When you’re exploring a new place, it’s quite easy to get wound up and lost. You can be out walking, or in a busy market place, or even inside a closed location like a museum. Last year, when I was in Merida, Mexico, I went to Casa Museo Montes Molina which was a privately owned mansion that the owner converted into a museum for the local Mayan history. I went to the bathrooms and suddenly I didn’t know where I was. Luckily the museum was small so I found the main entrance quite quickly and was able to retrace my steps to where I left my family. On the street, it can be very overwhelming if you get lost, whether it be because of wandering by yourself, or with a group, or simply because the intersections and street names sound utterly unfamiliar to you and mean absolutely nothing to you. Here are three of my fail-proof tips that will keep you not lost and fully enable you to soak up the adventure.
- Print out addresses. Enough arguing with the cab driver because he doesn’t understand you. This is one very effective method for going places without a tour guide, especially if you don’t speak the local language. If you stay at a condo or small hostel, it’s best if you print of the address and keep two or three copies with you (in case you lose one, or if the driver forgets to give one back). If you stay at a hotel, grab a couple of business cards from the front desk.
- Use Google map routes (or the friendly concierge at the front desk). On thing that I like to do when traveling is walking the downtown area by myself. It makes me feel like I’m exploring and diving into a different culture, getting the feel of the locals’ lives. It also is a very good way to get lost, which is why you should always plan ahead. Pick out specific locations you want to hit during the day and highlight the route from the point of interest and your hotel, whether you plan on taking a cab or walking (on paper or on your smart phone, which ever you prefer, although I like to have a concrete hard copy in my hands).
- Set a “Meet-Me-Here” Spot. When going out in a group, you are bound to split up at some point. Let me tell you from experience that there is nothing as frustrating as not knowing where someone else went, especially in a foreign place. To avoid this and potential shouting matches, select a spot, shop, or intersection and a time–picking a time is very important and make sure everyone agrees on it–for everyone to meet up at. Avoid vague areas like “Walmart” or the “public park” but specific spots, for instance “The pickup area at the Starbucks in the strip mall on Avenue 5 and 15th Street. Make sure the instructions are clearly understood by everyone, and the place is well-populated, familiar and safe, particularly if you out at night.