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It’s strange, but I’ve discovered I have a better sense of direction than many people — when I travel, it doesn’t take that long for me to figure out the lay of the land, and soon I’m walking around almost like a local. But I’ve also found out that many other people don’t have this good sense of direction, and it can make things difficult for them when they travel to a new place.

I used to think maybe it was something you were born with or not, but I’m now convinced that it’s a set of skills you can learn. For me, it always seemed instinctive, until a friend asked me what i do when I get to a new place. I’ve done a lot of analyzing of what I do since then, and I’ve broken the skill into a series of steps. I hope this helps those who feel lost.

Here’s what I recommend, whenever you get to a new city or area you’re not totally familiar with:

1, First, look at a map for a few minutes. I will open Google Maps and look at the city and its major landmarks and features. Is there a river, lake, harbor, sea shore? Is there a big central park, or several big parks? Where is the downtown area? What are the major neighborhoods? Major roads? Famous buildings, like the Sydney Opera house? What’s to the north or south?

2, Walk around a lot. When I first get to a city, I like to walk around a lot. This is the best way to get to know a city, to wander and start to develop a sense of where things are and how the city looks. But read on to understand how you need to walk around — it’s not just aimless.

3, Orient to some landmarks. I like to find a major building, mountain, hill, bridge, that I can keep in view as I walk around. That way when I turn left, I can say, “Oh, the Empire State Building is now over there.” This helps me have a point of reference, so I always know where I am relative to that point. Sometimes I have two or more landmarks.

4,Form a mental map. This is the key. When you look at a map for a few minutes, then walk around, what you’re doing is forming a mental map of the city. At first, it’s real vague, but as you walk, you’re adding to the map. See how the streets line up in reality compared to how you thought they line up after you first looked at the map.

5, Look at a map a lot in the beginning, but don’t rely on it completely. As you form your mental map, get in the habit of looking at the paper map in your hand, or the map on your phone, so you can fill in your mental map … but then put away the map and walk without it. Then look at the map again after a little while to fill in your mental map some more. It’s a process of learning the map by looking at it every now and then, but not relying on it. If you just follow the map all the time, you don’t ever rely on your mental map.

6, Keep your orientation as you walk around. When you walk to a destination, or even wander aimlessly, it’s easy to forget where you are or what driving directions you’re facing. This is not useful. Instead, if you make a left turn, think, “Oh, now I’m going west,” and also remember where your landmark is in relation to where you are. For example, if I start out heading straight for the Eiffel Tower, but then turn left, that means the Eiffel Tower is now on my right. Your mental map should rotate a bit too so you’re now facing south instead of west (for example). In this way, you should always know which way to go to get home (to your apartment or hotel).
 

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Jazmine Auf Der Marquis, Reacher Auf Der Marquis
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All good tips. I think step one is to teach them how to read and use a map. Like even number highways generally run east/west and odd north/south. I say generally interstate 94 is a great example it runs east/west through Indiana but turns north around the lake through Chicago and goes up to Milwaukee where returns to east/west. So look at a map to know when the sign says west on 94 in Chicago your really headed north.

I aways think about looking down at a map and where I am.

Wife ask are you lost, I answer no, she asks do you know where you are, I answer no, but I know where I'm going. Our destination is to the north east, I'm going east, when we hit a major street I'll head north.

My wife is always amazed I find our destination, she has no sense of direction. I have to coach her, what time of day is it, where is the sun? We are in Chicago where is the lake?
 

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Eska von den Roten Vorbergen
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I used to work as a visiting nurse, so I was always driving to houses I'd never visited before. This was before I had a GPS, so my Perly's Street Guide was always open on the seat beside me.

After awhile, I became aware I'd get lost more frequently on days that were very overcast. I was unconsciously using the sun to help me navigate, without being aware of it! 😮
 
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