“It’s not about the plan, it’s about the detour,” is the tagline of Claire Ramsdell’s website, The Detour Effect. Her family calls her “Wrong-Way Ramsdell” because of her sense of direction but this hasn’t stopped her from solo travelling, hitchhiking, car camping, and hiking all on her own. Another travel blogger, Christina Jane of Being Christina Jane says that she overcame her fear of getting lost abroad by doing it scared and embracing this part of herself.
While solo travel can be challenging, a bad sense of direction (or anything else) shouldn’t hold you back. From apps to mindset tips, here are some ideas about how to solo travel with a bad sense of direction.
Prepare before your trip
Before your big trip, boost your confidence! Try going out in your hometown or a neighbourhood you know well. Walk around while paying attention to your surroundings, rehearse every turn, and check the names of supermarkets, shops, and restaurants. Then, learn how to read maps if you don’t know already, ask a friend with a good sense of direction if they have tips, and make sure that you’re ready for your solo trip.
Download some useful travel apps
Navigation apps, translation apps, and offline apps are some of the most useful travel apps for people with a bad sense of direction.
- Google Maps: An indispensable travel app, Google Maps lets you save places you want to go, pin where your accommodation is, and search for directions. You can also use it offline if you download maps in advance. Pinning the places you’ve been on Google Maps can strengthen your sense of place and give you a solid idea of where you are.
- Google Translate: Many Google Translate languages have downloadable language files that can be used offline. Especially if you’re in a foreign country where there is a language barrier, Google Translate can be used as a communication tool. It also allows you to take photos to translate images or pictures.
- Maps.me: An offline map app, Maps.me features hundreds of cities and countries worldwide.
- GAIA GPS: For adventurous travellers like Claire, GAIA GPS is a must. With detailed trail guides, topography features, and forecasts, GAIA is one of the best options in remote areas when there’s no cell service. It also comes in handy in big cities in case skyscrapers block signals.
- Avenza: Available for both iOS and Android, Avenza provides offline mobile maps for a wide range of activities, including cycling, hiking, paddling, and walking around the city.
- Waze (needs internet): If you’re driving, Waze’s real-time directions and traffic updates will help you find the fastest way to your destination. The app also shows road closures so that you know which road to avoid.
- Uber or Bolt (needs internet): Depending on the country you’re in, Uber or Bolt are great options to go back to your hostel at night or find transport urgently if you’re lost. If you’re using taxis instead, make sure to carry cash.
- Local public transportation apps: While Google Maps is mostly accurate, downloading local apps is always a good idea. For example, in Prague, the PID Líta?ka app shows ticket-selling points, public transport departures, and accessibility facilities. You can also buy your ticket online from the app.
- Hostelworld: Book hostels, connect with travellers, and join chats on Hostelworld’s travel app.
Buy a local SIM card or an eSIM while travelling abroad
If you’re travelling abroad, a local SIM card will allow you to make calls and access the internet without depending on WiFi. A more hassle-free option is using an eSIM through a provider like Airalo. This way, you can call an Uber if needed, use any app at any time, and make urgent calls.
Take photos and note addresses
Take photos of important landmarks to guide you, screenshot practical information to refer back to, and note the address of your hostel or the places you want to go to. Even when you don’t have an internet connection, you can show locals your photos and ask for help. Another good idea would be to learn a few words in the local language if you’re abroad, especially direction-related ones such as where, straight, left, right, etc.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
“Solo travelling has taught me to assume the best before the worst when trusting people,” says Christina Jane. Indeed, we are inclined to get scared before getting excited when it comes to solo travel. In Christina’s experience, people were always willing to help. Everybody can get lost, no matter how good or bad their sense of direction is. Whether it is fellow travellers in your hostel or locals, ask for help, and in most cases, people will help you.
A bad sense of direction is not always a bad thing
When I got lost in my new neighbourhood in Prague, I found a darts bar that I still go to sometimes. Just like I did, Christina and Claire also found cool places after getting lost or simply going with the flow. These include crawfish boils, marketplaces, ghost towns, roadside attractions, random night-outs with new friends, and beach-side camp parks!
Always use your common sense to stay safe and have your travel apps at the ready but don’t go too hard on yourself if you can’t find a place on the first try. Sometimes, getting lost is the passage to a new adventure.
Practice makes perfect
As you gain experience as a solo traveller, you will build your confidence, find out about your travel style, and see which apps work best for you. Although it might sound impossible right now, you will get better at navigation, improve your sense of direction, and hopefully tell your stories to your family, friends, and the travellers you will meet on the road.
Believe in yourself
Since she likes being spontaneous at a new destination, Claire makes sure that she has thoroughly prepared for her trip, done her research, and has all the apps she needs. This helps her feel more confident about the upcoming trip so that she can focus on having fun.
“Confidence and self-belief make a bigger difference than all of the apps combined,” she says. And she’s right — there’s no reason why anything should stop you from going on that trip you’ve been dreaming about.