. They didn’t speak English, but they walked with me and asked everyone around if they spoke English until we found someone to help me. It was so kind and unexpected, and while I thought of myself as inconveniencing these guys, they still went out of their way to be accommodating and to make sure I received help.
Something similar happened in Berlin, Germany while I was there in 2013 (for the record, way before we had these new iPhones that you can just use data to pull up maps on while traveling). I was trying to find my way back to my hostel and I was failing miserably. Again, I looked to see who was around and ended up asking two teenagers for directions. They took it upon themselves to ride the train and walk with me all the way back to my hostel. It was so kind! Reflecting on the experience today, I realize that there are a lot of scenarios in which I wouldn’t have felt safe going all that way with two strangers. But I was 20 at the time and they were probably 16 or 17, and I felt like we had an understanding that since we were all young people, we were going to be nice to each other. I’ve had countless other experiences when locals or strangers have gone out of their way to help me, and it restores my faith in humanity every time.
You get to see some beautiful sights
There’s an ancient volcano in Edinburgh, Scotland known as Arthur’s Seat with an amazing view from the top. When I visited town, it was a must-see on my list.. But it can also be quite complicated to get to if you don’t have a car that takes you right to the entrance, which I didn’t. Instead, I was walking through fields and quiet roads alone, and it didn’t take long for me to realize I was lost. But in that moment, I wasn’t scared — I was in awe. Scotland is filled with vast green hills and beautiful flowers. It was May, and the weather was perfect. I couldn’t believe I had this view to myself and no one else was around. So, I just kept walking and taking in all that was around me, trusting that everything would be okay.
And what do you know, a few more paces up the hill and I was at the main entrance to Arthur’s Seat. “God’s Plan” by Drake was my anthem that summer and I sat up at the top of the peak overlooking Edinburgh with that song playing in the background. It was perfect. And if I’d known exactly where I was going, it wouldn’t have happened that way. In fact, I think some of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen in my time traveling have come from getting lost. What makes them all the more special is that they weren’t planned. It’s almost like it was fate.
When you do figure it out, it’s so empowering
I’m not a planner when it comes to my travels. I usually accept that I’m going to get lost and just see where it takes me (although most times the getting lost is unintentional) . But the handful of times when I had to get somewhere far away and I figured it out, it’s been so empowering. Every time, I feel like Rocky at the top of those steps with my arms high in the air in a celebratory fashion.
I visited Amsterdam for my birthday this year and decided to stay at a hostel on the Noord. I got off the plane and took a bus, tram, and ferry to get to my hostel. I didn’t miss a beat this time. I somehow managed to get to exactly where I needed to be when I needed to be there. To be able to navigate a city you’ve never been to in a language you don’t know at all is such a great and empowering feeling, especially as a female solo traveler.
So, if you’re worried about finding your way while traveling, my advice to you is this: sometimes getting lost is exactly what you need in order to be found. Embrace this aspect of traveling and, as long as you’re safe, you won’t regret it. And I have a feeling you’ll end up making a few memories like mine along the way.