Humans have drawn and gazed at maps for centuries. From the roughest scribbles of ink on scraps of paper, shaped into outlines of city blocks and the wiggly form of arrows that provide a sense of direction, to the precise, detailed topological lines on geographical maps, stacked into dense textures, we use maps to realize where we are and how we get from here to there. Today, interactive maps glow from the screens of phones and tablets, nimbly swiveling left and right as we move, following us like a reassuring local guiding us obediently to our destination. Maps are meant to guide us, to demonstrate a sense of scale and location, and define the next steps we take.
Despite the safety and security afforded from knowing the lay of the land and the way of the road, there is something to be said about the anxiety and thrill that comes from navigating a puzzle or venturing into the unknown. The undiscovered frontier is tempting, and whether this frontier refers to the continents across the seas (Columbus) or the plains beyond the mountains (Lewis and Clark), we push through and forge new paths.
Of course, much of the world has been mapped and studied, and there are not many unexplored faces of the earth remaining that no man has ever been. As individuals travel through, they take along memories and experiences, then leave behind their traces. We are awash in quickly-snapped pictures, raving reviews, and painstaking itineraries that create a bubble of familiarity when we navigate a new place. Such recommendations and tips are helpful: they keep us safe and warn of the unsavory. But what is it like without them?
Imagine that you are walking down a street that splits before you. On your left is a stairway, on your right an alley lined with restaurant awnings, and ahead of you, storefronts with brilliant signs. Let us assume that there is no particular place you have to be, and that time is not of the essence. Which way would you choose to go? Your decision would probably be colored by your personality and preferences, and the decision to turn left or right or head straight on would be dependent on your whims. There is something to be said about having the luxury of time and the mobility to explore wherever your curiosity takes you, without an agenda driving you to follow a prescribed path.
Traveling without directions is about more than fulfilling our desires. There is an allure in finding something unexpected, or stumbling across a surprise. Even more so, traveling without directions removes us from our daily context and creates a new framework in which to visualize ourselves and our surroundings. Consider that forgoing a map requires confidence in yourself, an understanding that you might get lost, but a belief that you will find your way again. It requires trust in your sense of intuition and the inherent navigational skills of the human body. It invokes an awareness for where you are, and remembering where you have been.
Modern day life is permeated by directives and prescriptions for a successful life. In society, people carry titles, are defined by their occupations, and are tied by who they know and who they are related to. We have become obsessed with knowing every intimate detail of who we are as individuals, tracking everything from calories to sleeping minutes with numbers, and recording where we have been in pictures with dates and locations stamped onto them with the fidelity of a record-keeper. In a world where you are supposed to belong in your own specialized niche, traveling without directions creates a welcome respite from always having to know who you are, why you are here, and what you are doing. This creates a freedom to leave behind these constraints and truly see what is around you.