F*ck Maps: Why Having No Direction Leads To The Best Destinations
There's nothing quite like traveling to a completely new place and wandering around aimlessly.
It opens up a myriad of possibilities.
You might describe this process as getting lost intentionally, in order to be found.
Try it sometime.
You could end up sharing a meal in the home of a hospitable stranger, or find yourself drunkenly singing karaoke with some random people you met at a dive bar, you might even meet your true love (or future ex-spouse).
When you follow your instincts, and throw caution to the wind, you begin to understand why life is such an incredible gift. It's the little moments and simple details that make it all worthwhile.
Getting lost is underrated.
We find a lot of comfort in knowing where we're going, whether we're on a trip or just thinking about life in general. But we're wasting our time.
As Stephanie Rosenbloom recently put in in the New York Times:
The ubiquity of map and navigation apps these days can be a boon, but it also means that pedestrians can easily choose efficiency at the expense of discovery. My iPhone finds the most direct route to anything I wish to see, which is why I turn it off. Keeping it on would mean missing out on countless small streets and dead-ends, all those quiet, beautiful lanes and impasses with names I don't remember. Freedom is being guided by a mood, not a map.
A few years back, I took a solo excursion to Istanbul. On my first day, I dropped my pack off at the hostel I was staying in, and set out with no particular direction in mind.
I ended up wandering for hours, only to find myself at the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. I'd never seen anything like it in my life.
It contained everything from spices and jewelry to soccer jerseys and carpets. After entering the great labyrinth of shops and stands, I ended up drinking tea with a Turkish shopkeeper who relentlessly attempted to sell me a $500 carpet.
He eventually relaxed after I assured him I had no money. I half-expected him to kick me out. Instead, we continued to drink tea and had a conversation about the importance of intercultural exchange.
I don't remember his name, and can barely remember what he looked like, but I'll always remember the way the tea tasted. And I will never forget the wandering walk that led to that conversation.
None of this would've happened had I set out with any specific destination that day. Yes, I probably would've seen the Grand Bazaar on a guided tour, but it wouldn't have been on my terms, and I wouldn't have had the time to speak with that shopkeeper.
It might sound counterintuitive, but in having no direction we can find ourselves in the best destinations. So put all maps away (aka tell Siri to shut up, and turn off Google Maps), and let your senses guide you instead.
To borrow from the great wilderness explorer John Muir:
Most people who travel look only at what they are directed to look at. Great is the power of the guidebook maker, however ignorant.
Simply, f*ck maps (and guidebooks for that matter).
This is not to say that maps have no value, as they're quite useful for purposes of orientation (particularly if you're lost in the woods, or trying to find the closest coffee shop).
It's also fascinating to view them from a chronological standpoint, in terms of how they've evolved over time.
Throughout history, humanity's knowledge and perception of the world has changed quite drastically in conjunction with the artificial borders we've constructed.
But that's just it, maps are impermanent, and, much like life, are subject to frequent changes.
In both travel and life, we still have an overbearing and unnecessary reliance on maps and guides, and it serves to our detriment.
Following the beaten path might keep you safe, but it won't challenge you and it will prevent you from making any significant discoveries.
Go with the flow.
Travel is one of life's greatest teachers. It serves as a metaphor for all that you have and will experience.
Maps, guideposts, and guidebooks are representative of the plans, goals and ambitions we aspire to and hope to achieve.
And while there's certainly nothing wrong with having dreams, it's important to realize there's not always a clear route toward them.
When we're too focused on following a particular direction and reaching a certain destination, we end up missing out on all of the wonderful sights and sounds along the way.
The most beautiful things in this world often arise in unexpected and seemingly mundane places.
We would all be much happier if we relinquished our attachment to plans and learned to go with the flow.
Life is more enjoyable when we embrace its arbitrary nature. Disappointment is a product of unfulfilled expectations.
If you don't have any expectations, or at least limit them, you're less likely to feel dissatisfied.
John Steinbeck perhaps put it best when he wrote:
A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away.
Life, like a journey or trip, guides us far more than we guide it. We can make all of the plans we want, outlining every detail of our future, but, more often than not, this is futile.
When you place greater emphasis on what's to come than what's occurring, you give up any chance of savoring the moment.
We gain greater control of our futures when we learn to truly value the here and now.
So explore the world, cherish the present, look up from your phone every once in a while, put that map back in your backpack and keep wandering aimlessly.
You never know where you might end up.