The Art of Getting Lost

By Sean Ogle •  Updated: 10/20/11 •  4 min read

The Art of Getting LostMost of us go through our entire lives in a constant state of familiarity.

These days even when you’re someplace you’ve never been before, it can seem very familiar.

A few months back I drove halfway across the country, and never once did I get lost.

I had a GPS who was affectionately referred to as “Jasmine” and she made sure that no matter where I went, I’d arrive at my destination.

I was in a car that was familiar, with people who were familiar, in a country with rules and traditions that were decidedly familiar.

Anymore, it’s actually pretty hard to get lost. You almost have to try in order to make it happen.  More importantly, most people associate the experience of being lost as a negative thing.  Their blood pressure rises, heart starts beating faster, and they get irritated and angry.

Getting lost is one of the last remaining sources of unfamiliarity in an increasingly familiar life. But to truly get lost, you need to work pretty hard.

I’ve spent the last two days getting lost.

Just me on a motorbike, no phone, no map, making a valiant attempt to get from one side of the island to the other- and failing miserably.

I’d forgotten what it felt like to be lost.  You’re much more aware of your surroundings.  You take everything in: the smells, the people, the scenery, it was the first time I really felt like I experienced Bali for what it really is.

In the touristy areas like Seminyak and Kuta, you could really be anywhere in the world.  There are equal amounts foreigners to locals, and to come to Bali and only see those places is nothing short of sacrilege.

No, it’s in the outlying areas where you really get to experience the beauty of the island and the friendliness of the people.

I must have asked for directions, literally a hundred times over the last few days.  Apparently the places I’ve been looking to go don’t have much in the way of signage to help clueless foreigners such as myself.

I had no less than 3 people give me a wave to follow them as they drove me anywhere from 2 to 10km through a series of twisty turns that eventually landed me exactly where I was trying to get.

When was the last time anyone did that in the United States? It’s been awhile for me.

Getting lost can allow you to discover things about both your surroundings and yourself in the process.

On this trip, and most of my travels, I’ve realized that I can be overly focused on business.  My computer is my best friend and I hang out with it for the better part of 10 hours on most days.  As I was weaving through dramatic rice terraces I realized just how nice it was to not worry about business.  To be fully present in where I am, and enjoy the moment.

Or it could just be that Ubud has that effect on people.

There’s an art to getting lost that many people overlook.  Most get lost in the traditional sense while seeking a destination.  When I first got lost getting to Sanur and finally Ubud, I did have a destination.  However, the more lost I became, the less the destination mattered.

It got to the point where I’d drive down a road simply because it intrigued me.  Time didn’t matter, responsibilities didn’t exist in that moment.

This is why I travel. This journey getting lost made my entire time here in Bali completely worth it.

Think long and hard about the last time you were truly lost.  Was it a good experience or a bad one?

I’d encourage all of you to find a way to get lost. Take a day or five and experience the unfamiliar. You’ll learn more about yourself and your environment than you could ever imagine.

Sean Ogle

Sean Ogle is the Founder of Location Rebel where he has spent the last 12+ years teaching people how to build online businesses that give them the freedom to do more of the things they like to do in life. When he's not in the coffee shops of Portland, or the beaches of Bali, he's probably sneaking into some other high-class establishment where he most certainly doesn't belong.
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9 comments on "The Art of Getting Lost"

  1. Julia says:

    I have NEVER had to TRY to get lost! Even in my home town. 🙂
    All it takes is slightly heavy traffic & poor planning causing me to miss my turn or miss my exit and be forced to find an alternate route to get back on track (rather than make some stupid move like cutting someone off).
    I call these events “adventures”, my sister calls them “a typical roadtrip with Julie”.

    But I agree with the premise of your article – I’ve discovered some cool stuff by getting lost. 🙂

  2. ‘To be fully present in where I am, and enjoy the moment’ – when do any of us actually do this?

    The last time I got lost was taking a wrong turn along the journey to a destination. Although by the time I realised how lost I was, wheer I was was so beuatiful that the destination didn’t matter so much …. I WAS in Rome, however – beauty around every corner!

    Wonderful post – the first of yours that I have read. Thank you.

    – Razwana

  3. Andreas says:

    Getting lost can be a lot of fun. But these words have acquired such a negative connotation that I rather call it exploring. I love doing that when I’m in an area that is unfamiliar to me. Or even sometimes also in an area that I think I should actually know but I don’t.
    It’s a way of leaving my comfort zone, which is always a good idea to get to know something new about myself.

    Great post.


  4. Trevor says:

    I actually make this a point for most times I travel. As you have said, the vast majority of places seem the same but different. In saying that getting lost in my home town (Perth) or even some place like the US is not overly problematic as there are always people to ask for help should I eventually admit defeat.

    I’m currently in Shanghai, this has been hugely off balancing as English is very rarely spoken and when it is only a small percentage of what is said actually gets through the translation. I spent today jumping on trains and enjoying what the city and a near by city had to offer.

    Having a plan is necessary in life or travelling or any other task for that matter but sometimes throwing caution to the wind and letting it all go can garner fantastic results.

  5. Darlene says:

    I was on an arranged tour in Turkey and we ended back in Istanbul. The whole tour was an exercise in frustration for me as I like to wander down side roads and see and meet the locals and this was all tourist stops, nothing else. So finally when we got to Istanbul everyone else got on a boat for a ride down the Bosphorous – I went back to the Grand Bazaar and tried to find my way from there to the spice market, then to the restaurant we were to meet at later. I had it scrawled on a piece of paper in Turkish by our guide.

    What I thought was a 1-2 block trip ended up being about 12 blocks from one market to the other, through these neat windy, narrow streets with nothing but shops and locals. Then where I thought the fisherman’s area and restaurant were turned out to be about 1.5km (about a mile and a bit) away. Too tired and running out of time, I had to find the train. No one spoke English, not even the traffic cop and they weren’t getting my charades for “train”. Somehow I managed to miss the giant building that was the train station. Taking it with all locals and getting off – getting there all by myself was satisfying. Some of the others on the tour said “oh you’re so brave I’d never do that” – which is why they’ll never have the experience!

  6. John Peden says:

    Funny you mention getting lost on Bali, my friends and I hired a minivan and were driving from Kuta to Lovina via Kinta Mali. Our only map was a general sense of direction and a Lonely Planet guidebook that listed about 5 major towns and showed Kinta Mali in the centre of the island.

    One wrong turn thinking that we were going in the right direction added almost 2 hours to our trip as we circled back round South…

    Getting lost can be fun but only if you intend to do so! 🙂

  7. Chris Walter says:

    Funny I should read this today. Yesterday I was riding from Torreon mexico into Monterrey mexico on my motorcycle. I ended up getting horribly lost late at night in downtown Monterrey which is one of the largest and more dangerous mexican cities.

    I was so frustrated I couldn’t even focus. I kept trying to reset and look at it in a positive light. But I couldn’t get a new perspective on it. This is definitely one of those things that takes practice.

  8. Elisa says:

    Easily my favorite weekend activity. Fill the gas tank of my Jeep, and just drive. The nice thing about Maine is even if you get lost, all the roads lead back to 4 or 5 major roadways. Or you end up at the Canadian border. One or the other.

    I have discovered a lot about people by taking them on these trips. How people react to having no agenda or real control over a situation…very interesting. I love getting lost, taking time to just be and explore, and then the satisfaction of finding my way back. I find that there are fewer people who enjoy doing that than those who like comfort and consistency.

    Now, I’ll have to explore this totally lost in the jungle adventure you had. Once, you know, I’m a LITTLE bit settled. 🙂

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