I’ve developed a lot of useful skills throughout my travels: chatting up strangers, navigating situations in which English is nonexistent, and eating whatever food is put in front of me. One skill I’ve yet to master? A fine tuned sense of direction.
It’s almost comical how bad I am at navigating. Whichever direction I choose is almost always the wrong one. But most of the time, this isn’t much of an issue. I’m typically traveling with other people, and defer to them when it comes to matters of navigation. (Just ask my friend Rachel, with whom I backpacked through Europe in college. I’d still be wandering aimlessly around Italy if it hadn’t been for her map-reading skills.)
Now, things are a bit different. (A bit. Hah.) Here I am in my new home for the next couple of months, all by my lonesome. There’s no one to defer to; I am on my own. Street signs are practically nonexistent in Siem Reap, so maps aren’t even all that helpful. Google openly laughs in your face when you try to pull up directions between Point A and Point B. (Did you mean Asia Plaza in Cleveland, OH? No, no I did not.) You sort of just have to wander around, take note of landmarks, and trust that you’ll find your way.
If that isn’t the perfect metaphor for traveling, I don’t know what is. Learning to trust your intuition is so important when traveling. It’s that sense that tells you to remove yourself from a sketchy situation. It’s the pull you feel to wander down an interesting street. It’s the urge that pushes you to strike up a conversation with a perfect stranger. It simultaneously keeps you safe and enriches your experience.
I wandered out the other morning to grab a few things for my apartment (like the aforementioned toilet paper) and proceeded to immediately lose my way. I left a few 21st-century breadcrumbs (took photo of buildings to try and remember my way back) and continued on. When I had been out for a bit too long and started to get “thangry” (that means thirsty-angry; I just made it up), I stopped to buy a water and ask for help. Generally speaking, people are happy to do that. With his help and my breadcrumb photos, I eventually found my way back to my apartment. (And saw some cool street art on the way!)
I assume my sense of direction will improve a bit now that I’m left to my own devices, but in the meantime, I’m just enjoying the journey.