#abroadlessons: Confusion is key

I have never been so confused in my life.

Although my adventure in London only began a few weeks ago, I have already learned some key lessons to studying abroad and about this city in particular.

Perhaps the most useful so far has been rather simple: Get Lost.

While getting lost may seem daunting for most travelers or newcomers, I have found getting lost both adventurous and comforting. The great part about living in a city is that there are always landmarks and (in the case of London) maps to help guide a wanderlust. Fortunately for any wanderlust in London, both getting lost and finding your way back are relatively easy.

I’ve set off a couple of different times when I had a lot of time on my hands with the sole intention of wandering around. Oftentimes these casual wandering adventures prove to be instructive, exciting, or enlightening.

Statue on "Lover's Walk" in Hyde Park.
Statue on “Lover’s Walk” in Hyde Park.

For instance, yesterday I had my afternoon free and decided to wander in and around Hyde Park. While not many visitors roam the park in the snow, it was still nice to see all of the fountains and kids practices rugby or football.

I tried to find the Peter Pan statue with no luck, as it is actually in the Kensington Gardens on the far side of the park (who knew?). I vowed to come back when it was sunny and there were more flowers than dead trees and sticks around.

Wandering toward the direction of “home,” I managed to find Chinatown, a World War I memorial topped with plastic pansies for the centennial, Wellington’s Arch, an arcade I’ve never heard of and some other cool things. If I would’ve just taken the Tube or a cab or the bus, I would’ve never been able to see all of those things while walking around.

Getting lost unintentionally can be a bit frustrating, but it can also be rewarding.

My first couple of weeks here, I got lost just about every time I went outside.

Need to go to the grocery store and walk two miles in the wrong direction? Check.  Going home from the grocery store and walk in a five-mile roundabout circle to get home after missing a turn? Check. Take the wrong exit from the Tube so that your iMap gets turned around and you stomp off in the opposite direction of campus? Check. In the past few weeks I’ve gotten lost in just about every area I have visited, at least temporarily.

As frustrating as getting lost was (especially when I had class registration to make at a certain time, or a friend to meet for a pint), it was really, really helpful.

Lost? Helpful? What?

Let me explain: Without getting lost the first few times, I would never have found my way around. Sure, I’d know my route to class or the grocery store, but would I really know my borough, neighborhood, or city? No.

I now know both the “fastest” and the “safest” route to my campus and the gym. I know where both the “closest” and “nicest” grocery stores are within walking distance. I know which pub plays American ESPN and which one serve excellent Thai food because their chef happens to like cooking it.

It may have been daunting, but throwing myself out there and seeing what happened (map in hand, of course) was the best decision I could’ve made while still learning about this new city.

I’m glad I’ve learned this lesson early, because now I can plan to just wander around Hyde Park or the surrounding area for an afternoon, knowing I’ll see so much more of London than on a planned tour.

Getting lost takes the “tour’ out of “tourism” and just makes it an “ism” for me to work with: It makes it anything I want it to be.

And really, isn’t “anything you want” the best kind of traveling?