How to NOT Get Lost on Your Trips: Five Tips for Navigating a New City

We’ve all been there: you’ve arrived at a new place for a holiday and for those first few days you have no idea where anything is or what you can do every day. Even with smartphones and apps, many of the world’s most touristed cities have long histories, and their historic centers are laid out in a haphazard fashion. I’ve got very little common sense, but my sense of direction is about as keen as my nose trained to sniff out azahar in the spring. Even ‘ditching the guide book and wandering’ is difficult for me because of my ability to always have my bearings!

Tips for Navigating a New City

When my mom came to visit on her own in 2013, I handed her a map and my keys and lent her my bike. She called a few hours later, trapped on a small street and no idea where she was. I didn’t even need to google – she was only a few blocks away – but I clearly didn’t inherit my sense of direction from her. To ensure that you make the most of your trip I’ve compiled a couple of handy tips about navigating a new place:

1.  Research the Area

Perhaps the most important part of any trip, planning ahead and researching the area that you’re going to can help you map out a destination. See what there is to do, where sites are located and how easy things like museums, shopping districts or other holiday hotspots are to get to by walking or public transportation.

More often than not, the majority of attractions tend to be within walking destinations of a lot of town centers. Occasionally you may need to get a bus or train, so be sure you’re up to date on times and where you need to get off. After all, the last thing you want is to board the wrong bus or train and end up somewhere you can’t get back from. This happened to me on my first trip to Granada, and my friend and I ended up in a seedy area of town, thankfully finding a cab in a time before Uber and making on the last train back to Seville just before the doors closed.

2.  Bring a Map

My first stop in any new place is a tourism office to pick up a map. I sometimes don’t even unfold them, but prefer to keep them as a souvenir.

bring a map on a trip

If you’ve got a smartphone, it’s even easier to download maps and save locations on apps, so investing in a map or something that contains a real-time display of your location like a portable Sat-Nav or even a smartphone with a Google maps app is a great idea. That way you can make sure that you find what you’re looking for relatively easily without wandering around for hours to hunt down that museum or restaurant that you want to visit. If you’re worried about wi-fi, save screenshots of places you’ll be visiting.

3.  Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help

Never be afraid to ask the locals for help, more often than not most people will happily point you to where you want to go.

asking for directions on the Camino de Santiago

In the event that you’re visiting somewhere that doesn’t have English as the native language, just make sure that you either know enough of the language to get by or you have a phrasebook handy, or head to a hotel or tourism office. In a more memorable episode, some friends and I were turned around in rural Romania and had gone nearly an hour without seeing another human being. We pulled into someone’s farm, knocked at the door and used a map and some wild hand gestures to find our way to Botiza!

4.  Open a PayPal Account

The worst thing that can happen to you when you’re visiting somewhere is to either run out of money or have it stolen from you. So a good tip is to always have some way to finance yourself in the event of this happening, or if you need to catch a cab or train. There are a number of different ways you can keep on top of your cash when you’re abroad but by far the easiest one is to open a PayPal account.

Having a PayPal account means you can have someone transfer cash to your bank account that you can then either withdraw from a local machine or use to make a credit or debit card payment. Or if you prefer to travel light, you can use PayPal to make contactless payments using their app on your mobile – even rail giant Renfe is accepting PayPal as a form of currency!

5.  Be a Proper Tourist

Don’t be afraid to do look like a proper tourist, try boarding one of those buses or trams that take you on a guided tour of the area. Doing this will allow you to learn about the area you’re in quickly as they tend to circle around the main tourist attractions and areas that visitors will enjoy seeing. Also, it lets you figure out how easy various places are to get to.

You can also try picking up pamphlets from hotels or public information areas as these tend to have a small selection of places you can take a look at or options for getting around, like taxi numbers or a list of bus and train stops. Tourism is alive and well in Spain, so you won’t look too out of place!

Do you have any tips about how to navigate new places, or any good stories about getting lost? Share them in the comments!

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she wrangles babies at an English language academy and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. As a recent transplant from California to Altea, Spain (Costa Blanca) and a lover of maps and geography, I have found many maps on the internet to have incorrect information, even for famous or public places. Similarly, local websites, even for our town, Altea’s, official website, things such as the schedule for the social event center can be as much as a year out of date. So try to get corroboration before venturing out.

    • Great advice, and you’re absolutely right! I’ve been known to apply for old jobs that have never been taking down, or show up for events that are incorrect! When possible, go right to the source.

      I will say that the maps available at the Corte Ingles, while a bit hard to read, are usually spot-on.

  2. My tip if walking is not to meander randomly you will get lost. If I am just wandering aimlessly enjoying a place I walk in squares always taking a right (or left depending on your inclination or what looks interesting) in that way I always end up back at the beginning or at least somewhere I recognise. Plus I always have the back up of google maps on my phone and a back up battery for my iPhone.


  1. […] you know where and when are you planning to travel, you will spend less time wandering around. This will help you save time and money on touristic sites, transportation and maybe even a pair of […]

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