Sense of direction

Or rather, lack of it. Contrary to what you might expect, this doesn’t mean I get lost a lot. I have absolutely no innate ability to tell where I am or what direction I need to go to get somewhere.  So I’ve learnt to compensate extremely well by doing two things:

1. I memorise routes to important places.
2. I read maps well.

I have a mental catalogue of routes: home-college, home-town, town-therapist, etc. If I need to go between two places which don’t already have their own route (e.g. from home to therapist), I ‘hop’ between existing routes (first home-town, then town-therapist). I do that even if it means I end up going out of my way and a much more inefficient or illogical route overall. If I tried to go the shortest way and ignore my memorised routes, I would definitely get lost. I’d end up wandering aimlessly until I found myself back on a familiar route, and then I’d track back along them until I got where I wanted to be. I know because I’ve unwisely tried it on a handful of occasions.

My mental route catalogue could be compared to bus routes. Buses only go between defined locations. If you want to get to somewhere further away, you have to hop between buses on those defined routes, even if it means you end up going a roundabout way to get to your destination.

My other method of compensation is map-reading. I look at maps before I go anywhere new – even if that new place is a five-minute walk from home. I really like maps, and I’m good at reading them. I’d much rather be the person looking at the map than the person driving the car (even if I could drive!). Because when I’m reading the map, all I have to do is decode the map itself, which is designed with very strict and clear rules. The person driving the car does the more difficult job of converting the map code (“There’s a church on the left and then you take the next right turn”) into the real-world navigation.

If I’m travelling on my own and have to do both jobs, then I usually use ‘Google Street View’ to virtually follow the route I’ll be taking in advance. That allows me to remember the exact images of important parts of the route – like knowing what that particular church looks like so that I can easily identify it when I get there.

When I read Musings of an Aspie’s post about learning her way around a new place, I was amazed by how much I related to it. I’d never considered myself a particularly detail-oriented thinker before reading it. But now it’s pretty obvious that my problem with navigation comes from seeing details first and having trouble connecting them into an overall concept. It’s the same kind of process that makes me bad at generalising.

This is really just another area that justifies my use of planning and preparation. Some people might think that it’s unnecessary or overkill to carefully study a map before a five-minute walk from my house. But it’s just my way of learning to compensate for something most people can do instinctively. And, hey, it means I’m really good at map-reading.

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4 thoughts on “Sense of direction

  1. I have a really good sense of direction but I also enjoy looking at maps to see where a place is located. I want to see where it is in relation to where I already know. A good sense of direction is really just having the maps already in your head, the visual thinking side of me enjoys the maze of streets.
    The way you have improved your sense of direction is superb. Hats off to you. And with GPS in phones now you can practically never get lost, unless your battery is flat or there’s no reception. Always good to fall back on your own knowledge if technology fails.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point about just having the maps in your head! I guess that’s what I have trouble with – memorising the map and converting it into real-world places straight from my head.
      I think the main thing that makes it difficult is how complicated and random maps/roads are. I can’t help but wonder if I would do much better living somewhere all the roads are at right angles! I can never seem to remember or picture the exact angle between two roads, or the precise curve of a wiggly road. I tend to assume things are approximate 90- or 45-degree angles, and those assumptions get confounded when they add together until I end up pointing in precisely the wrong direction.

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      1. I find it easier to hold the map the same way all the time (i.e. upright), and then visualise myself facing different directions on the map. Rotating the map around is more likely to confuse me even more, most of the time.

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