With smartphones to hand and ever-increasing access to data roaming worldwide, the concept of getting lost may seem like a problem condemned to the past. Why suffer the inconvenience when at the click of a button you can be on the right track, headed towards a pre-vetted restaurant or café you also looked up moments earlier?
While this way of travelling may offer speed, security and five-star reviews, what it doesn’t offer is spontaneity; and it is often these unexpected adventures that teach us the most about a destination and ourselves – and, crucially, result in some of the best travel tales. To celebrate the art of getting lost, Lonely Planet staff share their most memorable moments on the road following a fortuitous misstep. After all, sometimes the best way to find your feet in a new place is to get well and truly lost...
The Chapel of Sao Paulo on Mozambique Island © Grigory Kubatyan / Shutterstock
An epiphany on Mozambique Island
I'd been travelling alone in Africa for a few months, having travelled up through South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and I was at a bit of a low point mentally. It had been a few weeks since I'd had a proper conversation with anyone, and you could say I was a little lost. I think I was too caught up in looking for stories to write home about to friends and family, and I had lost my perspective and grip on the present. Then while walking through the interior of the Chapel of São Paulo (now a museum) on Mozambique Island, I heard What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong playing in an adjacent room. I was suddenly hit by the beauty around me and I welled up with tears. In that moment, I realised life was about absorbing and appreciating my immediate surroundings, and not caring whether a story about them would impress anyone.
Matt Phillips, Destination Editor for Sub Saharan Africa. Follow his tweets @Go2MattPhillips.
It wasn't other cars on the road that Jess had to worry about after all... © Jessica Ryan / Lonely Planet
This little piggy took a shortcut on New Zealand’s North Island
Last year I travelled around New Zealand’s North Island in a rented 4WD. We were en route from Whitianga, having spent the day at Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove, heading towards Coromandel. It was getting late so we decided to cut across the peninsula instead of driving the looping coastal route. We set out on Route 309, which I later found out from Lonely Planet itself is 'a less-travelled but legendary unsealed, untamed 21km route through deep bush'.
I’d never driven an automatic vehicle before, but I soon became extremely grateful for it as the road transitioned from two lanes to one, then a steep, winding dirt track barely big enough for one vehicle. I crawled along for an hour, terrified of meeting another vehicle coming in the opposite direction. Then, just as the sun was beginning to set and I was starting to think we were really lost, the road widened out into a clearing populated by around 100 pigs and piglets roaming freely around. I found out afterwards that we’d stumbled upon Stu’s Pig Farm (Google it!), one of the region’s popular attractions.
Jessica Ryan, Senior Product Editor. Follow her on Instagram @jessimica_ryan.
'Now, how do I get down?' © Creative Family / Shutterstock
Life lessons and unexpected icebreakers in China
Though I was no stranger to solo travel, the prospect of backpacking around China sent me spiralling into a mild panic attack. A lack of spoken English and – even more alarmingly – no access to Google Maps meant I was terrified of getting lost. Which, of course, I did. Continuously. I hopped on a bus to Lincang instead of Lijiang, walked the wrong way along the Tiger Leaping Gorge hiking trail and spent the best part of a day trying to locate my hostel in the hutongs (narrow alleys) of Beijing.
But whatever bizarre incidents befell me, I overcame them, often a little embarrassed, but largely unscathed each time. Without descending into hyperbole, the experience taught me to trust myself, have faith in the kindness of strangers, and that, if you’re stuck for an icebreaker, ‘you’ll never guess what happened to me on the way here’ makes for a great opening line in the hostel bar.
Jack Palfrey, Assistant Editor for lonelyplanet.com. Follow his tweets @JPalfers.
