Travel For Amateurs: How To Find Your Way Abroad While Utterly Lost

by Brooke Rudisill

It’s 2 in the morning; rain is beating down by the second, and a homeless man is peeing next to me while I sit at an abandoned bus stop in the middle of London. But I'll come back to that...

Never in my life would I have ever imagined myself being homeless in a foreign country, let alone traveling anywhere outside the borders of the United States. But my life was quickly flipped upside down and had taken a completely different detour the moment I packed up all of my bags and flew across the world to study abroad in Dublin, Ireland.

The thing about studying abroad through your college or university is you either are lucky enough to sign up for a program with your best friends and plan the vacation of a lifetime, or you are forced to sign up alone and venture out into the unknown with a group of strangers.

Since it was such a spontaneous decision, I didn’t have the time to think about whether or not my friends were able to join me on this journey. I had signed myself up the moment the opportunity granted itself to me.

While attending college in Dublin, I made a few friends who also had more travels on their minds.

Traveling to a new destination is the most exhilarating activity a person can possibly do in his or her entire life. We travel every second of every day. Every moment we are living, we are experiencing and unraveling more of the unknown that is right before our own eyes.

Here's how to find your way while being utterly lost abroad:

Trade in your planners for maps.

It’s smart to research all of the locations you are traveling to beforehand because it gives you a sense of the surroundings before you even get the chance to dive right in.

Select a few of your must-see spots and make it a mission to pass by sometime within your travels. Open up the maps and allow yourself to come across a place or location that unexpectedly takes you by surprise.

While I was planning for a five-day trip to London with four girls I had just met in Dublin, we decided to make lists of our top must-see spots by creating a planner for each day we were traveling.

The issue with creating a schedule is nothing ever happens the exact way we envision it. When you’re on “schedule,” all you are worrying about is the time and getting to your next destination.

You find yourself forgetting to soak up all of the little details and moments that make you present and actually lose track of time.

Roll with the punches.

Not everything happens according to plan. When you are surrounded by unfamiliarity, you learn to react to situations off the cuff. It’s important to stay on your toes; you are experiencing all new aspects of life, and it’s easy to be caught off guard.

We thought we booked five beds in four different hostels while staying in London, but in actuality, we only booked one bed in each hostel for all four nights.

In that moment, we had to figure out how to find a safe place to stay in a city none of us knew anything about. It’s not always easy to go with the flow. It’s extremely frustrating most of the time, but it’s important because it makes you think about your surroundings.

Which leads me how I ended up homeless at 2 in the morning, wandering the streets in the middle of London while sitting next to a homeless man who was peeing himself.

In no way, shape or form was I ever prepared for a situation like this, but after a few minutes of taking it all in, we decided to find the closest location with free Wi-Fi to find another hostel to stay in.

Embrace culture shock.

Every destination is filled with completely different surroundings and completely different people. When you travel, you dive straight into an unfamiliar world of lives that have a different way of living than what you may be used to.

What is unfamiliar to you is all-too-familiar to them, so the best way to enhance your experiences is by accepting all your surroundings and learning from the locals.

One morning, I was taking the Tube (underground railway service) to the Warner Bros. Studio and asked multiple people where I should be to catch the right train. Before traveling to London, I rarely ever found myself using any type of underground transportation.

I ended up spending a few extra hours trying to find my way to my destination, but ultimately, it was the experience of a lifetime because I was getting used to London’s main form of transportation.

Experience doesn’t need to cost a single penny.

When people travel abroad, they envision spending a lot of money. Yes, many of the tourist attractions cost an arm and a leg, and the most talked-about restaurants are typically a bit on the pricier end, but a city is way more than just the tourist spots that will rip money away from you.

Go hiking at any local spots, stroll through the city and come across locations you can’t find on a map. Go to a park and listen to musicians perform for free; check out any free festivals or fairs that may be in your local area and just get out of your comfort zone and start exploring.

You’ll never know what you'll come across if you just walk a few hundred feet.

Live with an optimistic sense of mind.

Being lost is typically associated with a negative sort of vibe, but it doesn’t have to be. When you’re lost in a situation, you are forced to be attentive and learn from your experiences.

What’s exciting about it is you lose all expectations, take risks and live in the moment. The more you focus on the negativity of situations, the worst it's going to get. Try to stay positive.

Even though my trip to London was nothing close to what I envisioned growing up as a little kid, I didn't let any of the bumps in the road ruin my trip.

I was walking in the spots of a city that many people have only ever dreamt of being in. People go their whole lives without getting the chance to explore the places you might have seen or been to.

Even though the feeling of being lost can be extremely scary at times, it's important to appreciate the little things and to always be grateful of the experiences being lost can actually bring to you.

Next time you are feeling lost, take a deep breath, exhale and embrace the surroundings of the unknown; it’s guaranteed a lesson will be right around the corner waiting for you.