Please, Don’t Ask Me for Directions

In Getting oriented, The Art of Travel Fall 2015, Washington DC by Kennedy Hill1 Comment

If I am heading somewhere new, or if I don’t remember how to get somewhere, then I immediately turn to a map. But not a physical map, no, those aren’t nearly detailed enough for a direction-impaired individual such as myself. I need the map app on my phone, the navigation system in my car, every type of subway, bus, and rail app I can find to help me on my way. I know that like clockwork, there will come a point in my journey (that was supposed to be a 10 minute drive to the local market) that I will:

A. miss so many turns that I have to completely reroute my directions


B. become so restless with the path that I’m being told to take that I ignore my directions, try to get there on my own a.k.a. get myself completely lost, turn back on navigation, and spend the next 5 minutes trying to get back to where I just was

You see, I have absolutely no sense of direction. But here in the states, that doesn’t cause much of a problem; I grab my phone and I can go anywhere. Every once in a while, I will have to ask a stranger for help, but it is not common enough to cause any impact on my life. Because I am often following a specific route to get somewhere, my image of the city I am in forms along certain streets and corners. The buildings that line the path to my internship everyday form the background for my life in DC.

My experience is almost completely reversed when I remove myself from the familiarities of the USA and travel beyond the reach of my online maps. When out of the country, I immediately give up the reigns and rely on someone else to lead the way. The most significant difference is that here in DC, I’m often traveling back and forth on my own, and when I’m out of the country, I’m always with my parents or other people. It is easy to let go and be comfortable wandering around a new city when you know you have someone willing to keep track of how to get back home, but if you are the person responsible, then it makes it impossible to truly be free from the restraints of navigation.

There is such a difference between becoming lost, and allowing yourself to become lost. The admission of defeat to a world so much larger than ourselves brings with it such a deep immersion into an environment, so new, that we gain the ability to observe, to absorb, all that was once so close to becoming background noise. I now look back and wonder what I have missed in places that I have been, but have not truly seen. There appears to be a state of immersion, the ability to soak up everything around you, that is achieved with the perfect balance of uncertainty and confidence. They work with one another to make the individual wholly present in a space.

I have experienced the distinction of becoming lost, and of allowing myself to be lost. My most vivid memory of truly becoming lost, not purposefully, took place in Italy. My family, my boyfriend, and myself were all on a road trip from Rome to Pompeii. We figured it would be just as convenient to drive ourselves there rather than take the train. After an exciting visit to the ruins, we load back up into the rental car and realize that the hotel had only printed us directions for going from Rome to Pompeii, not for the way back. We had the outrageous task of trying to reverse the directions they had given us in an attempt to find the hotel that was a few hours away. Many times during that drive we became truly lost, having to stop multiple times for directions.

But there are plenty of times when I experienced the blissfulness of being lost. Wandering throughout the narrow side streets of Madrid, drifting across hidden portraits done on the side of a building in downtown Dallas, these are the moments in which I can allow myself to be submersed into my surroundings, the moments in which I realize the distinctive nature of my geography.


  1. Kennedy,
    I see the common theme of using our phones to guide us present in every blog post on here. I wonder what the hell we were to do without the immersive, shifting, and guiding maps we have today. I appreciate how you make the distinction between being lost and allowing yourself to be lost. I think being lost is a state of mind and something that we have no control over, like your experience coming from Pompeii to Rome. On the other hand, I find allowing yourself to be lost means you’re choosing to immerse yourself in the unfamiliar. That really is a motion of confidence and confusion. I think both forms of being lost have their merits. On one hand, really getting lost can be humbling and enlightening. On the other hand, allowing yourself to get lost introduces multitudes of unfamiliar people, places and things, and invites you to learn and explore. Which one do you find yourself more immersed in?

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