Expat

Getting lost is NOT fun.

getting-lost

“Get lost” is an insult you hurl at guys trying to pick you up at bars. Like when one of the visiting college rugby players says to you, “I’d love to pour wine on your belly and drink from it.” But not when the super awkward guy tries to be cool and says, “I like your shoes.” At this point, you look down to remember what you are wearing and say back, “Thanks,” only to look up for the next painful question, “So. Um, where did you get them?”

But “getting lost” is often touted as a wonderful way to see a city or explore a new place. It’s supposed to be how REAL travelers travel. Authentic travelers were born with a compass instead of a heart. They have an unflappable attitude and wear sensible shoes, the proceeds from which support a tiny school of delightful children in Myanmar.

And I could never be one of them.

Getting lost can be fun for those who are confident in their abilities to make it back to START.  For the rest of us though, getting lost can be an exercise in keeping the turtleneck sweater from closing in around our throats and trying to breathe. I wouldn’t say it’s a debilitating dis-ease, but “getting lost” is like getting really lost for folks like me and it’s not fun.

Of course, it didn’t help (or did it?) that I worked for a children’s summer camp and dated the program director (I’m not bragging) for three summers. Grizzly Adams and the director were part of Colorado’s Search and Rescue team and constantly carried their 2-way radios with them. They listened to the “Texan or Californian hunter who got lost in the mountains” report on a regular basis.

So, the fear of getting lost in the woods was a reality because I heard about those who had to be helicoptered or carried out and how AVOIDABLE their mistakes were and I didn’t want to be the next victim broadcasted over the radio for smarter people to enjoy. Equally scary was when the directors were called away on an emergency rescue, and so we had a camp counselor training thing-a-ma-gig before the kids arrived every summer.

climbing-mt-babcock-001
Climbing Mt. Babcock, Durango, Colorado [circa 1996]

The best part was watching those videos of real life reenactments of hikers getting lost and/or not being prepared. My “favorite” was the guy who ignored the incoming signs of a thunderstorm as he headed up the mountain with his wife, kid and dog. They didn’t have any water, but they had a bottle of wine! Booya! Needless to say, the dog was the only survivor.

I don’t think I discovered just how bad my sense of direction was until I started to drive across the U.S of A.  If my choices were left or right, I’d chose the opposite direction of where I needed to go. Repeatedly. Yeah. I used to jokingly tell people that I was Lewis and Clark in a past life, but for this life, I had used up all of my sense of direction.

My ex found it entertaining that I had to rotate a map in order to get oriented or that if we went upstairs I would have no idea what was below me. He used to ask me which way to go and then head in the other direction (bastard). It was amusing for him that I struggled and so I learned to lean on him for these kinds of things. But then we broke up and I realized the danger of depending on someone else.

Cuenca's main landmark attraction, the Cathedral of Immaculada Concepcion, 2010
Cuenca’s main landmark attraction, the Cathedral of Immaculada Concepcion, 2010

I had just moved to Cuenca, Ecuador and to kick start my arrival, my couchsurfing host did not show up at the airport. So, after waiting for what felt like dinosaur ages, I hailed a cab into town. I found a hotel and started to feel better, unpacking, undressing, anticipating that hot shower after international travel, but the shower was cold.

Now, I heard this was common, but I wasn’t going to pay full price for a non-working shower, so I got dressed and told the front desk. She couldn’t get it to work and couldn’t offer me anything else so I left. I packed, hailed another cab and tried my luck with the only other place I had written down in case of an emergency.

The place, it turned out, was closed. I was starting to feel really dejected and utterly exhausted. I thought about heading to the school where I was going to be teaching, but that would entail hailing another taxi with all my heavy crap, smelling like God knows what, when a woman spotted me and offered her guest house which was across the street.

Then the original guest house owner found me and pulled me back (the owners were sisters) and I finally got a hot shower, felt healed and human again. Next, I sought out nourishment before I made my way towards the school on foot. I had a hotel map (which like all hotel maps are limiting) and found the school with little problems. Yes, I went to the old location first (stuff I wish they’d tell you!), but after checking in and all that I decided to explore my new town. Woohoo!