Diving the Liberty shipwreck in Tulamben, Bali © timsimages.uk / Shutterstock
‘What’s in a name?’ A case of mistaken identity in Tulamben, Bali
I once spent an amazing New Year’s Eve on a dive boat off the coast of Cambodia, where we drank champagne underwater (yep, you heard right) at midnight. Wanting to recreate the experience on a month-long trip to Bali, I based myself near one of the island’s best shipwrecks. But when I arrived in Tulamben, there were only a handful of other people who were all leaving to go to Seminyak. My dive master kindly invited me to a party along the coast with some of his friends; we’d meet at a local hotel and go from there.
At the hotel, I got myself a cocktail and waited patiently while everyone around me tucked into a special NYE dinner. Sometime later I got a call asking where I was – it turned out that my dive master was actually 45 minutes away at another of the three hotels with the same name! No one was able to take me to the correct hotel, but the barman agreed to give me a lift back to my hostel.
While I’d been out, two girls from Australia had turned up, and we sat and watched the fireworks together on the hostel's rooftop. Not only was it a lovely evening, I was tucked up in bed by 12.30am and sober enough to dive Liberty first thing in the morning. Yes, I missed the party, but I did not miss the boat.
Hazel Lubbock, Digital Platform Editor. Follow her tweets @hazellubbock.
Swap idyllic scenes for unforgettable adventures © CherylRamalho / Shutterstock
When a wrong turn leads your tastebuds down the right path in Provence, France
On a September evening in the south of France, I was driving down random back roads following little more than a hunch, looking to get a photo of a Provençal scene I had in my mind’s eye: the perfect combination of old farmhouse, vines and olives. I came to a dead-end between the villages of Bonnieux and Lacoste, and with the light about to go, I stopped to ask for directions from three locals who were sitting outside at a stone table, sharing a carton of wine. I ended up joining them: the man whose tomato plants I had just parked beside, a neighbouring farmer and an American woman who had moved to the area to paint.
In our free-ranging conversation, I happened to mention that I didn’t like tomatoes. ‘But of course, you are only used to tasteless supermarket tomatoes,’ said our host. ‘Wait. I will get some from my vines.’ Freshly picked, with olive oil and salt, they undid an aversion I had kept for 20 years. I never did find my ideal Provençal farmhouse, but for my eating habits it was a landmark day.
Rory Goulding, Sub-editor for Lonely Planet Traveller magazine. Follow his tweets @RGouldingTravel.
Anna and her pal suited up at the Valparaiso fire station © Anna Tyler / Lonely Planet
From wandering the streets to the royal treatment in Valparaíso, Chile
Packed with artists, musicians and poets, the Chilean city of Valparaíso is the perfect place to get lost and embrace spontaneity. After a morning spent wandering between dilapidated palaces and snapping photos of street art, my friend and I stopped at a kiosk for a snack. The mischievous, twinkle-eyed owner asked if I was English, then told us to knock on the door of a nearby fire station that was founded by fellow Brits in 1901. We were welcomed as if we were royalty by the station’s Director and Captain, who offered refreshments and gave us a guided tour of the whole station. Aside from getting to try on the uniforms, the highlight came when I asked whether they still used the fireman’s pole, and the Director ordered the Captain to give us a demonstration of the correct technique!
Anna Tyler, Destination Editor for Southern Europe. Follow her tweets @go_AnnaT.
She may not have made it to the rice fields of Chiang Rai, but Claire certainly found her own moment of serenity © Surapong / Shutterstock
A much-needed moment of meditation in Chiang Rai, Thailand
It was the European Championship in June 2004, and football was dominating every TV screen in sight. Somewhat foolishly, I hadn’t anticipated this problem given that I was in Chiang Rai, northern Thailand. After another late night watching matches I wasn’t interested in, I realised I needed a change of scenery. The next day, I hired a bike and followed some vague directions to lush green rice fields. At the city limits, a pack of dogs started chasing me. All my fears about being eaten alive and/or getting rabies took over and I pedalled away in a panic, not thinking clearly and definitely not cycling straight. A monk walking by the side of the road came to my rescue and frightened the dogs away. He gestured for me to follow him and we sat in the entrance of a nearby cave, just hanging out in silence for a while.