A new place, a new language, a new currency – when we travel there is a learning curve, but it can be fun and should all be taken in stride as part of the adventure. Check out my article: 10 Ways to Avoid Getting Lost in a New City,” recently published on Brave New Traveler.
You just landed in a new city in a foreign country after a 57½ hour flight from Des Moines. You’re tired. You’re hungry. You’re jet-lagged. You manage to eek through immigration and schlep your bags onto the metro heading downtown (or at least you think so). You emerge from the bowels of the subway into the blinding sunlight and realize you have no idea where you are. Sound familiar? It happens to the best of us, the rest of us, and the most seasoned travelers. We all get disoriented sometimes. Personally I think there is no such thing as really ‘lost’–I like to think of it more as just not ‘found’. But, either way, what do you do?
1. Don’t panic. First of all, you are in a city, not an Amazonian jungle. There is food and shelter (and probably a McDonalds) on every corner.
2. Ask the locals (really the only tip you should need). Not only are people almost always willing to help, it gives you a great excuse to talk to folks if you are feeling lonely. If you are feeling a bit scared, perhaps ask women. This is a good way to practice your Spanish or Vietnamese anyway (always learn the most important words: ‘thank you,’ ‘hello’, ‘excuse me’). Don’t worry about a language barrier. If you are reading this article, you are fortunate enough to know a language that is spoken all over the world.
3. Look for big landmarks. In cities like Chicago, New York, and Paris there are some pretty tall, famous buildings usually visible no matter where you stand that can give you a bit of a directional boost. Even the roughest New Yorkers still sometimes emerge from the subway and need to find the Empire State Building so they can orientate themselves and continue on their way to Carnegie Deli.
4. Pack a compass or go old school and seek out the sun. No matter where you are in the world, the sun still sets in the west (I’m making the assumption you aren’t lost at the North or South Pole).
5. Check out the tourist information office. One of the first things you should do is drop by this helpful place, if for no other reason than to get a good map. These goldmines of free maps and advice are typically located in airports, train, and bus stations.
6. If you are staying at a hotel that was recommended by your guidebook, there is often a city map in the book with the hotels marked on it. While you are biding your time on the 10 hour train, bus, or airplane ride to your next destination, see where your lodging is on the map in relation to where you are coming into town and make a plan on how you will get from point A to point B.
7. When you first check into your hostel or hotel, always take a business card (so you have the address and phone number with you at all times—to show taxi drivers, etc.) and also find the hotel on your map and mark it.
8. Retrace your steps—remember landmarks you passed.
9. Find a local pub or bar. Sit down. Take a load off. Have a drink. Repeat. You will start to feel better, I promise. And of course, you can then ask the bartender or friendly local next to you for some help.
10. Stay lost. You’re in a city for god sake. How lost can you really be?
One of the best things about travel is the unexpected and being ‘lost’ is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, in most cases, it turns out to be a fun adventure… like you are a contestant on the Amazing Race, but of course there’s no prize money at the end. Figuring out a new city, its infrastructure, its transportation options, and its layout can sometimes be frustrating, but also quite rewarding once you master it. I always feel like entering a new country presents a new fun challenge and if you can find your way in a place like Hanoi… well, you will probably feel like you can do just about anything.