A Little Anecdote… Getting Lost On My Travels Has Only Made them Richer

Last updated on December 29, 2022

Now that I’ve been on the road for a few years, I find that I rarely share travel stories with friends unless they ask. But there are times when travel memories sneak right into the conversation because some misadventure leads to another and I find myself out to dinner with friends saying,”Hah! That reminds me of this one time when I got totally lost, but found something really cool!”

Most stories start with this refrain, and it’s mostly because I get widely, unequivocally lost in every place I visit. I’ve been lost right in the middle of a new city. I feared I’d never return to civilization when I was lost hiking in the Blue Mountains of Sydney and the cow pastures of England’s Lake District. Even with a clear map and detailed instructions, I still get lost.

Balinese Fruit Offerings for Festival
The elaborate fruit offerings at a Balinese temple ceremony outside of Ubud

The other day, I found myself sharing a misadventure that I hadn’t shared on the site. This little anecdote and unexpected side trip was one of my favorite parts visiting Bali. One day, I was riding a motorbike ride through a dusty Balinese town outside of Ubud. My friend navigated the bike while I rubber necked from the back. And though I’d certainly rubberneck for the chance to see the beautiful terraced rice paddies, I was actually searching for signs indicating that we were en route to Gunung Kawi. Gunung Kawi is a gorgeous temple complex carved out from the rock walls. At least, that’s what the guide book said. I never made it that far.

My friend and I searched for an hour for the correct turn-off. We stopped and asked for directions. We conferred with our map and scratched our heads. Then, instead of Gunung Kawi, we slowed down at a nondescript temple smack dab in the middle of this sun-bleached town. The temple wasn’t on our map. And it definitely wasn’t Gunung Kawi. But we heard the call to adventure and followed the steady line of worshipers filing into the temple. On the other side of the doors, Balinese women in the center courtyard delicately balanced large bowls of fruit on their heads.

We had gotten hopelessly lost, but we found a celebration anyhow. I was happy to stretch my legs and even more willing to deviate from our plan. We parked the scooter and joined the snaking line of Balinese locals climbing the temple steps. Inside, the festival ceremony was in full swing. Traditional dancers, music, children, food, and dogs intermingled haphazardly in the inner courtyard. Long tables lined the adjacent courtyard, they held the exquisite, intricate devotional offerings like the one above. After just a week in Bali, I had come to love the Balinese superstitions, beliefs, and spiritual practices. They have a complex set of beliefs that are hard to grasp as a foreigner, but beautiful to take part in and learn about.

I never did make it to Gunung Kawi, not that day nor any other since I left Bali a mere two days later, because I instead found a shady spot in the corner and spent a solid two hours as the sole tourist quietly observing a Balinese ceremony and enjoying the curious smiles from locals.

Why You Should Always Get Lost While Traveling

Getting lost while traveling the world an be an exciting and spontaneous way to discover new places and experience the local culture. Here are a few reasons why getting lost can be a positive experience:

  • It allows you to be more present and engage with your surroundings in a deeper way. When you are lost, you are often more aware of your surroundings and more open to new experiences.
  • It can lead to unexpected and memorable adventures. Getting lost can lead you to discover hidden gems and unexpected treasures that you might not have found otherwise.
  • It can help you become more self-reliant and resourceful. When you are lost, you have to rely on your own problem-solving skills and resourcefulness to find your way back. This can be a great opportunity to develop these skills and build confidence.
  • It can help you break out of your comfort zone and try new things. Getting lost can be a bit scary, but it can also be a great opportunity to push your boundaries and try things you might not have otherwise.

Of course, it is important to take precautions and stay safe while traveling, especially if you are in an unfamiliar place. Make sure to have a plan in case you do get lost, such as keeping a map and a charged phone with you, and always be aware of your surroundings.

travel tip

If you’re keen to read more, I highly recommend picking up Bali: Sekala & Niskala or Island of Bali for a fascinating look at the complex rituals and beliefs of the Balinese people.

