Stories About Getting Lost

In our modern age of internet-connected travel, “getting lost” is a more of a goal than an accident, and usually it just means turning off your phone for a little while. But really getting lost, losing your bearings in some thick forest; finding yourself on some nameless city backstreet, well away from where you meant to be; or something similar, is a truly unique experience. It can inspire dread and excitement, and more than anything, it forces you to truly begin exploring. If only to find your way back to somewhere familiar. Now we want to hear your greatest stories of getting lost.

Whether it’s a harrowing tale of survival and perseverance against the elements, a wild night on the town that left you wandering in search of a guidepost, or just a time that you found yourself pleasantly out of your element for a while, we want to hear about it.

In the comments below, tell us your greatest story of getting lost. Let us know where you were, how you got lost, and how you eventually got yourself found (unless you didn’t, in which case you’re a ghost, and that’s cool, and we’d love to hear about that too). Your story may be featured in an upcoming collection on Atlas Obscura. Really the best part of getting lost isn’t being found, it’s telling people about it later.


(Image: Paulius Dragunas/Public Domain)

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20 years ago: ‘‘Hold my hand, wait in place if you get lost’’

Present time: ‘‘Text me if you get lost, okay’’?

Then again, is a new game if there’s no signal.

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I get lost quite often, even with the help of Google Maps in my hand. My partner finds it exciting to explore without maps. One recent fond memory of getting lost in a new city was when we were trying to find our way back from the University of Coimbra (where we just toured the famed Biblioteca Joanina and the Science museum with the taxidermy collection) to our hotel. There were many winding and narrow alleyways set on cobblestones path. At some point, we heard amazing sound of guitar playing and decided to check it out. We found ourselves at a pub and there was a guy playing guitar just outside the pub. The pub was almost empty that afternoon, so we decided to get some beer and just enjoyed the music for awhile. It’s become one of my favorite memories from that trip.

While I don’t have a picture of the guy playing guitar, or the pub itself, I took this photo and it always reminds me of that idyllic afternoon.

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That’s so lovely! Definitely a benefit of getting lost - discovering something beautiful you never could have found if you were looking for it.

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The reason This is Spinal Tap is such a timeless film is because anyone who has ever played in a band has had at least one “Spinal Tap moment”. I’ve had a few.

I was touring Germany with my band Batlord just before GPS became ubiquitous. Our singer booked the tour and, despite my urging, didn’t print out Mapquest directions before we left. He said it was because he had a slow internet connection. The truth is, he was easily distracted. For most of the tour, I got really good at reading maps in German and was able to get us to most places. But things came to a head in Berlin.

By the end of our night, everyone was drunk except me and the driver. Our hostel was about 15 minutes from the club. But with no map, and an unfamiliar street address, it took us an hour and a half to get there. We stopped by countless gas stations to ask for assistance and no one but one final person was able to guide us to the place. We were saved by a fan who offered to ride along for the rest of the tour so she could learn about tour management. If she wasn’t able to translate for us, I might still be in Berlin today. Within 24 hours of meeting us, she almost watched the band break up.

By the time we got out of the van, tensions were high. Our drummer decided he needed to take a walk to blow off some steam. I told him that I understood, but plead with him to not go far. The rest of us went back to our room to crash.

The next morning, we saw no drummer. Not even a suggestion that he had shown up and left. He hadn’t brought his cell phone because he didn’t have an international plan. This was the only day in our schedule with enough time to do some sight-seeing. But instead, we drank coffee after coffee in front of the hostel, waiting for him to come back.

What happened? He walked around for awhile the night before, got lost, and hailed a cab. He gave the cab driver the name of the (newly built) hostel. The driver had never heard of it. Our drummer had no address. All he knew was that our next show was in Munich. So he asked the driver to go to the train station, bought a ticket, and went there.

Once in Munich, he found an internet cafe and searched deep in his email archives, finding one email where the singer’s girlfriend had been copied. He contacted her, she contacted us, and we had about 30 minutes left in Berlin before we had to get on the road. So we did some “mad dash tourism” around the city. Checkpoint Charlie! Take a picture! Brandenburg Gate! Take a picture! Then we hightailed it out to Munich for the next show.

So that’s how I lost a drummer and found him 600 km away. He might as well have spontaneously combusted. For what it’s worth, we went back to Germany 4 months later when GPS was readily available and it was a dream tour by comparison. But I still invite all of you to give the guy crap for making me miss out on Berlin.

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What a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing.

