Get lost! (Weekend/Wednesday Assignment #298)

This past week, Karen had one of those unexpected adventures that can happen along the way, and that prompted a question:

Weekend Assignment #298: Do you often get lost, trying to get someplace new? Do you print out a map, or just wing it? And when you do have trouble finding your way, is it an annoyance or an adventure?
Extra Credit: Is your town or city easy to get lost in?

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I’m pretty good at reading maps, because I need to be. My eyesight is bad enough (even when wearing my contacts) that I have trouble making out small street signs and address numbers. When I’m going someplace new, I’ll study the map carefully first, so I know just how many more blocks I need to go after the last major intersection and can count them off as I’m driving. I try to remember to put the map in the car ahead of time, so I don’t leave without it and can refer to it on the way. I usually print my maps from Google Maps so I can include the turn-by-turn directions, which are very helpful; I just wish they’d include on which side of the street the address I’m looking for is located.

Even with preparation, though, I still get lost sometimes. Most of the time that happens toward the end of the trip, when I overshoot or can’t find the address I’m looking for. Occasionally, I’ll encounter a detour that sends me off my route into an unfamiliar area. And if I have to find my way to a new place at night, I’ll probably try to get someone else to drive.

I’ve found that I’m most likely to get lost when I’ve gone somewhere just once or twice – enough that I don’t think I need a map, but not enough to know the route well. Last week, I got myself lost twice while on the way to the “pet lodge” where we board Gypsy. It’s out in the country – yes, we do have “country” around Los Angeles, and my home turf of Ventura County has a lot of agricultural land – and I was taking a route that I’ve used before, but always going in the opposite direction. I made a couple of wrong turns, but realized it soon enough to turn around, go back, and correct myself. But there was an unexpected benefit to that little adventure – I discovered a new alternate route for part of the drive!

My reaction to getting lost depends a lot on time – if it’s daylight, and I’m not in a rush, I don’t really mind it too much. Luckily, most of the time I realize I’ve gotten off track pretty soon after it happens, so I look for a place to turn around, and backtrack to where I think I made my mistake (it’s more of a problem if I’m not sure exactly where that happened, of course). As I already mentioned, I prefer not to find my way to new places in the dark, so if I get lost at night – or at any time of day when I’m rushing or running late – I’m much less likely to be nonchalant about it.

The suburb where I live isn’t very large; it’s not hard to learn the main north-south and east-west streets, and you’re usually not far from one of them. However, there are a lot of newer subdivisions along the edges of town, with winding roads and limited access, and those can get quite confusing. (I live in one, so trust me on that.) I work in Los Angeles, though, and that can be a whole big, sprawling other story; some people only know how to navigate the place by freeway. Over seven and a half years, I’ve learned the main roads through the San Fernando Valley well enough to get between work and home entirely on surface streets; it would take me a couple of hours one way, so I don’t want to have to do it, but it’s good to know that if it came to that, I could.

I think it’s vital to know how to read a map, and I have a good enough sense of direction to find my own way most of the time – but I’m not so good at giving directions. Fortunately, if your car has a GPS navigation system or your cell phone has a map/navigation app, you can probably figure out how to get where you need to be without my help. But if you ask me how to get somewhere, I’ll probably end up telling you to print out your own Google Map. Study it before you go, bring it with you, take your time…and don’t get lost!

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  1. I have an actual terror of being/getting lost, therefore I have learned how to read a map and if it somewhere I have never been, I mapquest it and print it out and follow it religiously. If I do get lost, I panic-so I will take the same route every time I go somewhere; no deviations for me!

  2. Kori – I tend to stick to the route I know until I've gotten familiar with an area, but that can take months…or years, depending on how often I go there.

    I don't really panic over getting lost unless it's at night – but I HATED getting lost with my ex-husband, because he did NOT handle it well. That's why I don't like to be responsible for someone else's navigation :-).

    Amy Reads – They have large signs at most of the major intersections around here, which helps, but when you're NOT looking to turn at one of those, it can be tricky. And other drivers really don't like being stuck behind me when I'm going slow and trying to figure out where I am :-)!

  3. Your mention of navigating the surface streets reminds me of an incident about 31 years ago, which I was a relatively new driver and my mom lived in San Bernardino. She let me borrow her car for a day trip to Sherman Oaks (basically to see where Harlan Ellison lived), making me promise not to use the freeways at all. I struggled along on crowded, dangerous surface streets for hours, at the end of which I called my mom and explained that it was no safer and also very frustrating. She reluctantly gave in, and let me take I-10 back – and I got back in just over an hour! (Probably I was speeding.)

  4. I use google Maps when I need to go someplace new. I've had decent luck with them but once I got pretty lost on my way to Napa, CA. I live in Silicon Valley (SF Bay Area) where everything seems a maze of streets with not too many East, West,North, South type identifiers to make anything intuitive! If I'm not in a hurry or alone and driving in a strange place in the dark I think of it as an adventure! When I go to new cities for work or new countries, it can be a bit stressful but I always figure it out!

  5. Karen – I know some people even now who prefer to avoid freeway driving. It can be done, but it usually means you won't go far from home very often. And my husband believes surface streets are more dangerous than freeways – but there are lousy drivers EVERYWHERE.

    Kathy (Bermudaonion) – I do too, which is another reason I like to avoid the freeways.

    Kathleen – I've found that as long as I can retrace my steps and haven't made too many wrong turns, I usually don't handle getting lost all that badly.

    The most navigable place I ever lived was St. Petersburg, Florida – a grid system where avenues run east-west, streets run north-south, and nearly every street is numbered and not named. You have to TRY to get lost there.

  6. I'm not a fan of driving in places I don't know. I get kind of stressed out. It's like that when I drive in the the city here, usually Jenn helps navigate, but if she is lost I get even more stressed. I don't know why, like she tells me, it's not like we are never going to get out of the city. 🙂

  7. I have a fear of getting lost and if I'm going somewhere I've never been before can sometimes get really anxious about it. I have to chart my course before hand and I look it over repeatedly. If possible, I'll even go to the location a few days before so I'll be familiar with the drive.

  8. Wendy (Literary Feline) – I'm glad I'm not the only one who's ever done "advance scouting" on a new route! If I know I have to go somewhere new at night, I've bee known to make a "test run" to find it in daylight first.