I don’t think that anyone can really discern whether or not he or she has a good sense of direction until one learns to drive. Up until that point most of us really pay no mind to how we get to certain places as long as we arrive there. Once we are put in charge of navigating ourselves to those same places, however, everything changes. All of a sudden that short trip to the grocery store may become a little more complicated than we remember.
I have never had a great sense of direction. When it comes to reversing directions I am even worse. It seems as if the only way I become an expert on locating a destination is if I have been down the same route over and over. The first “far away” place I ever managed to drive myself without issue was to Hershey Park. Had it not been for the multiple trips in middle school there as a year end reward or the cross country trips there for Districts and States, I would’ve never learned the way.
My family has gone to Ocean City MD on vacation every Aug. since I was born. While the route deviated its normal course a few of the trips, my dad typically takes the same way down each year. The older I became the more of the route I learned through various “landmarks”. There was the Turkey Hill that we stopped at for a snack. There was the old building with the fireworks sign on the side. There was the pink house on the corner right before we reached the highway that required 50 cents to be thrown in the basket. There was the Air Force base where if I was lucky, I got a glimpse of large cargo planes. There were the various McDonalds that we passed along the way, the key one being in Rehobeth when we would finally stop for breakfast and the main indicator that Ocean City wasn’t much farther.
I drove to Ocean City for the first time in June 2007. I was nervous but determined to make it there following the same route my family had always taken. I must admit I did slightly cheat in that I wrote up directions to reference if needed though most of the navigation was landmark based as opposed to actual street names. I was thrilled when I was able to complete the journey. On the way back I began my attempt to reverse the directions within my head only to get back into PA and realize I didn’t recognize where I was thus resulting in the use of my Garmin to get the rest of the way home.
A GPS is a wondrous invention. When it works correctly. While I feel more confident in having one especially still being a newbie to the area (I reached 2 years of residency in Sept) I worry about detours and not knowing alternate routes. I feel as if I can always trust the GPS to locate my home; it’s locating other places that I don’t always trust it. I have had my Garmin take me through the tiniest of towns only to arrive on a dead end back road on my way to Knoebels in 2011. I have also had it try to make turn the wrong way down a one way street. Driving through cities seems to be the worst as streets are closer meaning that “turn right in 500 ft” instruction quickly becomes “turn right” without warning.
My mother suffers from the same condition of “inability to reverse direction.” My father, however, seems to have compass and set of maps embedded within his brain. Unlike me, who normally has to drive somewhere myself at least once to learn a new route, my dad seems to be able to just learn it as a passenger. He then can typically replicate it, and even if he doesn’t drive it again for months, will still retain the knowledge of the route. Even if he ends up “off the beaten path” due to a detour or some other reason, he never panics (I nearly hyperventilate) and seems to just have an innate knowing of which way to go to get back on track. I confirmed this even more after I moved, and my dad came to visit. My parents only visit every few months, yet my dad seems to know his way around my small town as well as I do. He also can find his way to the mall, and even when I take him to new places he registers the location.
I am convinced that if someone was to drop my dad in an entirely different state that he would be able to learn his way around and find his way home without any issue. I am sure there are other people out there like him as well. Personally I’m just proud of myself if I can get somewhere new without difficulty or find my way home without a GPS.