Few travel troubles truly cause me concern. Missed and delayed planes - eh, there are others. Flat tires - there are spares. Weather issues - we all have to deal with them. Forgotten items, missing luggage, too much stuff for the luggage I brought - all of those things have solutions. Getting lost - now THAT concerns me.
When I am traveling in big metro areas and have to rent a car, I always try to reserve a GPS, but those are only as accurate as the updates that have been installed (and sometimes, the units just aren't available). I always try to keep my car charger for my phone with me, but I don't always remember to grab it. Plus, I can't always rely on having mobile phone service. So I can't always rely on trusty Google Maps to get me where I need to go.
So sometimes, I get lost. And I hate being lost. First, my eyesight isn't built for driving at night, so the darker it is, the more unnerved I feel. Second, I am genetically predisposed to disliking being wrong - and being lost means I was wrong somewhere in quite recent history.
For some unknown reason, my ability to get lost increases by a factor of 10 when I'm in New Mexico. Every time I think I know where I am going when I leave the Albuquerque Airport, I may as well throw the map up in the air and see where it lands to determine which direction I should be heading, because my internal sense of direction always steers me wrong.
When I get lost, there are a few Golden Rules I live by:
1. I don't ask for directions at places where I have to get out of my car. For some reason, I associate this with opening myself up to the risk of "follow the lost traveler out to her car." I find a fast food restaurant with a drive thru, order an iced tea and when I get to the window, simply ask "What's the best way to get back to the highway?"
2. I program the number for the hotel I am staying at in my phone. Most hotel desk clerks have a semi-expert degree in dealing with travelers who are lost. I have called upon them frequently to help me find my way to where they are. And I pull over to make all calls and to read the map or directions on my phone.
3. When I pull over, I do so in large, well-populated areas with lots of lights. Grocery store parking lots are at the top of my list because I know that they all have camera surveillance. I park under a street light, keep my doors locked and the car in park but running. I do not reference the fold out maps from the rental car companies. Nothing says "I don't know where I am" like doing that.
4. I don't panic. Panic does nothing but cause stress and gray hair. Remain calm. Do whatever you have to do to stay with your senses. It's worth it. In the end, you got to where you are by going down a road. There's a way back.