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How to never get lost when traveling

On my first ever international trip, a friend and I found ourselves wandering the streets of Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, with a black and white photo copied map hand drawn map given to us by the hostel staff. This was before pre-downloadable offline maps were available, plus we didn’t feel too safe drawing attention with our smart phone’s bright screens to illuminate our paper map and search for street signs , which were near non-existent. We were lost, but the situation didn’t feel too dire because we were together. Here are some things I’ve learned over the years about being lost, how to avoid it and what to do if it does happen.

backlit dawn foggy friendship

Travel with Friends
Getting lost when traveling might be one of the scariest experiences, on par with losing all your money or missing an important flight, but it doesn’t have to feel like it if you are lost together with other people. The safety of numbers allows you to emotionally support one another. While a few people look up maps and brainstorm a plan to get back, the other(s) can stay alert and keep watch. The security of a group might even allow you to explore the unfamiliar area, but be careful to not draw too much attention because you don’t know what kind of neighborhood you’re in.

blur cartography close up concept

Use Offline Maps
With offline map apps such as maps.me and the proliferation of smartphones, it’s now nearly impossible to not know what neighborhood you’re in or how to get back. The GPS and path finding functions will allow you to calculate routes from your location to whatever pins you place on the map. Just make sure you properly pin and mark key locations. However, do not mindlessly follow the routes as they sometimes give the shortest, but possibly more dangerous paths. I’ve been lead to dark alleyways, narrow crossings, open fields, etc. I suggest taking larger and busier streets. The routes will automatically recalculate, which means you’re almost never going the wrong way.

forced perspective photography of cars running on road below smartphone

Carry Extra Batteries
Even if you use a mapping app, there’s still risk that comes with reliance on technology because your battery might die or your device might get stolen. Even with airplane mode and background app refresh turned off (equivalent to “power saver mode”) and a dimmed screen to save battery life, you will still drain a lot of battery when keeping the screen on while following the map all day. Sometimes, inexplicably, my device would burn through battery and force me to use the phone sparingly because I did not want to stop exploring for the day. As a backup, I always carry two small portable batteries. I recommend having at least one that has a % charge display, too. I also bring a cheap backup device which I leave in my pack in case I lose my primary phone (luckily I’ve never had to switch to the backup).

Unlike my first time traveling, today it is hard to truly ever get lost, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t get lost. Technology may have “alleviated” some of the fun and not so fun excitement and adventure of being truly lost, but that’s probably a good thing.

Advance tip:
However, if you want to get lost, then ignore all the above.

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