This story was originally published in February 2011—I’ve gotten really, really lost a lot since then.

31 thoughts on “A Little Anecdote… Getting Lost On My Travels Has Only Made them Richer”

  1. Great story but getting lost isnt for everyone. I try to get lost on purpose however being lost scares the heck out of my wife.

    • That’s very true – I don’t seem to be able to stop getting lost, so I just
      go with it now but it used to give me a lot of anxiety when I was in a
      foreign place to start with, and then lost to boot! :)

  2. True, getting lost is very cool. Last time I got lost I was China, Beijing, I got SO lost that I ended up in Mongolia :) So funny now, wasn’t much fun at the time though, melting under August sun and with nobody to ask for information in English to :P

    • Yikes! I’m sure it’s a lot funnier in retrospect than the absolute frustrations at the time :-/ You also have me worried though, I’m heading to Beijing next month…note to self: no trains heading to Mongolia! ;-)

      • The “funny” part is that we didn’t take the train! We walked to Mongolia! Yeah, let’s say that you need to get down where the guide tells you to, if you are on a tour, otherwise be careful and come back exactly via the same path you went up. If you come to Shanghai let me know!

        • What?! Crazy. You have me on guard now, I will definitely be paying close
          attention :) I’ll be in Shanghai on the 29th or 30th of this month btw, so
          I’ll shoot you an email as it gets closer so we can grab some coffee or

    • Almost always right?! Temples, landmarks, all of those are wonderful, but the human interactions that stem from mishaps are nearly always the best :)

  3. Those unexpected stops are the best. This is why when I travel, I love to visit people who actually are from there; they know all the secret places :)

    Oh, and your photo: so full of color!!

    • I couldn’t agree more – finding a local or friends and expats living in a city gives a completely different glimpse into life and culture in that area. Thanks for the kind words! :)

  4. Hi Shannon, what a beautiful – and delicious – picture! I don’t get lost that often but I like to wander around an area without a real plan. It’s true that sometimes the best moments are accidents, like finding the stray cats in the Botanical Garden in Buenos Aires. Sometimes I just watch people for a couple hours.

    • Thanks Jennifer! Props to you for a good sense of direction, I keep thinking perhaps I can train that into myself! The planlessness definitely adds that same level of random spontaneity to traveling – like finding cats, love cats. :)

  5. Haha, all my stories are getting lost stories. I have no sense of direction. Really, I should never even be allowed to leave my own backyard.

    I absolutely love the photo with this post, btw.

    • Hahaha!! Sometimes I agree – especially when I have a map and everyone says “oh, you can’t get lost,” yet there I am lost! Cheers and thanks for popping in and commenting :)

  6. I love getting lost when travelling! Stumbling upon local, authentic cultural experiences like these really does it for me.

  7. Wow! First of all, what a stunning fruit basket. I totally agree with you – getting lost can be a very good thing, and at minimum, always builds a good travel story!

  8. I think that you had a much better time at this temple then you ever would at Gunung Kawi. What a wonderful experience. I do love Bali and the rituals that happen every day. Their offerings are a work of art.

    • The rituals and ceremonies are what really make the island just hum at a different level; there is so much devotional energy put into their daily offerings! :)

  9. Shannon, I totally believe it’s moments such as these that bless us with some of our most fondest memories of our travels. Your out strolling about, looking for a place and excited to find it. All of a sudden you get lost, or are given bad directions, then Bingo! You walk into something that you were not expecting or had no idea existed. Sometimes, when I arrive somewhere new, I just love to hit the streets, on explore by bicycle or public transport. Not having any real idea on where I’m going or what I’m looking for. I always seem to find something that interests me. Love the image of the fruit offerings. Makes me hungry…..

    • I completely agree Jason, although I do get a tad bit anxious when I’m hopelessly lost, I’ve had to embrace the feeling – my M.O. is usually to find a tiny restaurant or coffee shop with locals, once I’m lost in a new city, and let them tell me their stories and tips. Thanks for the thoughtful comment :)


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