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Thursday July 19th, 2018 1:40PM

What I learned getting really lost during blog research

By Alyson Shields Reporter

Sometimes I feel like I'm ironically being held back from exploring even though I tend to operate on the independent side. While I can cruise the mall, get lunch or exercise alone, I developed a difficulty exploring blog possibilities alone.
 
I blame a specific trip to Helen several years back. You see, I have very little, if not no sense of direction. This trip to Helen began wonderfully - I met up with a local, we talked history and I took tons of pictures of the whole downtown - and after two hours I decided it was time to go.
 
Except it was apparently not time to go, it was time to get extremely lost. I get lost often, no biggie... until it's hour number three, total five, and the sun begins to set. I camped out at a fast food restaurant, watched my phone battery dwindle to the red and then called 911 for help.
 
While this is a now-hilarious anecdote I tell to riveted crowds at parties, it was once a very scary experience. Scary enough that it changed the way I travel - even just for a few hours.
 
So this is what I learned.
 
Charge your devices and bring an extra charging bank if you can. You can truly navigate anything if you have a full phone battery. For a day trip, or even just a few hours, a charging bank should keep you with a green battery indicator in a place where you may not have access to a wall outlet. This will also be helpful when you calculate you have one last phone call before it dies and you have yet to find where you parked your car.
 
Which leads me to this: find a way to document your vehicle location and make sure you have enough gas to leave in a hurry. Take a photo of the lot number or parking space number, and then the street sign at the closest intersection. Losing my car in Helen is the reason I now will often ditch my car in the first parking lot/spot I find, pay the fee, and walk wherever, or try to pre-plan my parking. I know from experience how confused I will get turning around so I no longer go back for a sweet spot. I still am grateful I had enough gas to get home without stopping.
 
Do you know how embarrassing it was to call 911 because I, an adult woman, was very lost? Super. This is the part of my party story that people sometimes cry from laughing. It is funny -  I'm not embarrassed I called 911. I'm still embarrassed years later because I didn't document my location when I was alone in a strange place. Do you know how many places could have directed me to the parking lot I was looking for if I had some kind of indicator or photo?? Yes, our next tip is ASK FOR HELP! Pick a shop, a restaurant, someone in lederhosen and ask them if they could help you with some directions.
 
You may be too shy to do that. I am too sometimes, especially when I am embarrassed to be lost for several hours in the tourist strip of a small town. I spent a lot of time/phone battery calling friends who used to work in Helen who tried very hard to not laugh while helping me from other cities and states. But phoning a friend can be vital - some one should always know where you are while you're traveling/exploring and if you get lost or are staying past your scheduled time, reach out to them. Preferably they are close by so they could come look for you if necessary.
 
As I stubbornly looked for my vehicle, I was grateful I wore some sporty shoes. Dress for the location, like walking shoes, layers, etc. This includes sunscreen, and bring that along with you.
 
Also keep in mind that in some locations, you may be targeted as a tourist. At least make sure your purse or backpack fastens closed in some way and keep your wallet in your front pocket. Don't bring things that are highly valuable along and certainly use the Lock-Take-Hide method in your vehicle: Lock your car, Take your valuables, Hide everything else.
 
Meanwhile, be aware of your surroundings and people near you. If someone seems to be following you, it might be a good time to duck into a shop or restaurant. 
 
You many be interested in carrying a defense mechanism with you. There are all kinds of small self-defense tools out there, including portable alarms, pepper spray and striking tools all on a keychain. You can also use your keys as a tool, weaving them between your fingers or wrapping your lanyard around your wrist and palm.
 
Like I said before, this goofy mix up changed how I travel forever. I was really panicked when I saw the sun was setting and I was still really, really lost. That is why I ended up calling 911 - not because it was the perfect ending to my hilarious story but because I genuinely began to feel afraid in an unfamiliar town at dusk. The good news is, the dispatcher was able to help me and quickly, and I was able to get home with no further trouble. 
 
But hey, it's a good party story now and I got my steps in for the day - all 17,806 of them.
 

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