No GPS? How to navigate in a city if you’ve lost your phone

by Audrey on May 3, 2013

Ever heard of ‘natural navigation’? It’s a skill made famous by BBC favourite, Tristan Gooley. The principle behind it is that you use the natural landscape around you to help you find your way. This could mean gazing at the stars, or looking at the direction in which the wind has blown the grass over time. By knowing what you’re doing, you can find anything from a source of fresh water to your direction on a compass.

Broken iPhone - Flickr CC cavalierhorn

So finding your way in nature is all well and good, but what if you’re lost in a strange city, you don’t speak the language and your phone dies? Realising just how lost you’d be without all the mod cons shows just how much we’ve come to rely on smartphones and the like. It’s a good idea to insure anything important, like a phone or camera, if you’re planning to travel abroad, just in case.

But if worst comes to worst, there are still some ways to help you find your way in the urban landscape. And even if the worst doesn’t arrive, it’s a fun challenge to see how resourceful you can actually be. Here are a couple of pointers to get you started:

Religious guidance

As religious buildings tend to be very tall, they are some of the easiest landmarks to spot in a city. They can also provide some great directional clues.  Did you know most Christian churches are aligned west-east with the main alter at the eastern end? Synagogues also usually place the Torah Ark at the eastern end (facing Jerusalem). Obviously if you’re a little further afield, synagogues east of Israel will have it facing west.

Weathering heights

Prevailing winds that carry acid rain and pollution can leave buildings exposed. These weathering patterns can tell you exactly which way you need to go. When you’re checking the weather ahead of your travels, have a look at the prevailing winds for the relevant region. When you look up at the skyline, the faded and weathered parts of buildings will show where the prevailing winds have hit. Voila, you have a compass direction to follow!

And those are just a start. If you’re feeling inspired, why don’t you step outside and apply some logic to your surroundings. And the next time you’re in a foreign city, you can impress your companions with your resourcefulness.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Sixvaser July 6, 2013 at 1:56 pm

You can also follow the metro lines and stops if you dont feel like using them or your riding a bike. Follow where groups of taxis are headed to get to downtown or the busier parts of the city. If its the beginning or end of business and your in a big city, follow where the masses of people are going to fin public transport… Or you can ask someone.

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