Hit the Road, Snack

10 Things to Do When You're Lost on a Road Trip

August 15, 2018

Pack your bags! In honor of life’s most delicious highways, we give you Hit the Road, Snack, our travel guide of things to eat, see, and do this summer from coast to coast.

Photo by Alex Citrin

Okay. You were supposed to take a left turn, like, 4 miles back and instead of being on a highway barrelling toward your destination, you’re suddenly on a small, winding road. There’s no town (or building or person) in sight and you’re watching your cell phone service bars drop faster than your aunt on a Bar Mitzvah dance floor. Feeling lost, being lost, can be (quite literally) disorienting, heightened all the more by a host of anxieties that accompany car travel: time constraints, surprise sheriffs, a suspenseful true crime podcast finale.

This isn’t what Jack Kerouac promised—a hazy, no holds barred, carefree jaunt across the U-S-of-A. No, this is a road trip disaster. Why does being lost make you feel like a first grader all over again, searching and searching for your mom amongst the seemingly endless continuum of grocery store aisles?

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But maybe, just maybe, losing one’s way can usher in a whole new sense of adventure and give way to an entire set of memories, challenges, and feats to brag about. In case this is true, I've put together a list of ten things to do next time you get lost.

In no way is this an exhaustive or entirely serious list. If you’re setting out on a trip, make sure you plot your routes, drive during the daytime, and sleep well before you hit the road, Snack.

Acknowledge you’re lost.

Accept your fate. You must’ve taken a wrong turn awhile back or maybe your road trip buddy isn’t particularly adept with a map. Or maybe you didn’t listen to them or maybe you both got so caught up singing the chorus to Dixie Chicks’ “Wide Open Spaces” that you missed your exit and ended up in the middle of a field with no one but each other and some cows to keep you company. The sooner you acknowledge you’re lost, the sooner you’ll admit you’re lost—which will get you that much closer to getting un-lost.

Find someone to blame.

It could be Siri or the guy two miles ago who leaned out his window and told you to turn left at the fork. Heck, it could even be the kid in third grade who stole your eraser and set off an entire chain of events that finished with you, lost, alone and in the middle of nowhere. Whatever or whomever, just find someone to blame. There’s truly no better feeling than lifting that heavy scarf we call fault off our own shoulders and placing them onto someone else’s.

Talk to someone.

It could be that person you’re blaming. Or pull over and talk to a living, breathing, flesh-and-blood sentient human being. Someone with local swagger. Start by asking their name. Then ask them where the heck you are. Next, ask them for advice. Perhaps a food recommendation?

Eat something.

If the above person was in any way helpful, they gave you a good place to eat some good local grub. Maybe a diner, maybe a 7-11, maybe even their aunt who cooks up a mean fried alligator. Make sure to stop where you are and try the hometown fare. More often than not, you can’t go wrong. And if you do, well, that’s fun too.

Take a picture.

Don’t forget to to geotag it! Who knows when you’ll be here next?

Come up with an escape plan.

Yes, I know I’ve been sitting here waxing rhapsodic about the beauty and mystery of losing your way, but that doesn’t mean some safety precautions shouldn’t be taken into account. If you find yourself lost, it’s always a good idea to let someone know about your situation and check how much gas you have in the tank. Consult a map (a backup paper one is never a bad idea!), or a friendly stranger, to find your way back.

Go shopping.

I have a habit of pulling off into dusty old towns and heading straight to the first thrift shop I can find. There’s all sorts of wackadoo treasures to be found in places like that. Once, I found a pair of leather sandals that I still wear to this day. They’re a bit ragged and the sole is falling off, but they’re more or less my favorite. If secondhand is less your flavor, then head somewhere else.

Take the scenic route.

Highways are cool, if you’re into hot tongues of concrete that stretch all the way past the horizon and offer little to no to zero chance of seeing some of the regional topography. If you find yourself lost, veer onto that winding dirt road. Maybe you’ll see a deer or a fox or a tree so wide you’d need three Lebron James wingspans to even begin to approximate its circumference. Use this moment of lost-ness to catch a glimpse of some beautiful scenery.

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Slow down.

No, like, really sloooowwww down. As in, pull over. Turn off the car. Roll down the window and stick your feet in the wind. Maybe read a book or do a sudoku or take a nap. So much of a road trip is focused on getting to the next place and getting there fast. But what if a road trip were less about moving and more about being? Novel, isn’t it? Just make sure you’re safely out of the way of traffic.

Learn a lesson.

See? Getting lost isn’t all that bad. At the end of the day, there’s always some kind of moral. What will yours be? If you’re at a loss, borrow this one from Miley Cyrus, poet, sage, Patron Saint of Journeys: “Ain't about how fast I get there/ Ain't about what's waiting on the other side/ It's the climb.”

Have you ever been lost on a road trip? How did you cope? Share your methods in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • GeekKnitter
  • HalfPint
Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.


GeekKnitter August 17, 2018
I'm setting off on a road trip tomorrow, how perfectly timed! The husband is more interested in avoiding the big city between where we live and where we're going than in making 'good time,' so it'll be back roads and state highways for us. Wrong turns usually mean a visit to the local pub for beer and french fries.
HalfPint August 15, 2018
Yes, have been lost on many a road trip. But as my beloved cousin says "It's not a true road trip if there isn't at least 1 U-turn."