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It was early in the naughts decade when I went to China to teach ESL for a semester before permanently moving to the US for work. This was before the advent of GPS, as all the good stories here can attest to. MapQuest was already around but not popular in China. I had an itch to have an adventure, despite not being able to read the language - this is significant later on.

I was staying at a colleague’s family’s house for the Spring Festival that runs for a couple of weeks and which everyone and his pet panda travelled home for, whether it’s a few hours or whole day of land travel. So not only was I far from familiar environs, I was many, many hours away from the college whose campus was my temporary home. For some reason, all these did not deter me from gallivanting off to an island destination. I left on a bus after speaking some rudimentary Chinese and showing my destination, which I had written down. Armed with a trusty translation book, I left for the day and expected that the bus back home would deliver me to the same transit depot I started off in.

Big mistake.

The last stop was at an empty bus shed at the side of a main highway. I kept asking the driver where the original stop was but he either couldn’t understand me or was too tired since it was around 10pm when the trip ended. I ended up crossing the highway, praying I would not be a headline in the morning, in the attempt to find a commercial and better lit area. I was wandering about for an hour before I found myself in a street with familiar shops and was extremely relieved that I was able to orient myself home.

Following the North Star doesn’t work if you left in the morning and have no idea where it would have been because you’re in strange place. :wink:

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This is more about wandering. One of my favorite things to do when I get to a new place is to get lost. This is how I learned my way around after moving both to NYC and San Francisco. There are still blocks in both cities that I remember solely because I got lost there. I would get off the bus/subway at a random stop, then walk in whichever direction I felt like going. Sometimes I had an end destination in mind and would try to make it there.

When I visited Beijing, I did a modified version of this: I would get lost, then find my way back without looking at a map more than every 20 minutes. I had so much fun wandering like that and saw so many things I would not have seen if I had just stuck to the route. I met a nice security guard with a cat, saw some really interesting produce markers, wandered through alleys and hutangs, and more.

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In the early 1970s, my grandmother bought me a ticket on a Mediterranean cruise to celebrate my just having graduated from college. In Morocco, I went on a cruise-sponsored day trip through the souks. The tour was not set up for stopping, but I saw some henna and stopped to buy a bit – and the tour went on without me. I was a young idiot; I had no idea where my ship was or who to contact (or how to contact them) if I got lost. After making my purchase, I hurried down the street the tour had been going down, but I didn’t see them. A short local man saw my distress and tried to convince me he could help me, but I was afraid to speak to him, so I ignored him and hurried on. He followed me. Then, in the back of one of the souks, I saw a black man (everyone around me was golden-brown). My first thought was, “Oh, thank God! Somebody who speaks English!” (because all black people are from the United States, right?). I was so relieved that I stood there stock-still, just grinning at him (he hadn’t noticed me). The little local man said slyly, “Missy like black man?” and in horror, I realized that I was in Africa, and that man was probably not American. Just then, one of his compatriots in the souk pointed me out to him, and he looked up and smiled at me – and I rushed away. Beyond all good fortune, my tour group was waiting at the end of the street.

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Dont fret I have lived in NYC for almost 5 years, I got on the wrong train I take every day yesterday lol. Getting lost is almost like a bi-weekly chore

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Haha, so true! I lived there for eight years and still got lost pretty regularly. There were a couple of places I could only find when I was lost.

It’s a little more challenging in San Francisco, because hills. It’s still a great way to learn your way around, but ouch.

No matter what, at the end of adventures while lost, there should be good food.

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Still waiting for your buddy’s info so we can send him postcards saying “You made your band Batlord miss out on Berlin sightseeing ages ago!” :smile:

On a slightly serious note, why the band name?

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Always good food, its the real pot at the end of the rainbow :rainbow::rainbow:

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If you ever find a guy named Dieter in Reseda, CA, that’s him. He’ll probably be the only Dieter there.

As far as the band name goes, we dressed up like vampires and played garage rock. All the songs were spooky and about death. It was “goth lite”. We went over well in Greece and Germany.

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Agree. It hardly feels like lost because you’ve found something…amazing, exhilarating, you weren’t looking for. I think this serendipitous way to travel is wonderful though not for everyone(can be v stressful). We had a similar experience in Munich where we ended up at a fabulous little italian family cafe near St Anne’s church in Lehel eating carpaccio on a pizza, having another great beer surreptitiously watching the World Cup on their tv, one summers evening. Bliss. Mind you, in Munich I was always catching the tram in the wrong direction…coming from Australia and only ever having travelled to countries with drive on the left, it quite did my head in a few times especially at the end of a day’s exhausting gadding about to galleries, museums and churches.

