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It's happened to every seasoned traveler: you're enjoying the day in a new city when suddenly it dawns on you. You have no idea where you are. You don't speak the language, and you have no clue how to get back to where you're staying. You're lost.
Don't panic. Getting lost when traveling can be scary, but it’s part of the experience and doesn’t have to end badly. The more prepared you are, the easier it will be to find your way and continue on your adventure. Follow these travel tips for getting home when you stray too far.
1. Ask a Local
It's easy to feel overwhelmed when you can't find your way. This is especially true if you are traveling alone. But stay calm. There are plenty of people around who can help you find your way. All you have to do is ask.
However, when asking for help and admitting to someone that you are lost, remember that you are putting yourself in a vulnerable position. To avoid becoming a victim, keep the following in mind:
- Make sure all of your possessions are secure before approaching anyone for help.
- It's better to go into a restaurant, retail store, or similarly monitored public area when asking for help—you can also ask employees.
- See if you can find other tourists who speak your language and are more familiar with the area.
- Ask a police officer who should know the area well.
If you don't speak the country’s native language, your smart device can help:
- Tools like Google Translate can help you communicate with a stranger. Download the App on your mobile phone for swifter access.
- Apps like “Point It Book” help you communicate using pictures instead of words.
2. Look for Landmarks
When arriving in an unfamiliar city, get to know some of the landmarks—especially ones close to where you’re staying. Many places have landmarks such as skyscrapers, churches, or well-known museums that can help you keep track of where you are.
If you get lost, start by looking for landmarks. If you can't see the skyline, you may need to get a little higher up a nearby hill.
Landmarks also make it easier to ask for help—instead of asking folks for directions to your accommodation, mention a landmark:
- This is a safer option than sharing the place you’re staying at.
- People are more likely to know landmarks than they are to know specific hotels or buildings.
Even if the landmark is not close to where you’re staying, people who work at landmarks are more likely to speak your language and can help you get back safely.
3. Find Public Wi-Fi
If you didn't download maps offline before leaving your hotel, you'll need to figure out a way to access one online. Many cities offer free public Wi-Fi at community centers, libraries, or popular tourist gathering places. However, you’ll want to be extremely careful, as your data is much more vulnerable to hackers when you access free Wi-Fi. To stay safe:
- Use a reliable mobile VPN service.
- Use your own mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, like Skyroam's pocket-sized one.
- Avoid apps that require passwords, gather personal information, or send business communications when using a public Wi-Fi connection.
Once you have internet access, you can open digital maps and be able to figure out where you are and where you need to go immediately.
If it’s just an issue where your smartphone is running out of battery power, there are places with areas to charge your device—cafés, hotels, or even subway stations. You can also ask to borrow a device or charger from someone else—but be careful when doing this. It’s also a good idea to carry an external battery backup or mobile charger to avoid this issue.
Alternatively, if you have the confidence, many larger cities offer free maps for tourists. Although these print maps are old fashioned and don’t display your current location, these maps often highlight easy to recognize landmarks and help direct you to where you need to go.
4. Find a Fancy Hotel
A great international travel hack involves enlisting the help of a concierge at a nearby fancy hotel:
- The people behind the front desk are trained to help tourists.
- Folks that work at fancy hotels are more likely to speak your language and have more resources to point you in the right direction.
- You might run into fellow tourists who can help you when you’re lost.
While you’re there, sit down and catch your breath. Being lost can be very stressful, so take a break on the comfortable couches in the lobby and drink some free refreshments to remember the magic that comes with international travel.
5. Catch a Cab
If you’ve got some cash, it’s always possible to hail a cab to your destination. If you don’t remember your address, direct the cab driver to a nearby landmark or a more familiar area. Be sure to confirm the price before you begin your ride so there aren’t any disagreements about cost when you arrive.
If you’re staying at a hotel, it’s a good idea to grab a business card before you leave so you have the address written in the country’s native language. This makes it easier to ask for help or direct cab drivers when you’re lost.
No cabs but you see bus or metro stops? These areas are other excellent places to look for help:
- Often, public transportation systems display maps you can use to figure out where you need to go.
- Some stations have help desks where you can ask for directions or confirm which lines to take.
- You’re bound to find people at public transportation hubs. Ask them for help if you need to.
- If none of these options are available, you can always hop onto a bus and ask the driver for help.
6. Be Confident
Although getting lost while traveling internationally is intimidating, it’s just another part of the adventure. It's important to keep a good attitude and know that you'll be able to get back to where you need to go.