Out of all my senses, my vision is the strongest. I can see farther in the daylight and much more in the dark than most people. This has a significant impact on how I do things, whether it be giving directions or describing objects. Growing up in a small town also affected my perception and processing of the world around me. If I were asked to give directions, I'd tell you visual cues more than length measurements; I'd tell you what places to look out for more than I would say the distance.
For example, I'm more likely to tell you to keep driving til you see the yellow two story house on the left; take a left at the intersection and go past the cornfields, then take a right on the dirt road and keep going straight til you see the white farmhouse with the red barn. I use landmarks. It's sort of helpful (at least to me), especially when trying to find a place in a small town or a crowded neighborhood when you can't make out the building numbers. Of course, once I started living in the big cities and had to do long drives, my directions started including time; now I say things like how many hours a drive is supposed to be in addition to using landmarks.
It's not that I don't have a sense of distance. The thing is, I can tell how long a mile is a lot better by running than walking. It's not a problem if I'm going for a jog; but it is inconvenient when I'm required to be someplace where being sweaty is not a viable (or an attractive) option. It's just easier for me to rely on landmarks. I have a very good sense of direction. I can read a map with no problems, even in foreign countries. It doesn't even have to have a scale for me to figure out where to go, so long as I can recognize the landmarks on the map.
I don't mind getting lost--I eventually find my way, once I get oriented in the right direction, and so long as I have the sun and stars, I'll find my way. I could've been a sailor or a caravan merchant on the Silk Route. I've found some really fun and interesting things when going off the beaten path. But I've learned that some people don't like getting lost. So when I give directions, I try to keep them simple and tell them people what to look for and how long the drive should be.
Of course, this baffles some people when I end up giving them landmarks instead of miles. I suppose they think I ought to know distance since I'm really good at reading maps. But then I wonder, can anyone really tell how long a mile is without using their car's odometer or a pedometer? Or without a GPS for that matter?
Recently, a friend's husband asked me for directions to a place that I've been to a few times. It's a few hours away from me in the big city and I've driven there before. I had a hard time trying to explain to him what to look for. I told him that I just followed the road signs and head downtown. As I was giving him landmarks to look out for, he kept sighing and finally interrupted, saying that he wanted to know how many miles it would take. Okay, seeing as how he lived in a completely different city from me, I told him I had no clue. He got upset at that. I told him, Dude! I don't live where you are and I'm not a road atlas! He wanted to know how I got to this place the first time. So I told him, I got a map and I followed the road signs. Dude just started bitching and whining. Finally, I just told him to print out map and directions from the internet.
How do other people find their way around? Do they use miles or landmarks when giving out directions? I'm not sure how other people find their way around or give directions. But for me, landmarks work best when I need to find my way. I'm never sure how many miles my journey is going to take, but I do know when it's over, because I've arrived at the right place.