If you own a smartphone or even simply know how to use the internet, there's really little reason any more to get lost while traveling -- at least, little reason to stay lost. While losing your bearings may add drama to later re-tellings of your cycling "adventure," it's no fun when you're actually fumbling with maps or hazily understood directions (and perhaps cursing while you're at it).
Minimize needless pedaling and swearing by mapping out and knowing your route ahead of time. If you're part of a commercial, "supported tour" group, the tour operators have already done this for you, so all you have to do is keep up with everyone else. If you're cycling independently though, you'll want your own map(s) and will have to plan your own logistics.
The creatively named Adventure Cycling Association has catalogued more than 41,000 miles (65,983 kilometers) of bike-appropriate routes in the United States and offers them on maps that include locations of bike shops, food and water stops, and overnight accommodations (including camp sites) [source: Adventure Cycling Association].
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) is at work on a federally recognized U.S. Bike Route System (USBRS) that would connect the patchwork of established trails in individual states. More than 40 states are working on developing their own U.S. Bike Routes. The Adventure Cycling Association provides a map and state listing that shows where individual states stand in participating in the USBRS [source: Adventure Cycling Association].
If you live in an area fortunate enough to have a regional bicyclists' advocacy group, chances are they publish route maps that can help you plan a trip. If your cycling ambitions extend outside your own country, you'll be glad to know there's a trove of advice online, including travelogues, videos, and complete books that deal with adventure cycling abroad.
In the days before GPS was available to the masses, people relied on compasses, the sun, and yes, fold-out, paper maps to find their way around. Obviously, any technology that can help you stay on course, stay safe, and navigate strange lands with confidence is worth investigating.