Getting Lost in a Foreign Country: Dos and Don’ts

Female traveler holding and reading tourist map
No matter how lost you might feel, there are safe and simple ways to turn things around right in front of you.

When you’re lost in a foreign place, staying safe is vital. And it helps to be travel-savvy. With your next trip in mind, we’re here to help you navigate situations like this. Nobody wants to look around and realize they have no clue where they are, but unfamiliar terrain can quickly shift.

No matter where you find yourself, the goal should be to get back to where you’ve just been or to arrive at the place you’re attempting to go. With that said, some strategies are more efficient (and safer) than others. So listen up.

Here’s what to do (and not to do) if you get lost in a foreign country.

Don’t: Panic

stressed woman applying pressure to her temples on a train

Staying calm is essential. For starters, panicking won’t do you any favors, and you’ll be more likely to draw the wrong kind of attention to your situation. The more out of sorts you become, the more lost you will likely feel. Panic can be wildly disorienting, after all. 

Take deep breaths. Remind yourself that everything will be okay. If you’re lost, staying level-headed helps. When trying to get back on the right track, one of your most helpful tools will always be a clear head. No good can come from panicking.

Don’t: Draw Attention to Yourself While Lost

Your first instinct might be to approach a stranger and ask for help. Resist this urge. No matter where you are, it’s usually safer (especially if you’re solo) to seek help from an establishment like a bodega, hotel, or restaurant. Asking a business for directions will always be the safest route in a foreign place.

If you draw attention to the fact that you’re lost, you could quickly put yourself in harm’s way. In a perfect world, strangers would only be honest and helpful with clear directions. But nothing is perfect, especially when you’re already lost.

Keep the fact that you’re lost as ‘need to know’ information, only telling who you must. In a worst-case scenario, someone may give wrong directions and follow (or lead) you into an unsavory situation. It happens to travelers all the time. So with safety in mind, make an active effort not to appear out of your element and vulnerable. The fewer people you involve, the better your chances of safely finding your way back. 

Do: Retrace Your Steps

walking up stairs

If you’re lost, it’s time to retrace your steps. What was the last landmark you strolled by? Have you taken any pictures of the places you’ve been to recently? Are you walking in circles? Or do you find yourself in a completely new setting? To sort this out, start looking around.

Ask yourself questions to jog your memory. While not foolproof, retracing your steps is a reliable way to get back on track when you’re lost. So start with where you just were.

Related: Best Budget Travel Destinations

Do: Look For a Tour Guide or Fellow Tourist

Again, it helps to find someone familiar with where you’re at, but you should seek out someone credible. Before trying to re-orient yourself without help, find a fellow tourist or nearby guide. Often, others on holiday are eager to assist fellow travelers who’ve gotten turned around. 

Tour guides or tourists are wandering around the same foreign city you are, making them a safe and simple source of help. Knowledgeable tour guides are ideal. If nothing else, they can point you in a clearer direction than you’re going.

Do: Familiarize Yourself With Public Transit

woman traveling on a train

Some of the most traveled cities on earth, especially the older ones, are covered in cobblestone streets, winding back alleys, and narrow roads. After a while, they all seem to run into each other. Thankfully, cities like this are typically well-traveled for their public transit options too.

Public transit can help you get around quickly and back on track when you’ve lost your way. Store attendants and tour guides can give you directions, but they may not be clear, especially with language barriers. Not to mention, people have their own ways of explaining how to get from A to B in every country. Sometimes, asking more than one person can just lead to more confusion. So if you’re lost, avoid information overload and leave the navigating up to professionals.

Taxi, trolley, and bus drivers make a living by safely navigating their well-traversed surroundings. Remember, you’re still in the process of retracing your steps before moving forward. Getting back to a place that you recognize is key. Public transit can safely help you do that.

Do: Prioritize Your Safety 

walking in nature

Perhaps you’re taking the safest and smartest steps to avoid a situation like this, but you can’t plan everything. If you find yourself lost, keep your cool. And never, ever be too proud to ask for help. Just be sure to ask someone there to help, not just a stranger passing by, when possible. And keep that phone charged!

While traveling, staying aware of your surroundings is ideal, but there’s always so much to take in. If you do unexpectedly lose your way, it’s not the end of the world. And it might evolve into an unexpected adventure. Getting lost can be an opportunity to aimlessly wander a foreign country. Just make sure you’re prioritizing your safety.

If you’re going to embrace not knowing where you are, be sure that you do all aimless wandering with plenty of daylight left. After you’ve taken in your new surroundings and freely roamed for a while, don’t delay finding your way before it gets dark. If you do lose daylight, don’t panic. When we relax and stop worrying about what may happen next, we can think better, and sometimes, find our way naturally. 

Related: 11 Ways To Deal With Travel Fatigue

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