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Do you often get lost? Do you lack a sense of direction? These tools may help

Compass in Hand mountain road background .Vintage Tone
Lost? No sense of direction? Here are ways to cope.
(Getty)

Here’s an embarrassing but true revelation: My sense of direction is less than optimal. That has led to many conversations like this one some years ago with my copilot, who thought GPS was for sissies, especially in L.A., which he knew well.

Him: Where are you going?

Me: I’m going to the tile store.

Him: In what state?

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Me (glaring): In California, you (fill in pejorative term here).

Him (smirking): Well, if you’re really going to the tile store, you’re apparently going by way of Oregon.

I reject the title of “complete moron” as was suggested by the copilot in the above story, but I will accept the title of “imprecise navigator.”

That’s one of three groups Steve Weisberg and Nora Newcombe identified in a study of navigational proficiency. The two others are “integrators,” who understand landmarks and have a sense of place, and “non-integrators,” who are good with landmarks. The “imprecise navigator” excels at neither.

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But, you say, GPS. Yes, there is that. And in a few more paragraphs, I’ll talk about a new micro-GPS that helps the imprecise navigator (or anyone else) who might get lost in, say, a large resort.

But for now, if you have trouble navigating, consider what Oksana Hagerty, an education and developmental psychologist at Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla., a college for those with learning disabilities, has to say.

“Spatial intelligence, which enables our sense of direction, is probably the most hidden of our intelligences,” she said in an email. “We are not always aware that the successful completion of many everyday activities depends on this particular ability: from ‘reading’ body language to moving furniture to make the room more comfortable to even anatomy exams. (Medical students with developed spatial ability have been found to perform better on these exams — unless they are paper-and-pencil multiple choice exams, of course.)

“In modern culture spatial information is, indeed, often ‘masked’ by verbal and numerical information: We have signs, maps (GPS) and itineraries to orient ourselves. If those are not available, we learn to use our own landmarks: It is somehow easier to turn ‘at the red building’ than to turn ‘south’ (provided that nobody changes the exterior of the building, of course).”

At this point in your life, you probably know which category you fall into. If you don’t, consider the last time you went into, say, a mall and came out a different door. Did you know where your car was?

If you have a mental map in your head, great. If you have chosen a landmark and can use that, great again. If you have neither, you need to create your own breadcrumbs.

It’s about finding the strategy that works for you, said Becky Ward, education experience specialist for Tutor Doctor, which provides one-on-one tutoring.

Once you’ve found that strategy, you must be your own best advocate to get the information you need to find your way, she said. If you don’t understand “go three miles east and turn north,” Ward said, then say, ‘“I’m not quite clear what you mean,’” . “‘Is there any kind of distinct building I’m supposed to see or some other physical feature?’”

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People aren’t “cured” of their lack of direction, which some consider a learning disability, but, Ward said, “A lot of times what happens as a student matures and becomes an adult is that the disability will be less of a disability because they are now putting those strategies into place.

“It becomes an automatic process. That’s the key.”

It’s also possible that an inability to navigate may be a lack of training. “Lacking reading skills can be the result of not only dyslexia but also inadequate reading instruction,” Hagerty said. “The latter is easier to fix but only if appropriate instruction is available at an early age.

“The same with spatial ability. Some people lack the sense of direction more than others due to a neurodevelopmental deficiency, but modern society … has almost no tools (or need) to develop it, either spontaneously or by means of formal instruction.”

Parents can help their children by giving them opportunities to play that involve “doing Legos, studying art and geometry or hiking,” she said. Beyond that, they can help their kids by asking them to describe a place they know. That “helps develop memory for images,” she said. Then there’s the GPS game: “When driving to familiar places, ask children to tell you where to go,” she said. That enhances visual acuity and sense of direction.

For the rest of us, there is GPS, which is great when it works, although if you lose a signal, you may be stranded. Maps are an analog backup that works for some.

You may not be able to make sense of a map, whether it’s of the world’s highways and byways or the path to your room at the ginormous resort where you’re staying. You might as well be plopped in the wilderness as you turn that badly photocopied paper this way and that way.

Yes, I’ve done it. I just did it in Mexico, where I was sure I was going to have to sleep outside because I had no idea where I was or how to get to my room. My solution: Find someone who works there and tip nicely.

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A tech solution still being rolled out may be your new best friend, whether it’s in a sprawling resort or a mall.

Unlike big-picture GPS, this system will have its tech infrastructure inside the resort building to help phones get data and position the user on a map, said Nadir Ali, chief executive of Inpixon Indoor Intelligence.

Like your big GPS, this indoor mapping system will be able to guide you, using your phone, wherever you need help, once the technology is in place. It also can be used for security; the data are anonymous. “We don’t know who you are or your phone number; we just see signals from sensors” indicating where you are, Ali said.

It also may be a way for guests to choose their room before check-in, which may give them a new measure of control and thus satisfaction, he said.

Is privacy a concern? What if you’re wandering the grounds and you see ads pop up on your phone for the property’s happy hour — say, two-for-one drinks? The customer gets to decide how much he or she wants to interact, Ali said.

The technology has applications for any large space — a cruise ship, a convention center, a casino.

An important consideration, Ali said, is that the hotel or property using the technology must focus on the guest experience, not foist itself on the unprepared.

That’s a wave that’s just beginning to crest, but for those who are drowning in disorientation, it may be the ticket to one of the rides we need.

Have a travel problem or dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com. We regret we cannot answer every inquiry.


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