As someone who gets fairly lost fairly easily, the idea of being in Europe for the first time and not having access to Google Maps made me feel a little like one very lost ant in someone else’s terribly disorganized anthill. Thinking this, getting a new phone plan set up was one of my biggest priorities when I arrived in Edinburgh. However, little did I know that getting a SIM card required a UK bank account, which took its own time to set up, leading to the realization I would be spending at least a week without access to google maps. Upon hearing this, I panicked a little,picturing myself becoming very lost in the cobblestoned streets and winding alleyways, constantly searching for a Starbucks, or some other well-known destination with free wifi.
Edinburgh Castle, Seen from Grassmarket
However, after the initial panic of being an ocean away from any city I’m familiar with, the advantages of being map-less soon began to emerge. Coming from big cities, I know how easy it can be to get caught up in the hustle and bustle without appreciating the city. Not having google maps, or really anything on my phone, forced me to spend time paying attention to the environment and simply wandering. It was in the first week, phone-less and often lost, that I did some of my best sightseeing—almost entirely accidentally! I remember taking a staircase near my flat, turning a corner and coming across the National Museum of Scotland. Following the road, I walked by The Elephant House, famous for being one of the cafes JK Rowling frequented while writing Harry Potter, (which made my English Literature Major heart very happy), before continuing on to the Royal Mile to find someone in traditional Scottish clothing playing bagpipes on the street—all while I was trying to find a Tesco! Mind you, I did take the completely wrong route to that Tesco, and could have gotten there about 10 minutes faster with google maps–but I would have missed out on the bagpipes, the Royal Mile, and the Elephant House.
Victoria Street, Edinburgh
Wandering without a map for the first ten days of my stay didn’t just help me accidentally come across some stunning views of Edinburgh Castle, the Scott Monument, and St. Giles Cathedral, it helped me to feel settled. In a city full of hidden closes, staircases nestled in between skinny, tall buildings, and roads that change name mid-street, not having a map can seem daunting—but through exploring these pathways, I found myself learning shortcuts and navigating the city based on landmarks rather than street names. By the end of ten days without a phone, I felt far more settled and familiar with the city than I ever think I would have had I not taken the time to get lost and look beyond the street signs.
Street art in Glasgow and the Glasgow Cathedral
This is something I’ve carried with me through my small travels in Scotland. An unplanned day trip spent getting lost in Glasgow resulted in the freedom to explore without goals. Often, I’ve found myself to plan out jam-packed days of travel that put timelines and limitations on every activity. But in Glasgow, we had no plan, and we ended up travelling through the city at our own pace, taking the time to truly appreciate the landscapes and overall feeling of being there. Taking that moment to pause and fully appreciate my surroundings has been far more fulfilling than planning ever would have been.