Solid numbers are hard to come by — there just hasn't been enough research — but it appears that almost a quarter of us may have a poor sense of direction.
And by "poor," we mean lousy. Unable to follow a map. Or figure out where to exit a mall. Or find the car. And traveling to a strange city? Forget it.
Linda Grekin, a school librarian from Michigan, is "directionally challenged," as she puts it. Her lifelong struggle to get where she wants to go has prompted her to write "Never Get Lost Again: The Complete Guide to Improving Your Sense of Direction" (RDR Books, $14.95).
When she sought data on the subject, she found none. So she did informal surveys and quizzed a group of University of Michigan medical students. Her results showed that as many as 22 percent of people considered themselves directionally challenged.
Why do people consistently get lost? The reasons are unclear. Some of us seem to have cognitive maps in our heads and can follow them. Others don't. Some of us can mentally rotate objects, a key factor in determining spatial relationships. Others can't. Genetics and hormones may play a role.
Grekin offers ideas for fellow wanderers.
—Plot your trip, even down to drawing a map or making notecards listing landmarks.
—Leave early so you're not rushed.
—Learn to read a map.
—Ask directions. If you get lost, ask again.
—Carry a GPS and a cell phone.
—When you park in a garage, take time to study your location. Similarly, when you enter a building, note the entrance you came in, and look for landmarks (a painting on a wall, a statue, etc.).
—When traveling, study maps and memorize street names. Write down names of landmarks and streets; they will help you find your way back to your starting point.
And stay calm. Gaining control is worth it. As one student put it: "My world could be bigger. It's the directions and the panic."