7 mins

Hilary Bradt talks... you're never lost

The founder of Bradt Travel Guides ponders how losing your way can be the key to really finding yourself

Hilary Bradt on getting lost on your travels (Dreamstime)

I made my first solo journey at the age of three. It was unintentional.

Having no sense of direction – or of location – is not something that sits easily with a travel writer, and it’s caused me, and others, considerable distress over the years.

“You’re never lost, you’re just seeing new places,” has been a comforting motto, and I’ve certainly seen a lot of new places this way. Most, I could have done without.

Like the four days lost in the eastern rainforest of Madagascar, or the time in Mexico where the high-altitude conifers gave way to dense jungle as we slid down the almost vertical hillside to the ‘road’ in the cleft of the valley – only to find a river.

Then there was an interesting time when George and I were on a holiday in the Spanish Pyrenees with my parents. With the help of a local topographical map, we planned an extended hike off the Ordesa Canyon. It was lovely. Good trails led us through spectacular scenery and it was only when fellow hikers greeted us with a cheery “Bonjour!” rather than “Buenos dias” that we experienced a slight feeling of unease. This increased to incredulity when we were told that our planned rendezvous with my parents was “Eviron 100 kilometres!” and the truth dawned. We’d walked into France.

Sometimes, though, getting lost can be a genuinely wonderful experience. As in Peru’s Cordillera Vilcanota in 1979 when we hiked off the map and were immediately lost. But this time, instead of misery and frustration, we discovered another world.

I topped a mountain pass ahead of George and stared in disbelief before throwing down my pack and scampering back down the trail to bring him the news that we’d landed on Mars.

Every hill seemed to be wearing a multicoloured striped poncho in vivid lilac, green, yellow and russet and the crags were weathered into fantastic shapes: castles, turrets, and pinnacles. There was no trail, and no sign at all of civilisation. It was utterly wonderful, and if we hadn’t been lost we would never have seen it.

Back to that solo adventure when I was three-years-old...

I was on Bournemouth beach with my mother and aunt, trotting back and forth to the sea with my bucket and pouring water on my mother’s toes while she chatted to Kitty. Then one time I went back and they weren’t there. Gone. Disappeared. So I set off down the beach. It’s a very long beach – seven miles long in fact – and I walked and walked and walked.

Three hours passed, the sun was low in the sky and the crowds on the beach had thinned before a ‘nice lady’ thought it a bit odd to see such a small child on its own.

She eventually reunited me with my mother, and it was soon clear that it was me who had disappeared, having walked back from the sea at an angle, and apparently not even looked around before setting off in the wrong direction. And far from flinging myself into my distraught mother’s arms I said crossly “You lost me!”

I’ve been going the wrong way – and blaming other people – ever since.

Ever been lost on your travels? What have you seen or experienced that you wouldn't have done had you been on the right track? Post your comments and tales below.

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