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Tips to Avoid Getting Lost When Driving (if You Don’t Have a GPS)

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people arguing over map in car

The massive Global Positioning System network and satellite navigation has revolutionized travel. Paper maps and circular compasses are nearly irrelevant now that our phones can tell us where we are and how to get where we want to be.

But, sometimes we experience situations where our phone battery dies, we don’t have cell signal, the GPS is wrong, or we’re simply bad with directions and get lost travelling in new places. In those cases, it’s always good to have a back-up plan and know what to do. In case you get lost while driving, use our mnemonic “LOST CAR” to remember what to do.

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Landmarks: The quickest way to orient yourself and your position to your surroundings is to keep an eye out for the biggest or tallest landmarks when you enter a new area. Use those structures—whether skyscrapers, mountains, water towers, factories, or something else—to determine what area you’re in compared to where you had been previously.

Observe: Slow down and notice the details around you. What are the address numbers on the buildings/houses you’re passing? Are they increasing or decreasing? Are there any clues in billboards, road signs, or street names? Do you hear or see and bodies of water or bridges?

Sun: While utilizing a compass is still a useful tool (especially when your car has a digital one), not everyone has one with them. A quick way to ensure you’re headed the direction you should be is to notice where shadows are—or simply look in the sky and see if you see the sun. You should be able to use this information to determine if you’re going North/South/East/West.

Traffic: Roads are the veins of travel to and from sites; the more traffic is on a road, the more likely it’s a main route that travels to/from an important site. If you follow these major access points, you’re likely to get closer to where you need to be—or at least have better luck finding someplace that can assist you.


Chart: Mapping out your route in advance—using a map or printed directions from an online map site—is never a bad decision, especially if you’re going someplace new. This gives you a physical plan to follow in case things go awry, and it encourages you to plan your route and travel time in advance.

Ask: Put your pride aside and ask someone who would know better. You can ask friends who’ve been to your destinations before, locals who seem trustworthy (gas stations are a good choice), or a tourist information station on a highway. Pick up a local or state map if you see one.

Retrace: If you accidentally deviate from your route and simply can’t find a way back, stop going any further and turn around. By heading back the direction you came, you’re more likely to notice landmarks you recognize and the route you should be on.

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Sources: Matador Network, AskMen,