Now what way do I go?The type that points north, not that super-pointy thing used to draw circles that you used once a year in school, but somehow needed to always have in your desk ready to poke you. In these days of GPS, smart phones and Google Earth, the mere suggestion of bringing something so low-tech seems anachronistic…or survivalist. After all, you are travelling to have fun and perhaps a little adventure, just not so much adventure that you would need a compass.

However, whether you are taking a weekend camping trip to a state park or a couple of weeks abroad, a compass is a an invaluable tool. Still don’t believe me? Here are some personal examples of times when I found a compass very useful.

1. Park trails are usually well marked and maps are usually provided. The park is big, but the weather is pleasant and you are not in a hurry. After a few hours of leisurely walking, the weather turns and it looks like rain. You wonder if it is quicker to turn around or take another trail back. You look at the map and it looks quicker to take another trail back. However, when you reach the point where three trails converge, the map says “east.” Which way is that again?

2. You decide to go to London for a few days. You made your reservations at a hotel weeks ago and the confirmation email tells you which tube station is closest. A look a map of the neighborhood shows that your hotel is south, then west of the tube station. You studied the map of your neighborhood to the point where you feel you have learned The Knowledge. When you get to your station, you see that there are three exits from the station. You walk out of one and cannot see the street sign. Which way is south?

Sweet Sweet Coca Light3. Finally, you find yourself in a medieval city center in Cordoba. Wandering is fun and so is “getting lost” along back alleys and small courtyards. But it is HOT, even by Spanish standards. These charming streets are now a hedge maze and all you want to do is get to the restaurant and suck down a cool 33cl of Coca-Light. Again, the map tells you which way to go, but after the same street changed names four times, you are no longer sure exactly where you are.

The pattern here is familiar: you bring a map and study it, only to find yourself floundering when you get there and try to use it. A map is only good when you know where you are and where you are going, and that is why you need to bring a compass.

Know Before You Go

Learn how to use a compass. Older crowd, I am not worried about you. It is the kids these days with their calculators and iPods that I am worried about. (hahaha – Ryan’s joking here…I think…)

Bottom Line

Small, cheap, lightweight and easy to use, the compass can be a lifesaver in extreme situations and a time (and argument) saver in day-to-day scenarios.