We’ve all experienced it.
Lost tourist says: “Excuse me sir, do you know where the train station is?”
Random Local says: “Keep walking straight that way until you reach the third traffic light, and then make a right.”
Lost tourist responds: “Thank you” (and proceeds to walk)
Lost tourist remains lost because he/she believes the “random local” who advised them incorrectly.
Being a visitor to a new place is a challenging experience for both the tourist as well as the locals. Often us visitors get lost or just need the advice of a local resident. Though we might stop someone on the street and ask him or her for directions or advice, how can we know that they are giving us the correct information?
So how can we protect ourselves from wandering aimlessly in circles because of strangers who misdirect us?
- Avoid questioning people who look just as lost as you are.
- Bring a map or a GPS and use your own wits instead of asking for directions
- Ask more than one person for directions and be sure that they all tell you the same thing
- Give yourself enough travel time to get lost
- Have a sense of humor
- Know before you go
On one of my visits to Stockholm I decided to take a walk around the city and soak in the sights. I was staying at a low-cost youth hostel at the time and was confident that I could navigate the streets, (without using Google maps) and find my way back to my hostel at the end of the day.
After a full day of walking around the city I decided that it was time to head back.
I was on a completely different side of town and decided to ask for directions.
I stopped many people along the way and asked if they knew how I could get to “gata”, which was the part of town that my hostel was in. The people who I questioned were always nice and friendly and pointed me onwards in various directions.
Two hours passed, I was still wandering around the streets of Stockholm alone and lost.
The sun was setting and I was beginning to get tired and worried that I was very far away from “gata” and from my hostel. Finally at 10:00 PM I wearily wandered into a hotel and asked the concierge if they could ask a cab to drive me to “gata”.
The hotel clerk turned to his coworker and smiled.
They both turned to me and asked me how long I had looked for “gata”?
“About 4-5 hours” I responded.
The clerk tuned to me with an irritating smile and informed me that I was very close to “gata” and a cab would not drive me such a short distance. He then told me that my destination was so close that he’d be happy to walk me there.
I must admit that I was a little shocked by his offer, but was in no mood to refuse him.
We walked outside the hotel, stepped into the street and stopped.
“We’re here!” he exclaimed.
“How can we be in “gata”, we are just outside the hotel?” I asked.
My cheeks flushed red with embarrassment as the hotel clerk explained that “gata” means “street” in Swedish. I just couldn’t believe that in the 4-5 hours that I had walked the streets of Stockholm, asking many people for directions to “gata”, no one bothered to tell me that “gata” was the word for street. How could so many people care so little about a fellow human being who was foreign to their language and lost on their streets?
How can we protect ourselves from strangers who offer the wrong information or directions?
The truth is that you can’t. The only way to truly avoid being misdirected is to know where you are going, and not find yourself in need of directions from someone else.
If you do find yourself in need of directions from a stranger, take what they say with a grain of salt, and learn from this article. Next time you find yourself walking straight “that way” and making a right at the third traffic light, do so with a clear conscience and with certainty that you are going the right way.