Strategies For The Directionally Challenged


image of signpostBy guest author: Mark Melchior

Remember going to the grocery store with Mom as a kid? She wanted to get paper towels and lunch meat but the only reason you went was to try your hand at snagging the Reese’s Puffs. Then all of the sudden, everything changes. What was once a glorious, colorful, and enticing environment of snacking perfection became a carnival of madness the second you realized you’d strayed away from Mom. Traveling abroad can have a similar feeling of desperation. With time changes, jet lag, strange languages, and that guy that is way too persistent in selling you a botched painting, Abroad 101 understands how being a little ‘Directionally Challenged’ can affect both your experience and willingness to travel over seas.

Not to worry because we’ve decided to come up with a few tips to make getting lost on your adventures a little less stressful.

Travel Light

You’re moving temporarily, yes. Do you need that industrial strength hair drier? No. Traveling light will save you both time and energy when it comes to moving about the globe. Try to visualize your daily routine abroad and ask yourself, “What do I need now and what can I get when I’m there?” Generally I’d say that a French toothbrush works just as good as an American version. Essentially this tip makes our list because traveling light means traveling easy. No extra weight to lug about and no need to find space for all the bags.

Sometimes you can fit more things into smaller spaces. Youtube has plenty of packing techniques like the Bundle Fold or the Army Ranger T-Shirt Roll. You’ll be glad you packed well in the event you get truly stuck on your journey abroad.

#2 Write It Down

For this tip I call once more on a beloved childhood memory when Mom, Dad, & family go on a little trip. Somewhere along the way the car strays into the, “Oh no, I just realized I have no clue where anything and everything is and I’m lost,” zone.

This is the main ingredient in the Nobody Gets To Have Fun cocktail.

So let it be known simply as WRITE IT DOWN. Have an itinerary when you travel. Copies of boarding passes, payments, destinations will help. If you don’t speak Portuguese but have the address of your host family’s residence, in Portuguese, then I’m confident you’ll be able to find help easier. Also, do yourself a little favor and learn some key words like ‘left’ and ‘right.’ Maybe even know of some major landmarks in the area just in case it gets serious. Preparing beforehand will always help so do your research before you land in China. It’s like G.I. Joe always said, “Knowing is half the battle.”

#3 The Airport

This place will either make or break your ability to nap happily on the long flight to Australia. I’m talking about the Airport. These structures are notorious for their confusing nature; just ask my mother who was practically ready to build a fort in the Cincinnati airport after a debilitating change to the whole airline’s flight schedule.

I’m usually fine with any car travel but there’s something about flashing my ID every nine feet, belt-less, shoe less, and patience-less that makes me hate waddling through airport security. Once again clothed I make my way through to the different terminals while simultaneously dodging every bewildered individual with their head captivated by the majestic flight board. Not so majestic when you realize the gate number keeps changing. Or the terminal. Which one is which again? This is my point exactly.

Airports are meant to be both easy to navigate and over stimulated which causes you to forget which direction you’re moving. It’s like a Vegas casino that actually wants you to leave but there is no clear way out. For example, an airline once changed my flight’s terminal and gate number seven or eight times within 15 minutes at Chicago-O’Hare. Not only that, but how am I supposed to keep track of where the flight is when there is a perfectly good airport T.G.I. Fridays that needs my patronage? My solution? Twitter. The flight was changing so much that I decided that I would ask via tweet to the airline when I finished my meal. It worked famously!

If your itinerary, Twitter, and patience fail you, and you decided that you could just carry on the industrial strength hair drier, your last resort is to ask for help. This surprisingly is very difficult for some folks. Good news, in an airport even the janitor can help you. The staff are navigation experts, especially airport security, and even the various restaurant staff. Plus as a bonus, if you try and look desperate enough they might even take you right to the flight deck. I once had a kindly man whisk me away on a golf cart across Philadelphia International just because I looked lost.

These tips will not guarantee a hassle free travel experience but most certainly will help in a time of stress. The best thing you can do is embrace the spirit of going abroad and meet the stress of traveling with a good attitude…and maybe a few directions too.

– Mark Melchior

image of mark melchiorMark Melchior is a recent graduate of the Park school of Communications, Ithaca College. 

Connect with Mark through LinkedIn. 


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