How to Give Directions

Getting lost is one of the most frustrating occurrences for both guests and hosts.

(Or maybe that’s just me…I have an amazing proclivity for getting lost. When we first moved to Rhode Island, I drove around with two maps in the car – an atlas and a customized MapQuest [does anyone even use MapQuest anymore?] printout with “home” and “church” and other important locations marked on it. I still got lost. Frequently. Part of that can be attributed to RI’s lack of proper street signs, but I’ll claim most of the blame as my special talent. One time, we were invited somewhere new for dinner, about 5 miles from my work. Matthew drove separately and got there before me. I got so lost that even repeated phone calls couldn’t rescue me, and Matthew had to leave the dinner, find me, and guide me to the house. Dinner was really cold by the time we sat down to eat.)

You don’t want that to happen to you. Or your guests. So give them good directions.

By that I mean, don’t actually give them directions (of the “turn right at the brown house” sort). The webcomic XKCD agrees that’s rarely necessary anymore, since most people have GPS’s in their cars or smart phones with Google Maps apps.

Here’s what I do mean:

1. If they have GPS technology, give them your address. Or type your address in to Google Maps on the “to” part of the directions and send them the link to the map so they can easily get directions from their house to yours.

2. Describe your house, or better yet, send them a picture of it. Either take a picture and email/text it to them, or use Google Street View to show them your neighborhood. Go to and type in your address. See the little orange man on top of the zoom bar on the left of the map? Drag him onto the street in front of your house. Whoa! Crazy! Google knows where you live! (Creeper.) In the upper right of the image, there’s a “link” button. Click that, get the link, and send it to your guest. (Incidentally, Google Maps has not updated our street view since we got siding on our house. So…it wouldn’t actually be recognizable. Ha.)

3. Create a customized map. My husband met someone for breakfast this morning in a part of Providence we’re very familiar with, but his friend is not. So Matthew used Google Maps and a little piece of software called Snagit to create a custom map. This one image gives directions, the address, a picture of the place they were meeting, and parking instructions. You could use a screen shot and any paint or image editing software to do the same.

Do you have a tale of getting lost going somewhere new? Or had guests get lost on the way to your house?

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  • Devon and Lindsay Morris

    Giving directions is a task that is often neglected these days! Great tips!
    Can you write something, or do you already have something, on hosting a housewarming party? I'm about to host my first in a couple weeks!

    • Becky Miller

      I will plan a housewarming post before then for you. Will you give us a report about your party, with pictures?

  • Rebecca K

    I love visual directions, like the custom map of Matthew's! Sometimes I'll make similar maps for friends with InDesign.

    Unlike the rest of America, I will probably never get a GPS, and a smartphone is years away on the horizon. But I kind of like that this makes me plan my route ahead of time, pay close attention to side roads around the route (in case a detour is needed), and draw my own annotated map if I can't print one from Google. Self-reliance FTW!

  • Daniel

    The catch is, if said person is relying on a cellphone network for their GPS system (which isn't a GPS system by the way) to work, you should discuss this situation. Particularly if they are using a network that only works in large cities and you live in the country.

  • twentysixcats

    I'm with you about not needing to give directions. However, I will state a few things.

    One, I once got HORRIBLY lost getting from your place back to New Bedford. I drove around East Providence for quite a while, by myself, 7 months pregnant, after midnight, and in a nice fancy rental car. I was so freaked out/tense. I ended up having to ignore my GPS and follow street signs. Later I found out they've done a lot of construction in your area and I guess my GPS is older than that. That said, I think if there has been recent construction in your area, you should warn people and offer to give directions.

    Another time, we were going to a Christmas party and all we received was the address. However, the address wasn't recognized by Google Maps – it led us to an empty lot. (This was before we got our GPS.) We drove up and down that street for a really long time trying to find their subdivision (and we did, finally, after driving through all the subdivisions in the area). So, look up the location on Google Maps – if it doesn't exist then warn your guests and offer directions. They had lived in that house over two years; I don't know why Google didn't even show the neighborhood (it just had a field).

    While an address might be sufficient, I usually like to add a description of the house – people often overshoot our house because we are right on the corner. ("Turn right and we're right on the corner – the green house with the white shutters.") Also, I don't know about other GPS's, but ours is notorious for getting us to the correct general area, but being wrong about where the actual house is. So a brief description is nice.

  • Catherine

    I never get lost. I do use mapquest still and I have to find people's houses all the time for work. Mostly it goes well.

    OT, I tried this moroccan chicken soup recipe that was amazing and it made me think of you. It is hearty, healthy, and flavorful. For the most part, it wasn't too hard to make and soups make very good meals for guests. Let me know if you're interested in the recipe.

    • Becky Miller

      Sounds amazing….I would love the recipe. We love Moroccan food.

  • nicholelnelson

    Getting lost happens to me all the time, I don't even remember specific occasions anymore. Lol.

    Yes, RI is notorious for being unfriendly to navigators. Even Mrs. Sorensen used to get lost when going to someplace new and she's lived her for…(a long time). ;) And is the most prepared person you could meet.

    Yeah, I will agree that it is best to use technology simply because that is what other people are doing. However, I've gotten lost using the GPS (Maybe I have a special talent, too!) and others have gotten lost using a GPS when I just give them my address and a brief description. So, personally, I like to look at a map before I go anywhere, and I like your tip for looking at your OWN house on Google maps before giving directions — you might find out it needs updating and have to give traditional directions anyway.

  • Lindsay

    I would love to send in pics fom our party! We are planning on having it on Oct. 2.

  • Catherine

    We are planning a house warming party as well. Still trying to plan a date though. The first available weekend is my birthday. So we'll see…

    Sweet Mary! It must be easy to get lost in RI!!

  • Kristen

    I live in a small town (population 25,000), so it's not too easy to get lost. I did have a friend tell me that finding my house was like finding Narnia – he never got there the same way twice, but always seemed to find his way.

    I have friends who live on an acreage in the country and got lost the first time I tried to find their house. My friend used only descriptive directions with no street names. She said to take a left just past the old gas station. I was picturing an old school gas station, but it was just an abandoned Shell truck stop. I drove miles beyond the turn, looking in vain for an old gas station. At this point, I didn't have a cell phone, so I had to figure it out on my own, which I did. We still laugh about it today :-)

  • George J V

    If you need a nice place on the web to store directions to your place (short, detailed, directions from landmarks, map links etc.) use

    Once you register and store directions the link can be used to email/ message or even convey on the phone – e.g. http://www.ShareDirections.comKallos – saves time for both parties and is authentic since it comes from the person inviting

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