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eDreams Travel Blog
  •   6 min read

Can we really trust strangers for directions or should we just look at our maps and do our best getting places? What about GPS and Google Maps, are they useful abroad?

image by Wendy Tanner on flickr


We’re asking 6 of our savvy colleagues the same questions, read on to see how they travel and some funny consequences of asking strangers for directions.

Laura writes the Italian eDreams Blog

people are increasingly suspicious when you ask them for directions

eDreams: How do you get by in a new city?

Laura: I use a map and ask for directions, because I am one of the few people without a smartphone… I don’t have any problem asking for directions, the problem is understanding the answer :-(… and I don’t have a good memory so I quickly forget the direction.

Are people on the street to be trusted for directions?

Usually yes, but sometimes they are quite approximate (just like me!). And also, people are increasingly suspicious and in a hurry.

Do you remember a funny answer or conversation you had with a stranger when asking for directions?

Yes, when I was just arrived in India, in Mumbai, I asked to a taxi driver if I was in the right direction for the train station. He looked at me smiling and started to move his head from left to right. I didn’t know that this meant “yes”, so I asked another time and when I received the same movement in response I got angry, I started to complain in Italian and I left! Then when I realized that he told me “yes” and I felt so sorry for how I treated him…

Anna is a co-editor of the French eDreams blog

women CAN read maps, sometimes they just take a detour 🙂

To ask or not to ask strangers for directions, that is the question…

Anna: I’ll go with the map. I’m not the kind of person to ask for the direction of the biggest attraction of the town I’m visiting. Kills the stats : women CAN read maps, sometimes they just take a detour 🙂

Are people on the street to be trusted for directions?

I’d say it really depends on the country. Japan is brilliant for that, and to be on the safe side wait until someone offers you help [yes it does happen] then you’ll be sure they speak English 🙂 In France if you ask directions you’ll get a better welcoming asking with a few words in french even if you’re not sure how to [the effort will be appreciated]. Reminds me of the film “2 days in Paris” where Adam Goldberg gives direction to the Louvre to a group of Americans thinking he’s to be trusted because he’s American when he had no clue where the Louvre was.

Do you remember a funny/weird answer or conversation you had with a stranger when asking for directions?

I remember giving directions in Granada, Spain 3 days after my first arrival to the town (and I didn’t look like I’m typically from the south of Spain). The most surprising thing is this person asked me in English and I gave her the direction. After I realized what happened, I was amazed that 1) I knew where the place was after such a short time and 2) assuming people speak English is either rude or pure laziness. I think it’s the basics of politeness to ask if someone speaks English, even when you ask for directions.

Luis writes a travel blog in Spanish

locals tend to be ashamed if you ask something they don’t know, so they just point at any direction and hope for the best

How do you get by in a new city?

Luis:  I usually try to find myself on my guidebook’s map first and if that doesn’t work, then I ask other people. GPS/Mobile App tends to be my last choice because of the 3G roaming costs involved.

Are people on the street to be trusted for directions?

Then again that depends on where I am. Usually around Europe people tend to tell you only what they know and usually aren’t afraid to say that they don’t know where a place is. But in Asia it’s a whole different story. In places like India, China or South-East Asia, locals tend to be ashamed if you ask something they don’t know, so they just point at any direction and hope for the best.

In Asia, I usually ask three people; if two point the same way, that’s the path I’m taking.

Do you remember a funny/weird answer or conversation you had with a stranger when asking for directions?

I found that in Japan people are incredibly helpful.

I got to Kyoto and couldn’t find my hotel, I was walking around the area but couldn’t quite figure out where it was, as there was no name or any visible sign of a hotel anywhere to be seen.
Luckily, a couple of girls that were passing by had mercy of my face of despair and, not only did they show me the way, but also called reception to make sure that it was the right place.

It’s safe to ask strangers for directions, except when they look like tourists

How do you get by in a new city?

Lara: At first I use a map to get a general idea of where I am and then I ask people on the street for the specific directions.

Are people on the street to be trusted for directions?

Yes, except when they look like tourists or you are in a city looking for a tiny street.

Do you remember a funny/weird answer or conversation you had with a stranger when asking for directions?

I remember when we went to Paris in a school trip and started to ask people where the Arc de Triomph was. We were on the same street, where you can see the huge monument, and we were only asking to see the horrified faces of the people around. Priceless.

I asked in a bar for the address of my hostel and found it, guided by a group of 10 people

Elisa is the co-editor of the Italian eDreams Blog

How do you get by in a new city?

Elisa: I normally use maps, but sometimes I like walking in a new city looking for nothing special, just observing streets, shops, people… and get lost. I love it! Then I ask to someone where I am.

Are people on the street to be trusted for directions?

I normally ask for directions to people who are working in a restaurant, a newsstand, a hotel or a small shop, I think is more likely they give you the right information.

Do you remember a funny/weird answer or conversation you had with a stranger when asking for directions?

The first time I visited Valencia, I was looking for the hostel where I had booked my stay and I asked for the direction to a woman in the street. She didn’t know where it was, but she told me to wait a minute while she went to ask to her husband. One minute later she came back with 10 more people! They wanted to help me and they started to look at the map and walk with me. The hostel was near and we arrived there together.

Kim writes the French eDreams Blog

Never ask for directions, as you’ll never be able to get lost again

How do you get by in a new city?

Kim: I really like asking people. Many times I ask people in the hostel where I am staying and ask for places to see, restaurants and nice dishes to try. I like maps because they make you get out of your comfort zone: you have to understand where you are and you give more attention to the general topology of the place. I don’t like the GPS because you don’t even realize you’re going somewhere, it just tells you what to do and where to go. And worst of all, you can’t get lost, which is the best when you travel. Like the saying says: Never ask for directions, as you’ll never be able to get lost again.

Are people on the street to be trusted for directions?

You can trust them if they live in the city. That’s why you have to be careful with who you ask. Just look at the way they talk, walk and dress. Then, it;s a matter of whom you ask for what: I’ll ask a young person if I am trying to find a nice place to hang out, I’ll ask a middle aged person about good places to have a bite in.

Do you remember a funny/weird answer or conversation you had with a stranger when asking for directions?

In Sarajevo we asked about a place where we could go out, but not the typical tourist place, a place where the Bosnian youth would go. We ended up in a club outside the city, filled with locals and local music. We made some friends and decided to go out the second day with the same people. This happens more times that you’d think it does.

What about you? Do you ask for directions? Do you trust the asnwers people on the street give you?

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