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Low Tech Navigation

When visiting a new place, whether it’s in your own neighbourhood or further afield, there can be a moment’s hesitation each time you turn. That hesitation may be the excitement or anticipation of finding something new, or it might be the fear of not knowing if you’ll be able to make it back to where you started. A few tips for keeping track of where you’re going without the aid of digital technology.

Use a paper map

From basic tourist maps to your own hand-drawn (or even annotated maps), a map can be an indespensible tool. Yes, it may identify you clearly as a tourist, which can put you slightly more at risk in some urban environments. You may find that you don’t need a huge fold out map though to give you the basics of where you’re headed.

Prepare turn-by-turn instructions

Along the same lines as the paper map: you might also want to write out turn-by-turn directions for your route. It won’t help you with context, and won’t be a lot of help if you get off-course, but it’s still a handy way to make sure you don’t need to memorise every last detail. By using Google view ahead of time you could also write a note about what is interesting about the corner (to ensure you don’t miss a turn if there isn’t an obvious road sign).

Mark points of interest with chalk

The back lanes all look the same to me. They’re all a variation of a hedgerow, paved road, and a gate leading into a field. To make them unique when I’m attempting an out-and-back route, I can add a chalk mark. This might be something as simple as a circle, or a smiley face, or it could be more informative and also include the direction of travel. If you’re including the direction of travel try to have a convention of whether you mark the way you should go on your return trip, or the way you came from. It doesn’t really matter because that chalk mark on its own should be enough to help remind you what to do next.

Travel a loop in both directions

When running we tend to look forwards, not backwards. If you feel comfortable on an out-and-back trip, you may find you can also link together these out and back trips into longer loops. for example: I might run out and back for the first third of a longer loop I want to attempt. As I get more familiar with this route I will have learned what it looks like from two directions. Next I might run the last third of the loop as an out-and-back run. Repeat this a few times and I know what more than half of the route looks like from two directions. The next step is to link up the middle bit. I should recognise the last third of the route when I get to it because I will have seen it from the direction I’m already headed.

Last updated: 17 February 2020