Navigationally challenged? Innate sense of direction? It's all in the brain...

Navigationally challenged

Are you navigationally challenged?

Or are you one of those lucky people with an innate sense of direction?

Sadly, I’m one of those people who would get lost inside a paper bag. I enter a public loo through one door and struggle to exit via the cleaner’s cupboard. (Why won’t the bloody door open?) I take a photograph of where I park my car. I ignore the instructions from my car’s GPS because I swear it’s wrong. It isn’t.

Getting lost is a bit of a running joke in my family. As a kid on family holidays, my parents always pinned our site number to my back when we stayed in caravan parks. Embarrassingly, as a young adult, friends on holidays always checked my pockets before I went out to make sure I had the address written down and safely stashed in my pocket.

I once got lost driving from Punt Road to Hoddle Street in Melbourne. If you’re not from Melbourne, here, I’ll draw you a map to illustrate:

Navigationally challenged - who gets lost driving from Punt Road to Hoddle Street?Yes, Hoddle Street and Punt Road are one and the same road.


When I finally figure out where I am, I feel the earth turn beneath my feet as I orient myself on a map. It’s a weird physical sensation.

Recently, I read an article on Scientific America called The Brain Cells behind a Sense of Direction which helps explain why some people have an innate GPS and others, like me, need an EPRB in daily life. Basically, if your entorhinal cortex receives good signals, you’ll find your way back to your car with barely a second thought. If not, pack that EPRB, just in case.

As a kid, I remember learning the schoolyard expression, ‘Never Eat Soggy Weetbix’ to help remember the NESW acronym for north, east south, west. It helped me to remember the acronym, but it didn’t help my sense of direction.To remember which side of the boat is port side and which side is starboard, someone taught me this clever little expression:

“There’s not much port left in the bottle.”  

Port is the left side, get it? 🙂 I have never forgotten this little gem. Not that it helps my navigationally-challenged self in any way.

Hiking when you’re navigationally challenged

Hiking seems an odd hobby for someone who regularly gets lost during trips to local shopping centre lavatories.

All I can do is pack as many maps as possible, pay careful attention to the directions in hiking guides and the scenery around me. I even turn around and look at a path from behind so I’ll recognise it if I see it coming from another direction. I don’t hike in the wilderness – I only go where I know if I got lost, the worst I’d have to do is bush-bash for a few kilometres to find a main road. Not very ‘leave not trace’ of me but when the alternative is calling emergency services…

I really need to learn how to use a map and compass but every time I approach it, my mind recoils in horror, like sunlight to a vampire. It seems like an impossible task.

Any recommendations? What advice would you give to a navigationally challenged person like me?


  1. They don’t call me ‘WrongWay Jerry’ for nothing – I once pulled into a service station on the Nullarbor and drove back the way I came for about 30kms before realising the sun was pointing me away from my destination! I like the mnemonic for what PORT stands for 🙂

    I’ve used the tip about photographing where I parked my car – even – in difficult (huge busy) car parks I’ve done the take 50 steps, turn around and take a photo – that way I have a series of ‘breadcrumbs’ leading me back to where I parked. It works well!

    • Jerry, it is so nice to find out that I’m not alone. Driving the wrong way after filling up with petrol is something I’d do, too. And you’d think the Nullabor is somewhere you could never get lost. Lol. When I started parking in Melbourne’s CBD I took a photo of my car space number every day for about the first 2 months. I’m a pro in there now though. It’s a really good tip. I love car parks that use colour coding as well. It’s easy to remember the purple floor. As for the ‘breadcrumbs’, I do that when hiking, though I don’t take photos (I will in future) because I need to recognise landmarks from different directions so I know when I might going back the wrong way. Good times for us navigationally challenged kids, eh?

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