I get lost when I travel, and a new report says you do too

4 min readJan 31, 2019

by Lily Christensen, Senior Partnerships, Travel

I pride myself on my sense of direction. I’ve been called LPS by friends as I’m their own personal Lily Positioning System when navigating to a new place. But when it came to arriving at an important meeting at CNN’s New York Headquarters at 25 Columbus Circle for a meeting, my LPS failed me.

I left for the meeting estimating being 10 mins early, but the NYC subway spat me out on Columbus Circle and I went to the wrong entrance. The right entrance took me a good 15 mins to find, making me ultimately 10 mins late to a client meeting with an unhappy room of very important people, with very little time. Bye-bye good graces, hello hoping my charm would wash away the embarrassment of my tardiness.

Typing in CNN into Google Maps caused great confusion

Even in the city famous for its grid-like street structure, addresses and pins just aren’t good enough.

According to a recent travel study by what3words, 65% of respondents reported that they have had trouble finding a meeting venue, so it turns out I am not alone. When you ask them about their navigation skills on holiday the stats only get more dire. A whopping 72% reported getting lost on a trip and over half spent more than one hour trying to find their destination.

The majority of issues come from vague street addressing and pins never taking you to an actual entrance for humans. No, I don’t care that a pin is perfectly centred on a building or plopped in the middle of the field at a stadium, I want to know where the people-sized entrance is.

So what’s the alternative? It’s no secret that what3words has been gaining traction as a new way to talk about location. It’s a system that has covered the world in a grid of 3m x 3m squares and has given each square a unique 3 word address, so far in over 27 languages. That means I can confidently tell you that the entrance to the CNN Building, 25 Columbus Circle (which is not on Columbus Circle) is at ///fixed.tree.crowd

Street addresses can be a mouthful

How’s your Chinese, are you fluent in Dutch, is pronouncing Russian a breeze? If you tick all three boxes, you are a marvel of humanity, but the reality is many of us don’t speak more than at most a couple languages and therefore cannot spell street addresses, let alone pronounce them. This means while troubleshooting where we might have made a wrong turn on our route, asking for directions or typing names in properly can be a challenge.

That means our ability to share places we love or give better destination information, is limited to how well we can interpret a foreign addresses that most likely won’t pin to the door. By sharing just 3 words the world becomes that much more shareable, so much so that 4 out of 5 respondents said they would be more likely to share specific locations and recommendations if they had an easier way to do it.

Korean, Greek, Ukrainian & Dutch…ready, set, translate! (credit: Google Images)

Pin-accurate behaviour

While the last 10 years or so have redirected us away from strict reliance on street addressing and focused more on searching for points of interest or place names in apps like Google Maps, we got over excited, and the majority of us have pinned it wrong.

In Google Maps pins can be dropped anywhere on a building, somewhere broadly in the vicinity of where people need to go. That means most of us don’t really trust pins. We head roughly to where we need to go, then rely on trusty old-school signage to do the rest. With the ever growing desire to stay in people’s homes instead of traditional hotel accommodation, signage is not an option and pins aren’t even controlled by the hosts. As it turns out, unsurprisingly the number one reason people get lost is a hidden entrance (CNN, I’m looking at you).

Considering in 2019 we still use something as analog as physical signage and can’t rely on pins to get us ultimately to the front door, it’s no wonder that 71% of people get frustrated while getting lost as going in circles can lead to arguments, missing crucial departure times for activities and at worst feeling unsafe.

With partners like Airbnb, Lonely Planet, Kempinski hotels and Intrepid Travel already onboard, how we talk about location is changing and what3words is solving a problem that’s remained unsolvable for over two centuries (addresses were invented in Paris dontyaknow) With the majority of errors in wayfinding coming from bad information and resources, now that we have a precise and easy alternative, let’s hope that the next time you get lost, it’s on purpose.

This Airbnb was quite hard to find, so instead of following the paragraph of directions I was offered, I asked them to send me a 3 word address.

To make sure travellers always find you the first time, give them a 3 word address. Discover yours at map.what3words.com or download the free app for iOS or Android.

Originally published at what3words.com on January 31, 2019.




what3words is the simplest way to talk about location. It has divided the world into 3m x 3m squares, each with a unique 3 word address.