It was my first full day in London. Ever. Even though it was sort of rainy I decided to walk to Hyde Park as it was only about four blocks from my hotel. Then I got lost. Horribly, horribly lost.
Getting lost seems to be an inevitability with me, at least when I am traveling. Getting lost is sort of my thing. Getting lost is something I’m really good at.
I stood there on a street corner trying to figure out where the heck I was, trying really hard not to panic. Trying really hard to look like I knew what I was doing – hard to do when you are gazing at a large map and feeling like an idiot.
Getting lost happens to a lot of travelers. It is sort of a rite of passage. Some of my best travel stories start with “I got lost on my way to…”
However, in the moment of being lost? That isn’t much fun at all. In fact in can be downright frightening. At the very least it is frustrating and irritating and uncomfortable.
Getting lost has taught me several things.
First off, I’ve learned not to panic. Getting lost can also be really empowering. Seriously – once you’ve gone off beacon far away from home and found your way back? You feel pretty invincible.
Secondly, I’ve learned to trust. People used to tell me that when you need help, it appears. I thought that sounded like a lot of new-agey, woo-woo mysticism and tended to be silently mocking of the person who was doing the telling.
Then I got lost a few times and someone always appeared to help me find my way. That first time in London it was a very nice woman who was out walking her dog. When I got off at the wrong train station in Antwerp – a station that was echoingly empty of people – at the moment I was about to burst into tears a man seemingly appeared out of nowhere; he was the station manager and though he spoke little English between us I got on the right train and was on my way again. It always seems to happen.
Thirdly, I’ve discovered that getting lost can lead you to some amazing places. I have stumbled onto little parks, pretty churches in out of the way places, amazing views and just flat out fun streets.
Sure, it pays to be careful. You don’t want to get lost late at night. You don’t want to get lost in a really dodgy place. You don’t want to get lost in a wilderness. Those are truly scary.
The every day, run of the mill getting lost of travel – that can be golden.
It goes back to trust. Trusting yourself, trusting your instincts and trusting that most people are decent and kind. I was never good at that. Good at getting lost, sure; good at trusting? Not so much.
I came back from that first trip feeling a lot more confident. A lot more self-assured. Okay, yeah, I had started out for Hyde Park and found myself across from the wax museum (which is pretty much in the exact opposite direction) on the first day. Sure, I took the wrong direction on the Underground more than once. Sure, got lost in Paris and in South Hampton and in Le Havre.
As I said – getting lost is something I do well.
Each time, however, I found my way back. I didn’t crumple, I didn’t cry (though sometimes I wanted to), I didn’t throw in the towel. I just worked my way through it. Each time I got a little more confident, a little less scared. Each time I felt just a bit more…me.
Sometimes, it turns out, the best way to find yourself is to just get lost.