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How To Be Lost Without Looking Lost

This is a guest post by Jasmine. If you'd like to guest post on Go Backpacking, please read more here.

This sign probably won't help you find your way (Port of Spain, Trinidad).

This sign probably won't help you find your way (Port of Spain, Trinidad).

You've ventured out to explore your new city, and you have no clue where you are. You also happen to be in a region in which you stick out like a store thumb, and the stares you're getting seem to intensify the situation.

Your map is in your bag – but do you really want to pull it out on that busy street corner or that dodgy neighborhood?

No, you don't.

Here's how to be lost without looking lost.

Don't Look Up

While you're lost, you begin to read the names of every single street and every single sign that you pass. A lot of these indicators will be above your line of sight, so your head resembles something like a pinball that has been shot furiously by the right flipper. Do you see the locals looking up, or looking around wildly? No. They are well aware of how tall their buildings are – looking up is a dead giveaway that you're not from around here.

Ask. Rinse. Repeat.

It's okay to ask for directions. The best way to do this covertly is to duck into a corner store, buy a pack of gum or a snack, and ask the cashier for help. If you confuse yourself again, do it again in another store. So you're six packs of Trident richer – at least you made it back to your hostel! And your breath will be minty fresh. It's a win/win.

My 8th cafe mocha of the day (Christchurch, New Zealand).

My 8th cafe mocha of the day (Christchurch, New Zealand).

Hesitate And Perish

Have you ever sat in an outdoor cafe in a new city and watched its inhabitants walk by? Generally speaking, large city dwellers (that's dwellers of large cities, not overweight city dwellers) tend to walk quickly and confidently. Even in smaller towns and coastal destinations, the people walk with a definitive purpose. They are going somewhere.

I, on the other hand, am rarely going somewhere. I like to wander, hence the name of my blog. One thing I don't do, though, when I'm trying not to look lost, is hesitate. Your mind goes, “Wait, was it that street or the next one?” and your body makes this complete, dramatic, obvious stop. Next thing you know, all eyes are on you. Keep it moving until you figure out where the hell you're at. Reducing your pace gives you some more time; just make sure it's in line with the rhythm of the other people around you.


A great opportunity to hide a map (Sihanoukville, Cambodia).

A great opportunity to hide a map (Sihanoukville, Cambodia).

The Clandestine Map Glance

You're itching to have a look at the map in your bag, sure that you could find your present location on it. What I normally do is fold the map up in my purse so that only the part I need is showing. That way, I can easily open up my purse, acting as if I'm digging around for something else, when really I'm looking at my map. If the map is too big for that, I take a seat in a park or on a bench and try to hide the map from view by placing it in my notebook or another book I might be carrying. (Note: not a guidebook. Duh. Another dead giveaway).

No Backtracking

Strolling down the street in a general state of confusion, you reach the corner, and all of a sudden you realize this is not where you were trying to go. You do an abrupt about-face and retrace your steps. Now you've gotten the attention of everyone on the street: the two guys leaning against the wall talking, the woman chatting with a neighbor, and the motorcyclist parking his bike. To avoid this one, have a walk around the block. You'll end up back where you started, and no one will be the wiser.

It's okay to be lost. It's an unavoidable part of travel. However, there are ways to be cool about it, and there are ways to look like a traveling freak show.

May all your wrong turns be stealthy!


About the Author: Jasmine is a 20-something female traveling around the world solo. She is currently falling in love with Colombia, eating arepas, drinking tinto, and saying “chimba.” Catch up with her adventures at Jasmine Wanders Travel Blog and follow her on Twitter @jasminewanders.

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Monday 20th of September 2010

Best part of travelling for me is when you get lost! Good tips of not letting the world know tho!

"at least you made it back to your hostel! And your breath will be minty fresh. It's a win/win"

Made me laugh!

Jennifer Tice

Wednesday 15th of September 2010

Great article! I always know I stand out like a sore thumb when I am lost, looking around like an idiot! Here's hoping these tips will help, thanks!

Phil Paoletta

Tuesday 7th of September 2010

Jasmine, I enjoyed this, and these are indeed perfect tips to avoid being seen as lost. At the same time, I think it's worth it to appear lost depending on where you're at. The hesitate and perish is a common move for me. I will walk down a street, hear some music booming out of speakers, start to feel it, then stop, turn around and investigate. There are definitely times, however, when you do not want to appear lost!!!! Take care, Phil


Wednesday 8th of September 2010

You're absolutely right, sometimes it's okay! For example, some of the small towns in Colombia I've been to, everyone knows I'm new from the moment I arrive. There's no use pretending I know where I'm going or that I belong there, and it's safe anyway. Definitely depends on the place and the situation :)

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