Does the word ‘lost’ bring terror to your eyes and a nasty lump to your throat? Or do you see it as an opportunity to discover a new route and have an unscheduled adventure? Probably your reaction is colored by previous experiences of being lost, and whether the experience was a positive or a negative one.
On the one hand, getting lost can be a rewarding and enriching experience. You will inevitably discover new roads, and pass previously undiscovered treasures – a delightful backstreet café, a secluded beach, a quiet, unspoilt backwater in an otherwise bustling city. Paris is a great place to just meander and discover new sights. Eventually you will stumble around the corner of a cobbled street and see something you recognize, and you are back on terra firma, having spent a happy time exploring. This can hardly be described as lost – it is too pleasant! Other cities, especially if they are small and compact such as Amsterdam, Manhattan and Venice lend themselves to being discovered in this way.
The key factors to being lost somewhere like that is that you feel safe; there are plenty of regular people going about their daily lives who can direct you if necessary; your cell phone is in your pocket; you are unlikely to be mugged and the laws of the land will protect you.
Unfortunately some other places in the world may not be quite such pleasant places to be lost. Many third world countries only have a semblance of law and order. Corruption may be widespread and the crime rate is high. If you are the only white face in the neighborhood with money in your pocket carrying a bag of electronic gadgets, you may be a prime target for being mugged. Areas where gang warfare and drug trafficking abound such as Tijuana, Mexico are particularly high risk neighborhoods. Some countries are more likely for travelers to be kidnapped for ransom, particularly Venezuela and Colombia. At the first sign you are in an unfriendly neighborhood, turn around and retrace your steps. Being lost in a place where crime is evident, graffiti and litter abound and half the buildings are derelict is not a situation you ever want to find yourself in.
Countries where the language, culture and laws are different can be very frightening and intimidating. The back streets of Cairo, Delhi and Bogotá are just a few places where you need to avoid getting lost. Use local transport and taxis to get around and keep to well-lit, busy areas. Being worldly wise and sensible is the best way to ensure that being lost is only ever a positive and enriching experience. Happy travels!