Travel · travel guide

3 Tips For Navigating Without GPS When Traveling (Especially Solo)

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links.  This means that at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Tonight I encountered a situation I was not prepared for after only about a week living in our new city.  I was heading out to pick up a few things after work, only about 20-25 minutes from home.  I got to my destination using GPS, but once I arrived, my phone decided to freeze and surprisingly did not respond to my angry words telling it how stupid it was for not restarting!  Since I don’t have directions around here memorized yet, I was left feeling disappointed with myself for operating on autopilot and not taking the time to learn the roads around me yet.   Working from home is a huge blessing, but in this instance, it has kept me from being completely acclimated to the area since I don’t have a daily commute to help me learn.  I don’t often think about how reliant I am on GPS until something like this happens.

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Once I resigned myself to the fact that I would be relying on memory alone, I started driving and realized after a few minutes I was going the wrong way.  I turned around and took a guess at the road I needed to turn on.    Whew, thankfully it was the right one, so now I just had to try to remember the right and left turns I had taken.  I was able to notice a few more familiar spots until I was finally back on a road that I recognized and hopped on the interstate and took the exit to our house.  Tonight’s debacle made me realize that it’s important not to rely solely on my phone and GPS and to stay alert when I travel, no matter whether it’s in my own state or in another country.

Sure, GPS is usually readily available, but what if the battery dies on your phone?  What if it freezes?  What if you’re in a remote location and lose signal?  What if you forget your phone?  What if an EMP hits and wipes out all the cell towers?   OK, that last one is probably not as likely, but it is important to have a contingency plan on your travels.  How did we survive in the days before every phone had GPS?  I remember family road trips where we brought printed directions along – anyone else? Here are a few things I’ve learned while traveling alone both in the US and in other countries.

Pay Attention To Landmarks And Surroundings

When I took a month-long solo trip to Europe, my tour guide gave me some advice that seemed so obvious but was actually indispensable.  The tip was to pay attention to your surroundings often and make mental notes about landmarks you pass to stay aware of where you are and how to get back to where you began, especially when you are walking (which was about 90% of my time in the Balkans).  This came in handy as I was traveling alone in new countries – though I was with a group for part of the trip, most days we had plenty of free time to do our own thing, and I took advantage of that.

I made an effort to commit notable landmarks to memory every few minutes when I was out exploring new places.   The best way to do this is to choose things that are easy to remember like bright colored storefronts, restaurants, the tallest building nearby, art sculptures or statues – basically anything eye-catching!  Also, please remember there is NO shame in stopping to ask locals for directions.  I have done this numerous times, especially in countries with the Cyrillic alphabet which made it much more difficult to read signs!

Take Advantage Of Global Greeters

When you’re planning a trip, check to see if a Global Greeter program exists in that city.  Global Greeters are locals who are passionate about showcasing all their locale has to offer for FREE!  They can help you with planning an itinerary, showing you around, and suggesting hidden gems others may not know about.   Sometimes I like exploring on my own, but it can be nice to mix it up by having a local accompany you as a guide, especially when it’s free.  You won’t have to worry about getting lost or navigation since you’ll have your Global Greeter showing you around.  Urban Adventures is another good option for day tours led by locals. They are not free, but it’s a nice way to discover a city if you do not want to go it alone and want an authentic experience with a lot of interaction instead of a large tour.

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Always Have A Backup Map Handy

When traveling by car in the US, Canada, and Mexico, I always keep an Atlas handy.  It typically contains maps of every U.S. state and Canadian province, an overview map of Mexico, and detailed inset maps of over 350 cities and 25 national parks.  You might not end up having to use it, but it is a good idea to be familiar with how to read it should the need arise.  When in other countries, ask at the front desk of your hotel or hostel for a local map of the area, and they will usually mark public transport and spots of interest on them for you.  Many Airbnb hosts will also provide maps for you as well, especially for areas close to hiking.  Another great map resource is Maps.me – these are maps you can download onto your phone that will work without needing WiFi.   Google Maps is still my go-to resource the times when I DO have WiFi.   For camping and hiking trips, it’s definitely a good idea to bring a compass or a Radacat.

Bonus

You have probably heard of Uber and Lyft ride-sharing services in the US, but if you do end up getting lost and need a pick up overseas, you can check out these services:

  • Bla Bla Car – like Uber but for Europe.  Shared carpooling.
  • Grab – An app for taxi service, food service, etc in Southeast Asia

As always, remember to Book with Autoslash To Get The Cheapest Rental Car Rates.

Ready for more travel tips?  Check out my full list of travel resources, budgeting hacks, and packing essentials.

Are you good with directions or do you struggle to get around without your GPS?  Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading.

Emily

Read Next : 12 Unique Off The Beaten Path Destinations

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3 thoughts on “3 Tips For Navigating Without GPS When Traveling (Especially Solo)

  1. As someone that relies heavily on GPS while driving, these are very helpful tips!

    If I drive to a destination for a first time, I use to check the map and plan the route beforehand, so I feel more comfortable!

    Liked by 1 person

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