My first meal in Ecuador was actually Colombian.
My first meal in Ecuador was actually Colombian.

I practiced Spanish before I arrived, but it was like I hadn’t practiced at all when I asked simple questions. I had a map, but it was like I didn’t have one at all when I tried to make sense of where I was at. I wore an L.L.Bean fleece jacket with a shell, but it was like I wasn’t wearing anything at all when the rain came pouring down.

Downtown Cuenca is probably easy to navigate for those who have a solid sense of direction. It’s a grid system with street names clearly marked on buildings. But for someone like me it was a nightmare where everything looked the same, and the cobblestones became a challenge in the rain causing me to twist my ankle which further added to the misery of me trying to find my way back to the guest house.

The city is also on a hill or steep incline which now I realize I could have used to my advantage in order to understand where I was at, but I was “getting lost” in my new home looking up and enjoying the new sights, sounds and smells. I wandered in what was probably circles for a long time in the cold rain. When the sun began to set, I started to panic. Where was the brave, independent expat now? If my friends or family could have seen me they would have been mortified by my stupidity. I was mortified by my stupidity. Questions like, “I can’t be lost forever, can I?” entered my unhappy brain. I tried not to think about the shopkeepers who saw the girl in the pink jacket go by dozens of times. I tried to protect my soggy map and dignity. I tried not to cry.

By the hand of Zeus or some mythical creature, I was spit out of hell onto the street where I knew my guest house was. It was dark and I held it together long enough to get my key from the front desk, drag my soggy self up those stairs, take off my wet jeans, shoes, etc and step into the hot shower. Then – I cried.

Sitting on my bed, I did a guided meditation that evening which made me cry even harder, but it was one of the few familiar things I had/did from my former life, so it made me feel better. And I told myself that I had to learn directions because I didn’t want to endure another ass-whipping from north, south, east and west.

The good news is I worked on directions like I would in building any skill. And by the time I left Cuenca, I felt like I had a decent grasp of the city. I made it a point to always be aware of how to get back home. I never really relaxed in cabs, but paid attention to where I was going and tried to soak in sights and landmarks – a habit that I still do to this day.

I think it's this way, guys! [Phrathat Chedi Si Khruba, outside of Lamphun, 2013]
I think it’s this way, guys! [Phrathat Chedi Si Khruba, outside of Lamphun, 2013]

When I returned to Thailand, I learned to drive a motorbike which forced me to learn directions, in the best way possible. I also changed homes several times which further cemented my understanding of Chiang Mai. And I didn’t rely just upon driving, I used public transportation and I walked a lot, too.

So, by the time I went to Austria I was ready for the next step. This happened when my family and I were walking in Vienna and we got separated by crazy circumstances, I learned to ask the locals a lot of questions and take it in stride when we got on the wrong bus. I had to take care of my mom who was with me and I was also with my sister-in-law (who, at that time hadn’t traveled outside of the US much) and one of my nephews, so I felt like I had to be the leader which helped me, actually, be confident. Later, my brother (who trained with the Army special services) poured over the map with me and told me to rotate the map according to where I was. Ha!

Travelling with my nephews and niece has made me aware that sometimes accidents happen and these accidents need to be dealt with swifty. [Natural History Museum, Vienna, Austria 2012]
Travelling with children has made me aware that sometimes “accidents” happen and that these accidents need to be dealt with swifty. [Natural History Museum, Vienna, Austria 2012]

So, getting lost, yeah, I don’t take it lightly. Folks with an excellent sense of direction, I hope they realize what an exceptional gift they have. Nowadays, I’m the one helping out with directions and I’m proud whenever I’m told, “You give really good directions.” Cause, man, three dimensional space is confusing, yo. Of course, my current partner has a worse sense of direction than I ever had, so I’m in charge of where we need to go and how we need to get back. Thank you very much.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.” – Douglas Adams

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30 thoughts on “Getting lost is NOT fun.

  1. I sort of like getting lost, as long as I don’t think I’m truly stranded or am going to miss my bus or plane or get caught in the dark in the woods. Usually a compass and a map will get me out of any trouble. When I’m lost I’m immersed in the unknown, which is kind of good. Moderation is the key. A little lost is good, bet getting stranded in the Andes after a plane crash with nothing to eat but other people is bad.

