In Praise of Getting Lost (and Not Giving a Damn About It)
Author: Emma Higgins // July 12th 2016
When I was eight or nine, I got lost in a hardware store. I was out shopping with my mother when I looked up and suddenly couldn’t see her. By that age I had grown tall enough to reach up to her belly and nuzzle into it, but the belly had disappeared. My security blanket was gone. I checked the aisles either side of me, but still she was nowhere to be found.
Panic set in. The shelves seemed to grow ten feet taller and loom over me. I was a child separated from mother, vulnerable and out in the grasslands. I immediately imagined the worst and tears welled up in my eyes. Fortunately, I was of an overly-sensible nature, not the kind to indulge in running riot the second a parent’s back was turned. I found the help desk and waited, and minutes later my mother and I were reunited.
I think that was the last time I’ve felt afraid at the thought of being lost. Not because my hardware store episode taught me anything, but at that point in my life I hadn’t learnt that getting lost isn’t such a big deal. In the twenty years since that incident, getting lost has lost its menace. I once got a group of eight or so backpackers lost in the middle of Prague trying to find a bar – the only thing hurt then was my pride. More recently, I found myself at a loss for direction in Portugal’s Alentejo, but I was sitting in a car full of petrol. How much of a disaster could that really turn out to be?
There’s a lot to be said for the subject. In a collection of short stories about getting lost, writer Gary Shteyngart recalls the benefits as such:
“When you get lost there is a look on your face, a humble, peaceful, dreamy, let-that-crow-fly-in-your-mouth look that invites commentary as you slowly float past some strange men playing dominoes or roasting an animal.”
That look. I love that look.
It’s a look that can only be summoned when you’re lost. It’s a care-free look of come-what-may and devil-may-care. It’s wild abandon and a complete lack of preoccupation. It’s a look perfect for travel, discovery and exploring. As Shteyngart points out, that look leads to curiosity. Without the distraction of direction, you’re finely tuned into your immediate surroundings, perhaps more than any other moment. Perhaps, even, more than when you’re holding a map or your iPhone.
Getting lost is a success. For many, it’s an aim. You know a journey is at its peak point of feeling when you’ve thrown caution to the wind and put down the GPS. When you’re willing to let your environment lead the way instead of trying to manipulate it around your agenda.
In our digital world, it’s actually incredibly difficult to get truly lost. On our devices we have a little blue dot that follows us around everywhere. We’ve mapped almost every corner of the world. Never before have we been so connected to information: guidebooks, directions, and recommendations collected from people across the globe are at our fingertips.
The need for getting lost is the new need to discover. We’ve come through the age of exploration – pioneered by the Columbus’, the Livingstones, the Shackletons – to an age of technology, and emerged into an era where we ache for the feeling of being off the grid and unmapped.
So use your absentmindedness and curiosity to allow you to get lost. Put down your mobile phone and give that little blue dot the middle finger. Explore only with the resources in your immediate surroundings. Be led by what intrigues your senses. Let your security blankets disappear, the grasslands grow thicker, and the ten-feet-tall shelves loom right over you.
What do you think about getting lost?
Can your remember a specific travel moment where you got lost?