It's funny, because I grew up sailing with my dad so I can read nautical charts with relative ease, but show me a road map and my mind locks up. This is most frustrating when I'm trying to get back on the freeway and have no idea which way is north, south, up, down, wallamahoo, Timbuktu. I'm lost!
Neurobomber and I have a deal--I drive highways, he drives cities. I do great when I'm only dealing with one direction and a few merges. Neurobomber, with his homing-pigeon like direction skills, cruises around towns he's never been to before like a local. He is the Magellan to my Columbus. "You just have to keep track of where everything is," he says. "Don't you remember how we got here?" He loves making fun of me for getting turned around and I don't blame him; other times, when I tell him about my latest misadventure, he stares at me wide-eyed and says "How did you even get over there?!"
I've gotten marginally better by playing navigator with his GPS. A GPS, while not excruciatingly necessary for the average road tripper, is an excellent piece of equipment to possess. You can use it to search for an incredible array of locations--specific types of stores, addresses, geocaches, restaurants, cafes, parks, whatever your heart desires. You can also set it to avoid toll roads and the like. Garmin is probably the best known brand, though their equipment tends to devolve into the electronic equivalent of a small child within a year or less.
Pros of GPS ownership or borrowership:
- always know where you are and where you've been
- step by step directions plus a map
- more fun than a regular road map; lets you know where scenic views are
- very useful in an emergency!
- lets you know how long you will be driving
- eats up batteries like french fries
- sometimes loses signal, claims to not know where you are
- sends you on extremely long and complicated route to avoid one toll road
- can sometimes crap out on you only a few months after purchasing. Be picky when you choose your brand and model!
1. Go down. If you're lucky you'll hit a road; if not, you might find a river you can walk along. Towns are also more common in valleys.
2. Make lots of noise; sing or talk to yourself. Someone might hear you and then you can ask them which way to go.
3. Avoid going off a trail, even if it's just a little deer trail.
4. Once you take a direction, stick with it. Unless you see something definitive to turn your path towards like a building or road, you're more likely to come across something if you're not reversing direction every few steps.
5. Spiral: this is counter-intuitive to 4 and only for the truly and hopelessly lost. Predators and search teams use a spiral pattern to find prey/victims because it maximizes the radius of all the directions they could have taken from a given point. This method is dangerous though, because it's easy to lose track of how big your spirals are and start going in circles. Not recommended for mountainous or heavily wooded areas.
6. Treeline. If you can, walk along the edge of a treeline; it's easier to see where you've come from.
A GPS is definitely an investment, but if you split the cost with a friend or travel partner, it can be an invaluable addition to your road trip team. And you might never have to be as lost as me.