I’ve been lost many times abroad –
Tips and Tricks to Make the Inevitable More Enjoyable
Getting lost while abroad just happens. Accept it now, and try to appreciate it for what it is, an adventure and a sightseeing tour. Just keep your head up – you were meant to see something along the way! Soak in the opportunity to view the local fauna and structures around you.
My ultimate ‘got lost’ adventure was in Spain, and was the first time I was ever lost abroad (and a four hour ordeal!). Luckily, avoided a major incident while in South Korea, which is funny, since Seoul has 10 million people, and Sevilla has under a million.
My adventure in Groningen
Here in the Netherlands, three weeks in, I tried to attend a meditation group I found from Couchsurfing.com, directly after my first yoga class in Dutch, I had 45 minutes to walk a 20 minute distance at the most, plenty of buffer. I even planned ahead and snacked on a peanut butter sandwich and a tangerine during the easy part of the walk.
Trying to find the meditation class: Fail
After my first yoga class in Dutch, I felt like I could take on the world. Upbeat and energized, I held my head high as I walked back in my familiar neighborhood along the canal. I ate my food on the way, birds chirping, blue sky and breeze flowing. Ten minutes later my familiar surroundings faded into an unfamiliar neighborhood; unfazed, I pulled out my crumpled direction street names and my iPhone to look at the picture I took of the map. Despite having 30% battery, I had a black screen with the sad looking empty battery picture staring back at me. Only slightly exasperated at this point, I trooped on, to rely only on the street name scrap of paper.
Europe Navigation Secret, Quirk #1
Now, let me tell you a little secret about European streets (gained from my first escapade in Spain – learned 2 hours into that adventure). The street names are not displayed on posts (like in the US), they are displayed on the sides of the buildings at the intersections. Sometimes they are placed further in on the building than one can appropriately see from the street, in my opinion, but I digress. A bit of hunting is necessary. I gave up trying to not look like a tourist and was full on gawking once in the unfamiliar neighborhood.
Quirk #2: Harry Potter Staircase Moving Streets
The odds were in my favor though, because while I looked for the next street name, I realized I ended up on the exact streets I looked for, before needing to turn. I attribute this on the streets changing name at every intersection (this is a bit dramatic of me, but often true, so watch out for it). Pleased with myself, I was right on schedule 15 minutes in as I stumbled on every street name I needed, right up until the until the second to last one. In my excitement of the street names appearing, I missed looking at ONE street corner. This caused me a 45 minute escapade down the road to another canal, another neighborhood, and more frustration.
I finally was forced to admit my conceit, after hearing a bell tower somewhere in the distance (there is always a bell tower close by in Europe) I realized the meeting had started, and I would have to come next week. At least I figured out the location, even if it was in the 9th hour. I walked home defeated, tired and cold, only to realize I was locked out when I got home (which is a story for another time), but boyfriend to the rescue 40 minutes later. He thoroughly enjoyed my detailed recount!
But, what did I see and learn you ask? Well, I learned the meditation class was much closer than I thought, I found an extra close grocery store, and learned the area behind our apartment neighborhood and how it all connected together.
The Things to Carry on an Adventure
It’s always advisable to make sure you are well prepared your first few times out:
- Backpack or large purse to keep a snack
- A layer you can add if it gets cold (or dark!)
- Tissue (my nose tends to run when I walk around a lot, especially if there is a breeze!)
- Camera or camera-phone
- Book to rage-quit at a local café somewhere
- Of course a bit of money and ID.
*I usually try to wear my most comfortable shoes when venturing out, but I don’t always remember.
It’s always advisable to write down your address, phone number (if you have one), a local large street or landmark near you, and a few key phrases in the local language if you are still learning it – all on a piece of paper you carry with you the first few weeks as well. It makes asking directions much easier and less scary. More reliable than an iPhone dying mid-adventure!
Getting lost creates a wonderful opportunity to practice the local language. It forces you into the scary place of needing to walk up to a stranger and look a bit ridiculous using just a few key phrases and large hand signals, but most people are extremely willing to help out. I usually go into a shop that looks cheerful and friendly with a couple customers inside, or to a family on the street. I also often follow the kid stranger-danger rule if all else fails, and walk up to a woman rather than a man to ask for directions.
Always pay attention to your next steps – if you are lost at night, notice how lit up the area is that you are headed into. Ideally, you would like to be able to see at least two different sets of people around you. If you notice the area you are entering into is really dark or really isolated, just turn around and retrace your steps to another area to head back in the direction you want. There is no need to get into a weird situation.
I did this with my boyfriend in Colombia, we were coming back from a street concert, fighting a little, a bit lost and not paying attention as we headed to the bus stop. It was only 6 pm or 7 pm, but the sun goes down really quickly in that part of the hemisphere, so it was pitch black out. We suddenly stopped talking and noticed it was a way darker street, with some questionable looking characters coming up ahead of us – quite a bit of them. We both whispered at the same time without looking at each other, “we should turn around,” so we did, and headed back to the main street with lots of light and way more people. We just found a different route to the bus stop we needed. We decided the longer route was way better than risking it, and it quickly quashed whatever we were squabbling about.
So enjoy, going out to explore your new neighborhood, especially if you will be there for more than a few days is ideal for gathering your essential kit, and trying out your navigation skills!
Do you have any similar adventures?