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Coming from rural Australia, not getting lost is part of your psyche…as some of our favourite myths and yarns are about lost children (as in every good faery tale, Grimm or otherwise)From this childhoodof gothic proportions comes a stranger danger film seen in primary school where two girls were abducted, murdered, one assumes from the final shot of their bodies disposed of in the bush. Thankfully long vinyl boots from the 70s are few& far between but these two pairs figured large in my childhood imagination. I recalled an actual episode of a child lost in the bush, not far from our town. It also loomed large in my recollections. I can even recall listening to the radio news at my great grandparents house…strangely though i recently discovered the infamous story happened a decade before I was born…i can only surmise a similar incident imprinted itself on my brain. The catalyst for all this is Peter Weir’s film Picnic at Hanging Rock, seen when I was eight or nine well before I’d even read Joan Lindsay’s slight novel. Still puts the hairs on my neck when the doomed girls rise into the granite tors to the tune of pan pipes. My response to this movie and the sense of self in the landscape lost or otherwise, is to be the theme of my next artwork for film festival exhibition on favourite films.

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My first year at New York University, I thought I could get back to my dorm in Gramercy from the East Village by walking. Grid system, right? Turns out my memory remembered the wrong street and the wrong avenue and I panicked when it came to deciding whether I should turn left or right and that’s how I ended up walking for an hour in one giant loop going around Astor Place.

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We met for the first time just a few hours before. She was completely covered in tiny red bug bites. I was sick to my stomach. The sound of the oars splashing and slipping through water reminded me of alligators and water moccasins slithering and sliding. I had no doubt some would near.

We had been probing the mangrove maze for what seemed like hours. All we could see was a wall of green shrubs, blue water, and sky. There had to be a way out. But how to find it? The sun was getting low in the sky, and our phones had no signal. The canoe rental place would be closing soon.

We would pursue one turn in the maze, where the water seemed to be flowing, only to end up at a dead end. We would retrace our steps, over and over, never really sure if we had been down some path before or if it was the 5th time. Finally, we came to a concrete wall. I clambered over the mangroves to the top of the barrier. Over the barrier was a steep drop, and then a massive channel used by cruise ships and tankers going to the port. Behind me was an endless stream of green and blue; the mangroves just seemed to keep going, with no obvious exit in sight.

My new found partner extended a paddle, and I walked along the barrier, precariously dragging the canoe through the mangroves. Finally we reached the edge of the maze. The only option was to dump out into the giant canal and brave the current of ocean-going ships, to paddle back towards where we came - but this time, not taking a shortcut through the maze.

As we paddled, we tried our phones to see if we had service. When we did get service, we would briefly be connected to the canoe rental place, only to have the signal cut out. We still had no idea how to get back, and it was almost dark. We kept paddling and paddling. At last a call came through and the signal didn’t slip away. The canoe rental owner helped guide us back from whence we came; we probably weren’t the first tourists lost in the wilds of Fort Lauderdale’s unending canals.

By the time we got back, night was just falling. We clambered out of the canoe, grateful to be back on land. After that ordeal, only one thing could soothe our nerves: a bottle of Patron Silver, some limes, and a hot tub.

I haven’t seen her since.

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My ex-husband and I flew into Albuquerque then drove north to visit family in Pagosa Springs, CO in 2005. We were given something like a Ford Escort and a crude map at the car rental place and off we went, with the snow already starting to fall. The snow started piling up, and somewhere west of Taos, the road we were supposed to take had a “road closed” sign. But there was nowhere to stop for directions, and without any idea of what we should do instead, we proceed through closed road. Our rental car map did not show elevation, and we soon realized we were climbing up a mountain. I was somewhere around 12-14 weeks pregnant, no cell phone service, and was starting to get pretty nervous as the road conditions were horrible and we were in such a tiny car. As he drove, I kept an eye out for houses in case we had to stop. Then we passed a house that’s entrance had a dummy hanging by a noose with a sign that said “we do things the old way,” and it seemed like a very, very long time before we passed another house. Once we reached what we believed was the peak before starting to wind down, we stopped the car to kick the built up ice off around the wheel well. The way down the mountain was slow and steady, and I have to give my ex-husband credit, he remained calm and got us back on a main road safely. To this day, that’s the closest I’ve felt like I may die.

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OMG you are me lol. My first day at CUNY I saw I was at E42nd st and said oh my school is w. 42 I probably just can walk down the street. Got above ground and realized nothing looked familiar I basically circled the block and went back into grand central lol. I also had a tendency to not to want to look like I had no clue where I was so I would get off trains turn right and just walk until I got my gps right lolol

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