The Perils and Possibilities of Getting Lost

By  Lola Reid Allin March 7, 2011

Consider the concept of "getting lost." Should we really tremble at the thought?

If you want to make sure you never get lost, you could contact a travel agent to book a package tour. This agent, along with their representatives abroad, will become like surrogate parents. They will make all arrangements before departure. They will confirm that your passport is valid with an expiry date at least three months after your return home. They will arrange for visas, if necessary. Flights, ground transportation, dining, accommodation, regional sightseeing itineraries and gratuities - all are arranged. Arriving to the bus on time is your sole responsbility. Travel will be facile. Safety is paramount. Getting lost has been factored out of this equation.

But wait a minute. That kind of travel doesn't sound very adventurous, does it? Consider the concept of "getting lost." Should we really tremble at the thought?

During my years in commercial aviation, we pilots were never lost; we were just "temporarily disoriented," which is a logic-driven approach (admittedly coupled with the vanity of pilots unwilling to admit imperfection). We understood that fear was a normal reaction to a potentially hazardous situation. Situations were evaluated rationally. Panic was abnormal; it was counterproductive.

So, how does being "lost" contrast with being "temporarily disoriented"? And how do these concepts relate to panic and fear? Though being lost is possible, if you think you're lost, you're probably not far from your destination. That's what it means to be "temporarily disoriented": To realize that you're close to your target but perhaps you've taken a wrong turn. Believing that you're lost, without hope, is a dysfunctional response that engenders panic - so don't panic!

Of course, this approach assumes you're not travelling at night, alone, recognized as vulnerable by desperados who now have you captured and blindfolded. It also infers that you are not travelling in a war-ravaged country with landmarks, structures and road signs FUBAR (f*ucked-up-beyond-all-recognition). So, if becoming astray has actually endangered you, you probably should be a little afraid (but remember: fear is normal).

Let's take a quick inventory of things working in your favour: you know your departure point, your destination and the linking route. Hopefully, you have plotted your route on a map, perhaps in a guidebook. Maybe you've highlighted routes and venues for easy reference. Better still, you've marked the page with a sticky note to avoid standing on the street corner frantically ruffling through pages, succumbing to a state of confusion more likely to heighten tension than to get you un-lost.

If you knew your position a few minutes ago, straying far is inconceivable. Remain calm. If passers-by offer assistance, feel free to refuse assistance politely with confidence, stating that you are merely consulting your reference. Consider entering a nearby store to gather your wits without distractions. If doubt lingers, as the shopkeeper for advice. By assuming the initiative, you remain in control. Then, armed with directions, depart undaunted.

It is possible to fulfill your travel plans while embracing serendipity. After all, welcoming this kind of happenstance can offer adventure into your travelling and contrast into your life. Make those foreigners your friends. So, go get lost (but remain calm)!

Lola Reid Allin is a traveller, freelance photographer and author currently based in Hastings County, Canada.  She is a commercial pilot, PADI DiveMaster and Maya ethnographer who has lived in Mexico’s Yucatan, Belize, British Columbia interior, and almost everywhere in Ontario.  Her travels include exploration of Kenya, Morocco, Tanzania, Portugal, Spain, Germany, France, India, Australia, Peru, Cuba, and the Maya Lands of Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala.  Her volunteer experience includes translation, photography and teaching in Kenya, Honduras and Guatemala.

This article is the winning submission from the Verge Storyboard for the week of March 7, 2011. Click here to check out the board and submit your own story!

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