“Getting lost is fun.”, you may have heard this several times from an avid traveler, and I agree wholeheartedly that getting lost in foreign countries is quite an experience, but for a casual traveler, that may not be the case.
Imagine you are in China where no one speaks English, you are lost trying to find your hotel, and it’s getting darker by the minute. That does not sound fun anymore isn’t it? How could getting lost like this be fun? It’s nerve wrecking. Well, this exact scenario happened to me last week when I was traveling around ZhangJiaJie in China, and even though, it was nerve wrecking, I ended up coping with it and embraced it instead. Why? Let me tell you from my experience why getting lost is fun and how you can cope with it without being overwhelming.
Why you should get lost on purpose?
When you are lost, your sense of exploration expands in order to survive. You will become more vigilant of your surroundings. You will notice details that you may not have noticed before. You will try your best to learn the structure of the area while you figure out your location and ultimately, you will have a greater understanding of the locals and the city more than when you know where you are going.
For example, when I was trying to find my hotel in China, I was looking around and noticed this crowded little street food stroller by the corner and I decided to give it a go, and as it turns out, it was one of the best meal I had, at half the price. If I was not lost, I wouldn’t have found this place. I would have ended up in a restaurant near the hotel instead.
You will become more open to talking to strangers when you are lost because that’s where you will find help and with that you will be able to experience the real local’s touch first hand. They will not expect anything back from you, like those scammers you see infesting tourists spots. These are locals, living their lives each day, offering help to struggling foreigners without expecting anything back. These are the kind of people that will leave you positive memories of the place.
As I was signing my hands like a monkey trying to communicate with this Chinese lady while she helped me out. I realized how even though they can not speak english, they did try their best to help me out. Some even lead me to the bus station and sat with me while I waited for my bus. I was impressed by this simple act of kindness which left me wanting to stay in the city longer.
If you are traveling to places without getting lost, how else would you differentiate your stories from other tourists? Traveling is about getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing the dynamic part of life. If everything goes according to plan, then you are not traveling or exploring at all, you are simply touring the area. There’s no story in that. It’s just a repeat of other people’s stories.
Four months ago, I went to Bagan in Myanmar and biked around the area and as I was trying to get my way around this one remote temple, I ended up in what looks like to be a cactus farm owned by the locals. Such stories doesn’t come if you don’t put your Explorer’s helm on and get lost of purpose.
How to get lost more comfortably?
In order to cope with being lost in a foreign country, first you need to be able to take control of the situation. Here are things you should prepare:
- Before you travel to places, get familiar with the map of the area. You should know which direction is north or south all the time, so you know that you are heading in the right direction.
- If you have Google Maps installed on your smart phones, make sure to download an offline map of the area to your phone so you can use it on the go.
- If you have Google Translate installed, make sure you have downloaded an offline pack of the language you are translating to so you can communicate better with the locals.
- Save all your hotels information including location, addresses in their language, and phone numbers so that you can ask the locals for directions.
You must be flexible in your plan in order to allow time for unforeseeable circumstances. It doesn’t help if you have a tight schedule and you are currently lost. If it’s getting dark and dangerous, don’t ignore your instinct and panic trying to find your hotel, just crash at the next hotel you see and call it a day.
That was what I did, when I couldn’t find my hotel in ZhangJiaJie. I ended up crashing at another hotel that are nearer to the sightseeing spot and is equipped with a heater. I did not regret my decision. :-)
When you are in doubt, stop and explore other options. If you come prepared and you know that you are suppose to go north, but instead you are heading south, stop right away and ask the locals. Don’t take unnecessary risks and go with your instinct. It is better to trust your sense of direction than risking it for the sake of exploration.
As I was walking around the ZhangJiaJie national park, trying to find a restaurant, I saw a sign saying that there’s a village up ahead (without the distance) with Fast Food restaurants. I decided to follow the sign so I can finally eat lunch but as I walked further and further into the forest going down endless stairs, something didn’t feel right. “Shouldn’t I be going up instead”, I started questioning myself. I walked for a bit and looked down trying to find another stairs going up. I didn’t find one and as it gets steeper and steeper, I feared that I might be heading in the wrong direction going down mountains and accidentally exit the national park. I decided to backtrack and went up the same route and headed in another direction. Thank god, I decided to turn back as I learned afterward that that village I was heading to is situated down the mountain and it is connected to another exit.
Being lost is part of the ride
When you decided to travel, no matter how much you prepare, the chance of you being lost is still pretty high. There’s no way of knowing what situation will play out when you are out there, and there’s no use in sweating and worrying about it. What you can do is shift your perspective toward being lost, and instead of flagging it as a failure, try to cope with it and embrace it. If you are optimist, you will likely find goods in any situation no matter how bad it gets. There’s always something to learn from.
Have you ever got lost in foreign countries to the point that you almost break? How did you cope with it and learn from it? Let share your lost story in the comment below.