Okay, so maybe the title is a little misleading.

Coming from the girl who still gets turned around in the city where she’s lived for twenty years, I suppose “expert” is a little strong.

Zhytomyr is the perfect size city for walking, a convenient and healthy (not to mention free!) mode of transportation.

But I’m turning over a new leaf. After years of obliviously following people and expecting them to get me to my destination, I’m taking a new step. And what better place to learn than a foreign country?

Here are the three things I’ve learned to keep myself from taking a forty-five minute shortcut home from the mall ever again.

Buy a map.

Let’s be honest, when was the last time you used a map? And no, GPS doesn’t count. Other than the map to get me around Disney World or to find the food court in the mall, I don’t believe I’ve ever used one.

Recognizing letters in the street names (my attempt at reading) can come in handy. That is, if you can find a street sign.

Try to find a map that isn’t too crowded and busy, making it hard to read and very distracting. Mark where you are staying and other key locations that you’ll be travelling to and from and write down their addresses. Also make sure you know the size of the city compared to the scale of the map, otherwise “turn left in two blocks” will turn into your daily workout and a nice tour of the side of the city you’ve never seen before.

Mark out the important places on the map so that if all else fails, you can stare blankly and point.

The most important things to figure out are where you are on the map and what direction you are heading. Unless you’re one of those mystical non-humans who can instantly know that they’re facing north northwest and walking to a house on the east side of the road and that the wind is blowing in with a southwestern current (hint: not me), then orienting yourself is your number one priority. Otherwise, you’ll learn very quickly that…

It’s okay to wander.

Whether it’s a wrong turn or just a half-mile detour to find one of the three street signs in the city, it’s completely acceptable to do a bit of harmless wandering. Yes, it’s slightly embarrassing to walk past a group of people four times with your map out, smiling sheepishly each time. But it is better than convincing yourself that you remember seeing that statue somewhere, right?

Generally, it isn’t more than 15 or 20 hryvnia ($2 or $3) to take a taxi anywhere around the city.

And while it may sound like a scene right out of Taken, asking for directions is usually okay. Just try not to walk up to the smarmy man standing in the shadows of the alley while loudly pronouncing to the world that you’re a lost American. Usually, nice looking people on the street can be trusted to at least point you in the right direction, if you’ll believe them.

Memorize the public transportation system.

You know people are going to ask why you’re an hour late when you live twenty minutes away, so you might as well blame it on traffic or something other than your lack of directional capabilities.

Public transportation is great for two things: a little rest from walking and people watching.

Learn the routes of the different transportation throughout the city. Buses, trams, and trolleys all have numbers and run various courses from one end to the other. They aren’t very expensive and they provide a great opportunity for people watching and expanding your vocabulary (in ways that Rosetta Stone could never do). Not only do you learn the hip street slang, but you actually get a real life look at the culture and the way the people and society work.

And if you don’t want to get yelled at by a babushka on the trolley, make sure you give up your seat for any mother and child that need one. Oops.

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Now that you’ve taken a lesson from this modern day Magellan, there’s just one more thing to remember: never admit that you’re lost.

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About the Author: Lauren Schneider was a summer intern with World Next Door in 2010. She is a Journalism/Mass Communications major at Samford University in Birmingham, AL. Lauren loves writing and photography and could eat Chick-fil-A every day for the rest of her life.

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Comments

  1. Terry Hirsch said... 

    Reply

    July 24th, 2010 at 7:58 am  

    Ahhhh – some of the best things about traveling: maps (which will never look the same again after you’ve been there): mass transportation (where one can glimpse the every day people) and finding something new (places and languages are my favorite).

    Thanks for reminding us of what travel to any destination should encompass.

  2. Krystallin said... 

    Reply

    July 24th, 2010 at 8:05 am  

    Hahaha, but Lauren 45 minute shortcuts are so fun! :) But seriously, I think that was when we really became friends. 😉

  3. Jim.M said... 

    Reply

    July 25th, 2010 at 3:42 pm  

    Having a map is wonderful, having a map and a compass is bliss. You use them both for a while and then you know your way. When you use them often you rarely get lost, and when you are out in unfamiliar territory, you have them to fall back on.

    J+

  4. Jonathan Pomazon said... 

    Reply

    July 25th, 2010 at 9:56 pm  

    I’m amazed that you actually found (and photographed) a street sign! Awesome!

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