How To Learn Any New City Without A Map (or How To Get Lost With Purpose)
Publication: RidiculouslyExtraordinary.
Posted by Ryan Neal
How To Learn Any New City Without A Map (or How To Get Lost With Purpose)
Publication: RidiculouslyExtraordinary. Posted by Ryan Neal

"If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there." - Cheshire Cat (via Lewis Carroll)
When you're Living Anywhere it means you're moving to new places on a fairly regular basis. At the very least you're traveling to new cities regularly.

Before I get into the details here let me flat out state that this is not incredibly useful if you're on holiday for a week. (Although it would be a fun exercise if you were on holiday as well.)

I have a simple strategy I use to learn new cities. It works fantastically well, especially in places where you can't read or pronounce street names. :)

Getting Lost

I moved into a new place just outside of the Rynek (market square) area of Wroc?aw, Poland a week ago and wanted to get to know my new area. Three days ago I went for an open-ended (no real time limit) bike ride with purpose: to get lost and still make it to a specific place. The only map I have of Wroc?aw is from the Centrum Informacji Turystycznej (Tourist Information) and it only covers the city centre. I would be exploring further out.

I lived my first 6 months (of life as a fat baby) in a neighborhood called S?polno, and this is also where two of my Grandparents are buried. I knew the general direction of S?polno, but didn't know how to get there or exactly how far it was. I did know the cemetary was along the Odra River since I took the public transport there before (1 hour trip from my previous residence in the Popowice neighborhood).

At 12:30pm I took off over the brick streets and sidewalks of Wroc?aw. 30 minutes later I happened upon Ogród Japo?ski (Japanese Garden).  It's actually only a 10-15 minute bike ride from where I live, but remember ... I'm getting lost. Exploring, taking turns, not remembering exactly how I'm going to get back to my starting point. :)

Behind the Japanese Garden is a big park and I like parks so I stopped to relax for ~30 minutes.

Stopping to relax is an important part of this journey. It makes it much more difficult to remember how you got to the point where you're at. In other words, you have to actually think about where you are which will help you remember how you got there. Confusing? It's not. ;)

I got back on my bike and started pedaling. I took a few turns, left, right, right, left ... and then stumbled upon a sign for S?polno telling me to turn right again! So I did and rode along the Odra River for about 15 minutes. You can guess exactly where I ended up: the aforementioned cemetary. I hung out there for a half hour and decided to find my way back to the Rynek so I could get dinner at Vega before meeting up with friends at 5:30.

This is where it gets fun and stuff goes wrong. ;)

Instead of making my way back the way I came I took a detour. Across one bridge. Across another bridge. Across yet another bridge. To the point of not knowing which side of the Odra I should be on. I chose a direction and rode for 20-30 minutes. :)

Eventually, as I was making my way to Siberia, I asked a nice lady how to get to the Rynek. (Important point once you're incredibly lost.) She laughed at me and said I am not anywhere near where I want to be. Then she proceeded to giving me 27 directions. "Najprostsz? droge," she says. (The straightest road or the quickest/simplest way.)

If you need to ask for directions and you don't speak the local language ask younger people. The younger generation is more likely to know English.

Blood! Sandals! Lessons Learned!

Almost immediately upon departing for this "najprostsz? droge" I came upon a middle-aged lady in the middle of the bike lane and I rang my bell to let her know I was going to pass. I always ring my bell about 30 feet behind people because everybody gets freaked out by bike bells. This lady was no exception. She made a b-line for the bushes lining the bike lane and took the worst spill I'd seen since this.

I helped her up, which wasn't easy considering she decided to get her legs tangled in her bike frame. As she stood up we noticed the blood leaking from her foot. It wasn't too bad, but there was a lot of blood and her left sandal had a new paint job. The dirty white wasn't fitting anyway. :)

Lessons learned:

1) Don't wear sandals on a bike.

2) Don't ride your bike in the middle of the lane. Stay on the right or left and people can pass you without problems!

As I'm writing this I am cooped up in my apartment due to my own bike spill yesterday. :) Karma!


30 minutes later, after taking a few more detours, I made it to Vega and had some fantastic vegan go??bki.

Along the way I got to see lots of scenery I would not have seen otherwise. And now when I go north of Wroclaw I can make it back with less problems (and hopefully less blood). Next mission: get lost in the south. ;)

How To Get Lost

By now you're probably thinking "gee Karol, I'd also like to make old ladies bleed! How do I get in on this action?!"


Leave your home on foot or bike (not public transportation) and take a leisurely stroll for an undetermined length of time in any direction. Go down small side streets. Stumble into markets. Say "hello" to random people.

The important thing is not to have a time limit. I actually had somewhat of a time limit in the story above since I was going to meet friends. It took me 4 hours to go round trip to a place that's about 20 minutes away on bike so I did give myself lots of leeway. ;)

Your turn: what's your single best tip for learning a new city?