10 Charming Stories That Reveal the Joys of Getting Lost
Atlas Obscura readers share their most memorable experiences in unfamiliar surroundings.
Getting lost in the age of the smartphone isn’t just unlikely, it’s actively difficult. To find yourself in a position where you truly don’t know where you are is an experience that’s becoming more and more rare—which might also be a shame, because getting lost can be a terrific opportunity for discovery. We recently asked the Atlas Obscura community to tell us about their strongest memories of getting lost, and the result was an incredible collection of stories about travelers turning mistakes into meaningful experiences.
Get lost in a selection of some of our favorite responses below. And if you have your own incredible tale of getting lost, head over to our Community forums and tell us about it. The best part of being lost isn’t being found, it’s that feeling of pleasant uncertainty you can’t get any other way.
Following the Music in Portugal
“I get lost quite often, even with the help of Google Maps in my hand. My partner finds it exciting to explore without maps. One recent fond memory of getting lost in a new city was when we were trying to find our way back from the University of Coimbra (where we just toured the famed Biblioteca Joanina and the science museum with the taxidermy collection), to our hotel. There were many winding and narrow alleyways set on cobblestone paths. At some point, we heard the amazing sound of guitar playing and decided to check it out. We found ourselves at a pub and there was a guy playing guitar just outside the pub. The pub was almost empty that afternoon, so we decided to get some beer and just enjoyed the music for awhile. It’s become one of my favorite memories from that trip.” — nagnabodha
Beer, Soccer, and Unexpected Discovery
“It hardly feels like being lost because you’ve found something… amazing, exhilarating, that you weren’t looking for. I think this serendipitous way to travel is wonderful, though not for everyone (it can be very stressful). We had a similar experience in Munich where we ended up at a fabulous little Italian family cafe near St. Anne’s Church in Lehel, eating carpaccio on a pizza, having another great beer, and surreptitiously watching the World Cup on their TV one summer’s evening. Bliss.” — Persey
On an Island, You’re Never Truly Lost
“Lost in Desroches, Seychelles. One of my most perfect travel days… No roads, only footpaths on this island. Thought I’d go for a walk. Sort of zoned out looking at giant spiders, birds, coconuts. Soon, I have no clue where I am! Well, it’s an island. If you go to the edge and circumambulate, you should get back to where you started, right? Not to worry, I have my backpack—water, camera, sunblock, a towel. Woman alone with nature. I play tag with sand crabs. Play tag with the ocean. Find red coral. Whew. Those sand vistas are deceptive. What looks like a short walk takes an hour, then another, and another. Soaked in sweat, covered with sand, exhausted, I found my way back. It was great.” — penelopeashe
Waking Up With the Sheep
“We’re from the Antipodes and took a family holiday ‘across the ditch’ (pronounced ‘detch’ if you’re a kiwi) and got lost on the South Island. You’d think being from mainland Australia for the most part and island Tasmania more recently, we’d have distances worked out, like migratory birds… but no. We had a small campsite in mind on the coast also between Invercargill and Dunedin, and drove for hours in the dark, (pre-GPS, and maps prove useless between spouses) not knowing if we were even on the right road. Eventually we came to the end of a road, to a paddock, stopped and set up the tent, a bit worried we were on private land as we could hear sheep close by. Bailed the kids in and went to sleep. Woke at first light to see the sheep just on the other side of a fence only a meter away, everything else hidden in a bank of fog. Went back to the tent to snuggle, then after an hour got up to see the bay and amazing coastal cliffs which I drew in my sketchbook while everyone else slept. We discovered later that it is the setting for the castle used in first Narnia movie.” — Persey
Waiting For the Bus, Saved By a Taxi
“Lost in the Moroccan desert. We’d probably still be there if a goat herder hadn’t happened along. So, while the goats were nibbling at my skirt, we started a literal United Nations conversation. I asked the goat herder in French if there was going to be a bus coming by here. He answered to my boyfriend in Spanish (because I couldn’t understand his Moroccan French accent) who translated it to me in English. Get the picture? Turns out that there was a bus supposed to come by, so we waited. And waited. And waited. Just when we were about to despair, we saw a vehicle in the distance headed our way. Not a bus, but, amazingly enough, a taxi! It stopped, the driver stuck his head out the window and asked if we had called for a taxi. I looked at my boyfriend. He looked at me. We both looked at the driver and said, ‘YES!’” — purplevette44
Getting Lost Was the Point
“One of my favorite things to do when I get to a new place is to get lost. This is how I learned my way around after moving both to New York City and San Francisco. There are still blocks in both cities that I remember solely because I got lost there. I would get off the bus/subway at a random stop, then walk in whichever direction I felt like going. Sometimes I had an end destination in mind and would try to make it there. When I visited Beijing, I did a modified version of this: I would get lost, then find my way back without looking at a map more than every 20 minutes. I had so much fun wandering like that and saw so many things I would not have seen if I had just stuck to the route. I met a nice security guard with a cat, saw some really interesting produce markets, wandered through alleys and hutongs, and more.” — jordankiley
