Don’t freak out if you’ve lost your way. Incredible things can happen when you wander off the (literal or metaphoric) beaten path. Below are just a few ways humankind has benefited from someone getting lost—plus, a few things to think about if you find yourself off course.
1. RECOVERING THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS
We’ve got a goat to thank for this one. In 1947, a Bedouin goatherd went in search of a stray in the hills near the Dead Sea. Instead of his goat, he found a cave he’d never seen before. He tossed a stone into the darkness and heard the shattering of clay pots. Inside those pots were some dingy old scrolls. They may not have looked like much, but some scholars would later declare them the greatest manuscript find of all time.
Fifteenth- and sixteenth-century European explorers were notoriously bad at getting where they wanted to go. But without their nautical errors, we might never have been gifted with pizza. Spanish visitors to the New World brought tomato plants from Mexico back to Spain, and onward throughout Europe, including Italy (thank goodness).
3. REALLY GOOD STORIES
It’s a short, boring story that ends with “the directions were clear and the trip was easy.” With the right attitude, getting lost can be an adventure that will really give you something to write home about.
4. A HOARD OF ANCIENT TREASURE
It wasn’t the man who got lost, but his hammer. In 1992, a British farmer was having trouble finding his hammer in a field. He called his neighbor, who owned a metal detector, and the two began to search. The detector began turning up all kinds of things: including silver spoons, gold jewelry, and silver and gold coins. After digging up enough of these, the man with the metal detector called the police. An emergency excavation of the area revealed a massive hoard of Roman treasure totaling 14,865 pieces. Whether or not the farmer ever found his hammer has been lost to history.
5. UNEXPECTED WONDERS AND EVERYDAY GEMS
Get lost and gain a whole new perspective on the world. It’s amazing what you notice when you’re forced to look—really look—at the world around you. Your new favorite bakery, museum, or park may be just around the corner.
6. ENTIRE RAINFORESTS
In 2005, a British conservationist was wandering through the jungles of Mozambique—online. The scientist had been using a mapping website to virtually explore the mountainous terrain when he spotted an unusually large patch of green he’d never seen before. Nobody else had ever seen it before, either, which was surprising, because the scientist had inadvertently found the largest rainforest in southern Africa.
7. PUTTING YOURSELF TO THE TEST
These days, it’s possible to live entirely within your comfort zone. If you’re hungry, you can have your food delivered without even picking up the phone. If it’s too hot, you can turn on the air conditioning; too cold, the heat. But getting lost forces you to tough it out and break out some survival skills, whether that’s tourist pantomime, high-school German, or good old-fashioned scout-style orienteering. Now, which side of the tree does the moss grow on again?
8. STARTING SOMETHING NEW
Toward the beginning of her career, journalist Nellie Bly didn’t look much like a trailblazer at all—in fact, many of her contemporaries thought she’d lost her way. The hard-driving, nervy “stunt reporter” did what nobody else would do to get the story, including a legendary voyage around the world in less than 80 days. By the end of her career, Bly’s fearless tactics had inspired a new genre—and generation—of investigative reporting.
9. SWEET SURPRISES
Chocolate chip cookies, ice pops, crêpes Suzette, artificial sweeteners, ice cream cones—nobody set out to create these foods. They were all experiments, accidents, or the products of creators lost in thought. And aren’t you glad they were?
10. MEDICAL ADVANCEMENTS
Scientists spend a lot of time thinking very hard about their work. But some of our most important inventions and discoveries have come from researchers who let their minds wander. We can thank distracted, preoccupied, or otherwise lucky scientists for penicillin, x-rays, quinine (a malaria treatment), insulin, and the pacemaker.
11. SEEING NEW FACES
The same technology that allows you to order a burrito from bed can also make it pretty easy to ignore your neighbors. Getting lost may be stressful, but it’s also an excellent conversation starter. You might just make a friend, find your next boss, or fall in love. (We’re not saying you will. But you might!)
12. EVERYDAY NECESSITIES
If you’ve used a microwave or a nonstick pan, or driven a car with rubber tires today; if you’ve repaired something with super glue, or struck a match, you can thank yet another accidental inventor.
It’s easy to take successful trips from point A to point B for granted. But getting lost just once—especially if it’s a doozy—will make your next uneventful journey seem especially magical.
14. IMPORTANT JUNK FOOD
By now you can probably appreciate the benefits of a wandering mind or clumsy fingers. Without happy accidents, we might not be enjoying potato chips, beer, sandwiches, cheese puffs, or nachos. What kind of world would that be?
15. SATISFACTION, AND RELIEF
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of finally reaching your destination after being lost. Maybe you decided to view your journey as an adventure and made wherever you ended up your destination. Maybe you were determined to reach your original goal, and you made it. However you carry it, when you get where you’re going, it’s going to feel really, really good—and a whole lot better than it would have if the trip had been quick, uneventful, and boring.