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    1. Hahaha. Yeah, there are so majorly tragic stories out there on folks getting lost. My friend used to drive around CM by trying new streets and just getting lost for the fun of it. I thought she was crazy. But she knew her way around and I know that is the value of “getting lost”.

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  2. I’m enjoyed reading about how you never gave up, even though you weren’t born with a sense of direction. I’m always more impressed with people who challenge themselves versus playing to their strengths.

    My friend “M” thinks that getting lost in a new city is the only way to ever truly learn your way around. She has a point. She had an even better point ten years ago.

    I say, “We now have google maps.”

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    1. Thank you. I never saw myself that way. I saw my ass-whooping as a necessity, if anything else. What a nice thing to notice 🙂

      Yes, with GPS and phones guiding our way, things are A LOT easier. Taking pictures with our smart phones (or camera) is another way to ensure you can get the help that you need, too. Technology probably helps folks in the wilderness, as well.

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  3. When we stop and don’t do anything, we’ll stay lost forever. Admire your determination to get around and find a place to stay, and basically get your life moving on wherever you went. There is always the risk in reaching out to strangers for help, but then again, there are very nice people out there.

    Haha, I didn’t know fleece didn’t help when you’re standing out in the rain…

    Agree that these days it’s certainly easier to get around wit GPS and maps on phones…but with phones, sometimes getting that WIFI is a pain…

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    1. Recently, I was in the backseat of my friend’s car. I watched with fascination as he used his phone’s GPS system to navigate the streets. He held his phone and the steering wheel it seemed with one hand. I was feeling a massive generational difference, I tell you!

      Thanks. It’s hard work for some to admit they are lost, but not me. I’m the first person to suggest, “Why don’t we pull over and ask someone.” 😛

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      1. Sometimes when I’m lost I use the GPS on my phone to guide me where I want to go…but I would not do that while driving! If I had to, I’ll prop my phone upright or something :/

        No one likes the leader of the pack to get lost because you really don’t know what you’re getting yourselves into 😀

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    2. When I need to go somewhere I don’t really know, I check out Google maps so I can plan,…and I already get lost just by looking at it while I’m sitting down at my desk 😦

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      1. HAHA. That is so me – feeling lost looking at Google Maps a few days before going somewhere. I am one who likes to figures out at least two routes to a place and it is a lot of work 😀

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  4. Ah man, I’m so glad you feel like I do. I always felt like a bad adventurer because I, too, hate getting lost. I have a really good sense of direction, actually, but that’s overpowered by a total fear of being lost. When I went to Seoul alone, I stayed within about fifty yards of a station at all times so I wouldn’t every lose my way.

    But, once I’ve been to a place, I can find my way around again. It’s nice. My spatial whatever is good.

    Glad to hear the caution; I really hope people take it to heart.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like that “bad adventurer”. Getting lost is so stressful that when I need to make it back somewhere I won’t take chances either. On the other hand, if I just follow a main road, I don’t mind exploring. I just keep going on the path and going down little roads aren’t too bad as long as I remember to go right back the way I came.

      Of course, if I’m not alone, I feel braver, if the person has a good sense of direction, but I’ve been abandoned, too and so these kinds of things can’t be trusted either and I don’t mean abandoned in a bad way, either. You know, sometimes friends want to go and do something different and you are like, no I want to stay here and you branch off. I’m much more confident with all of that now.

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      1. Maybe it just takes practice, although I think getting lost in a place where you can’t read anything (me in Korea at the time), is much worse than getting lost where you can (me in Korea now).

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  5. I actually never understood the ethos of joy of getting lost geospatially. I actually have slight problems reorienting myself if I get off a different subway stop and come up on street level..and this is living in Toronto! I would need to think for 3-5 min., whereas my partner just charges off in the right direction.

    I totally relate: I have not yet cycled by myself overnight to another city 100 km. away or further. The idea slightly freaks me out in cycling in rural areas with no services for many kms. So I’ve done odd day trip here and there, a 90-100 km. WITHIN my home city boundaries. It is not designed for me not to get lost…I “explore” on known routes by stopping at places where I’ve never stopped before to look at stuff.