Más Masa, Por Favor
“Many years ago, I was speaking at a conference in San Antonio, Texas. I arrived a few days early, alone, to explore the town. So enthralled with the sights and sounds that reminded me so much of Mexico, I became lost in an area far from the areas that tourists frequent. I suddenly noticed the familiar smell of fresh masa and followed my nose. There was a tortilleria filled with people, all of whom turned and stared as I walked in the door. I am quite fair, with blonde hair and green eyes, and I surely didn’t look like I belonged there. I decided to get more than directions. I stepped up to the counter and asked, in Spanish, for 10 pounds of the quebradita, the fresh masa for tamales, and another 10 pounds of the masa fina for tortillas. The man behind the counter said nothing, but looked at me and went into a back room. He emerged with an older woman. She asked me, in Spanish, what I was going to do with the masa. I told her I was going to take it back to Philadelphia and make tamales, tlacoyos, sopes, etc. Then came the test. Unsmiling, she asked if I knew the secret to making good tamales. Everyone stared. I looked her right in the eye and said that one must be in a good mood, or they would turn out sour. She grinned from ear to ear, came out from behind the counter and enveloped me in a huge hug. Everyone in the place laughed and cheered. She had her son drive me and my masa back to my hotel. I stayed in touch with my new friends for several years after that, and still get the warm fuzzies whenever I think of San Antonio.” — bjcohan
The Oldest Joke in the Book
“Many years ago I accompanied my husband to a conference held at Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This was before cell phones and GPS were common (at least I didn’t have them) but I was driving our new Chevy Tahoe which had a magical feature called ‘OnStar.’ I had a grand time exploring the area. As usual, I was confident in my ability to retrace my route but I suppose I was more adventurous than usual because I had OnStar available if needed. When it was time to return and meet my husband, I found myself hopelessly lost. I pushed the OnStar button and was connected to a disembodied voice that promised to guide me back to Carnegie. Well, it didn’t work. I was met with one-way streets, construction, and every manner of obstacle as OnStar tried to assist me to my destination. The OnStar guy was on the verge of giving up when I saw a police car at a convenience store. I said goodbye to OnStar and approached the police officer. I asked him, ‘How do you get to Carnegie Hall?’ The officer gave me a big smile and responded, ‘Practice, practice, practice!’” — suzyshry
I Stole Your Dad
“Last summer, I went to Brussels, Belgium, with the travel club at my college. Our second full day there, our instructor decided to let us run loose as long as we met back up at the Grand Place in time for our walking tour. My friend and I immediately ran off from the hotel to the Royal Gallery of St. Hubert in search of fancy Belgian chocolate. After a few hours of binge-eating the best chocolate we had ever had, and walking around, we realized that we had no idea how to get back to the square. This lead us to wandering around aimlessly looking for other members of our group. We went around in a circle (that we later were told was the perimeter of the Grand Place.) Eventually we gave up and sat down at a nice coffee shop halfway between our hotel and the main part of the city. Then suddenly from the corner of my eye, I saw the familiar shape of a professor/father of one of my high school friends. We immediately ran to him and stayed glued to his side the rest of the night while he repeatedly quizzed us about where we were at. That night at the hotel I messaged my friend that I was stealing her dad.” — DellaRose
What Was the Deal With the Horse?
“I LOVE historic places. Inviting my friend to go to George Washington’s Mt. Vernon, it never occurred to me that not everyone LOVES historic places. Well, she agreed to go, and once we got there, she told me the truth: she HATES historic places. Wait, what? You work in a museum, how is this possible? It just is. Both she and I belonged to our community woodlands committee, so luckily for us, Mt. Vernon has vast woodlands (I did not know this!). We headed off and found beautiful wildflowers in abundance. Cool native trees and shrubs–witch hazel, wild rhododendron, incredibly tall American hollies. We wandered and wandered–how could the property be so vast–I thought it had been eaten up by suburbia. We had found a wild wonderland right outside D.C. and we were having a blast! But, alas, our blast didn’t last. We now realized we were completely lost. Pre-mobile, pre-GPS, even ‘HELLO! ANYBODY THERE?’ didn’t work. So we walked… Ah, civilization, there’s a horse. We headed in that direction. As we got closer, we saw that it was a very big horse, I mean huge. As we got closer, we realized it was not alive. It once was, but at some point a taxidermist had gotten ahold of it. Why was it there? Who had owned it? General Washington? I think not. But it was just standing there on its own, in a maze of trees and overgrowth. It was kind of scary looking, tattered and looking out of glass eyes. We knew this was not our ride home. The long and the short of it is that we continued on, and then, we saw a golf cart coming straight toward us. We were relieved that it had a real live person driving it! This was our ride home. We had been lost, but it was still a great experience.” — lisah03
Responses have been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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