    Getting lost in a strange country on vacation, is not fun when it extends for hrs…..waste of precious time when vacation time is limited.

    Also getting lost on bike trips, you have to martial extra reserves of physical strength and stamina, because you’ve been forced to back track 5-10 km. during a 100 km. with a bike weighted down with 30 kg. of my belongings. I just pray that there’s a place not far for food energy and drink. It actually can be scary….because Canada and the U.S. are huge countries.

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    1. Very good points. I’m glad you commented b/c I wanted to know your perspective as a cyclist. It’s smarter to stay within your comfort zone in this regard for so many reasons – mainly safety.

      And bike trips are already challeging enough with flats and unexpected weather or crashes, you don’t need to get lost on top of that!

      Although I think many travelers feel more comfortable exploring on a bike because they can cover more ground, but tourists have had their bags stolen out of their bike’s basket, as well. There can be a false sense of security that comes with a bike.

      I also know three different women on bicycles here that have been attacked. One was a purse snatching (they didn’t get it, but my friend crashed), the other two were grabs by men who thought ??? the women were easy?

      The freedom that bicycles brought/bring to women is something I read somewhat recently, was that on your site?

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      1. Yes. You are right. That was the post. I remember it now. It was quite out of character for Northern Thailand, but I can really say why it happened. Why do these things happen? I don’t know.

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      2. The cycling within my own city…would be cycling solo when my partner, the navigator is not cycling with me at all.

        I get a little easily freaked out when I see a fast moving highway near by which I didn’t plan encountering in being slightly lost.

        My partner likes exploring a bit but he wants a clear map/well designed neighbourhood. When we were in Prague we didn’t like getting too lost with the medieval winding streets …and signs in Czech which he definitely couldn’t figure out nor neither of us could remember the “names” because of the script.

        I don’t like exploring wilderness by myself…and Canada has lots of those forests. In north Vancouver, the mountains that you saw in the city…there is a long 40 km. hiking trail from east to west. Locals have gotten lost and had to be rescued.

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      3. When my b/f and I bike around, he definitely is the more confident and comfortable one cycling around and wanting to go down unknown streets. The big problem here is the un-attended dogs. I have to carry rocks in my basket as a pre-caution. It’s scary! My b/f had quite a scare when he was out on his regular route, a pack of dogs started chasing him. Thankfully, he out raced them.

        It’s so dangerous, even on a motorbike, too. Thais just let their dogs wander, sit in the street and there are plenty of strays. It’s the heart-breaking aspect of this “Buddhist” culture.

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      4. I had no idea. I know the feeling. Dogs are like that in the rural, isolated areas where we’ve biked.

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  6. At the risk of sounding contrary I love getting lost, especially in cities. There is always a chance of finding something really very cool. Tokyo was my favourite city for that.

    My wife prefers to know where she is and to have a plan that is stuck to. It makes travelling a constant battle between freewheeling and structure; I think, on balance, we get the best of both worlds 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nah, I wanted to hear from the ones who had a solid sense of NSEW. It’s actually great to travel with someone like that. I’m amazed at how they can go to a place ONCE and remember how to get there again. Amazing. Consider yourself very lucky!

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  7. I will be the first to admit that I had a better sense of direction before I met my husband. I used to navigate my way around Taipei, sometimes getting lost but eventually finding some landmark and getting my bearings back once again. Now however, when I am out with my husband, I am not aware of my surroundings and don’t really focus on how to get somewhere because I just follow him. That is why I like to get by myself once and awhile just to challenge myself!

    I am so proud of your determination to push through and develop a great sense of direction. It feels good when we conquer something that we deem challenging for us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is hard not to depend on those we love and spend a lot of time with. I’ve just been burned on this one so now I’m “independent woman!” 😛 But honestly, I’m just lucky to have a man who can’t figure out what direction to go. Hahahaha.

      Thanks, Constance!

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  8. Lani, I kind of agree with you. I usually can find my way home from someplace, but I definitely don’t have that intuition that helps me to get somewhere new. Directionally-challenged I am! This was really a fun post to read!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Corinne 🙂 I just assumed a seasoned traveler like yourself was directionally-gifted 😛 Now, I’m curious about Jim!

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