While it may seem odd when you first consider it, issues with navigating the world of Minecraft and with knowing where you are and keeping track of where significant locations are specific to your world (Map) is perhaps one of the most annoying and yet consistent issues in the game for most players.
A big part of the problem is not in determining your location, but rather keeping track of the various locations in the world that are useful or important to you, a situation that is largely a byproduct of the fact that each Map representing the game world is spawned using seemingly random data seeds, so rarely ever will you find landmarks or special locations in the same place from world to world -- which is why mastering the basic tools for navigating the game is an important first step in the mastery of the game itself.This section, in addition to teaching you the ins and outs of navigating the world, also passes on some tips and tricks to make your life a lot easier as you play.
-- Your Default Spawn Point --
When your world is first created and you enter it, the location at which your feet touch the ground is now your default spawn-point. When you die you will re-enter the world in exactly that location -- which may or may not be convenient for you depending upon several issues.
If when you entered the game for the first time and you found that you have spawned on the side of a mountain, in the middle of a pond, or some other relatively inconvenient location, it is highly unlikely that you will choose to construct your Den/House/Stronghold in that location or even nearby -- but the further you wander away from your spawn-point the further you will have to run naked to reach your Den when you die -- bearing in mind that when you re-spawn in the world after dying you have no items of any sort on you -- which means no weapon or armor, no food, no anything!
Fortunately there are steps that you can take to alter the location of your initial spawn-point, but what do you do if in the middle of working towards obtaining that capability you end up dying and, what is worse, are unable to locate your home base (we call it your Den from here on)?!
If that sounds far-fetched wait until it happens to you and you find yourself trying desperately to locate your Den under perhaps the most stressful circumstances you will encounter in regular game play! When you end up re-spawning in the middle of the dark of night -- or in the middle of a thunder storm -- desperate to locate your Den so that you can backtrack from there to your death point in order to recover your items (and even then you only have 5 minutes to do that before the items that were on your body are removed from the game)...
Maps begin with crafting of a Compass
-- Initial Spawn-point Management --
At the start of the game you have to make a choice -- do you build your Den as close to the spawn-point as you can or do you look for a location that is ideal for den building, with lots of convenience nearby? For most players the second choice is the obvious one, but that does not mean that you need to add confusion and a constant hunt for home whenever you die...
When you decide upon your Den location you should make a considered effort to memorize the landmarks in the area, paying special attention to the higher elevation points to make it easier for you to locate the area containing your den after you die.
Once you have managed to get through the first in-game day and night, and have secured the relative safety by establishing your home base, your first instinct is going to be to improve your base -- and you should do that certainly, but part of that process should include locating the nearest very-high-point object to your den and placing Torches all around the top of it so that it functions as a beacon that can lead you back to your den. This not only makes it easier for you to locate your den after death, but it also makes it easier for you to locate your den after night has fallen and you are trying to run back to its safety as quickly as you can..
Prior to leaving your den on the morning after your first night in the game -- even before you venture out to construct your visual beacon, you should pause briefly and hit the F3 Button, and then write down the X and Y coordinates that are listed there, as they represent the actual location of your den on the world map! The Z-coordinate represents your current altitude (vertical position), which while not really important for noting the location of your den, is a very useful figure when you are trying to mine within specific depths in order to locate specific resources for crafting...
So to recap, once you select the location where you will build your den and that will eventually become your personal stronghold, pause to record the X and Y coordinates, then construct a visual marker on the nearest elevated point. Finally memorize obvious landmarks so you can visually navigate to your den if you end up getting lost.
-- Trail-Markers from your Spawn-point --
If you know that you will end up placing your den a considerable distance from your initial spawn-point -- an easy to predict situation if your initial spawn-point is on the side of a mountain or cliff -- you may find it helpful to build quick-and-dirty trail markers as you move towards the area you think you will want to locate your home base at.
Trail markers of this sort can be as simply as a double-stack of Dirt Blocks by quickly hand-mining a supply of the blocks immediately after arrival in the world. Since you will need blocks to build your initial temporary shelter anyway, this is not a waste of effort or time....
-- Constructing Roads --
Once you establish your home base and begin to explore your home zone (what is designated as Map 0 once you craft and use Maps) you will likely find that there are certain areas that you will return to again and again -- usually areas with an abundance of specific types of resources, such as trees or animals that you can harvest more easily, Abandoned Mines, and the Overworld entrances to dungeons and caves are some good examples of these.
You may also find that using an already wide and level area as the location for your farming efforts or to place your Ranch also applies to the situation in which building a road makes sense. Using relatively level areas that provide enough space to spread out and build is sensible, but when you do that and have built your road to the location, adding security in the form of moats (flooded or open), a draw bridge or two, and making use of metal doors and switches makes a lot of sense.
Building Roads as a Navigation Aid
Placing your Ranch operations a distance away from your den or stronghold makes a certain sense, because that way you do not have to deal with the constant animal noises that they create and that can get really old when you are forced to listen to them while you craft, enchant, or do all of the other things that you do in your home.
The bottom line is that building roads makes sense -- but it also uses a LOT of resources -- so after you have started your initial mine you may want to begin to stockpile Cobblestone and Coal so that you can use them to construct your roads or paths between your home base and the resource areas and your other installations to make getting to and from these locations quick -- which also will help you in avoiding the embarrassment of getting lost in your own neighborhood!
-- Crafting Maps --
You can construct blank Maps in the game -- using a Compass and Paper that you also need to craft from collected resources -- and these maps have a special function to them in that wherever you activate the Map at after crafting it automatically becomes its center location!
Your Maps are not activated until you place one in your Hot Bar and then access it, viewing it basically. Once you do that, the blank Map is locked to the current zone you are standing in, with the location you are standing at becoming the dead-center of the Map. That being the case, it is a good idea to place your first Map into your Hot Bar and initialize it while you are inside or just outside of your Den -- as that will make the center of the Map your home!
Adding Paper to the Compass Crafts a Map
When you begin exploring -- which you will do especially if your home zone lacks a particular type of resource (it is not an uncommon experience to find that either Cows or Sheep are not in your home zone, making it necessary for you to explore to find a zone that does have them) -- so when you craft your first Map, craft a few additional blank Maps but be sure that you store them in your inventory, only placing one in your Hot Bar and accessing it AFTER you have crossed into a new zone (having walked off of the map area for Map 0).
In addition to creating your primary Map to place your Den at its center, you can also create Maps that you use specifically for moving from point-to-point by initializing the Map at the halfway point between the two locations, which naturally places both of the target locations at either side of your new Map!
When you access your Maps to update them you may be surprised to see that any large structures you build can appear on your map -- so once your Den is turned into a personal stronghold it should actually show up on your Map, which will also help you in locating it using your Map if it is not centered on that Map...
At the moment that Maps implemented in the game do not include support of annotation or placing markers on them, but that is an improvement that is planned for in a future update.
-- Which Way is North? --
That is a question that you may be asking yourself - and the Map does not really help you in obtaining the answer to that question because when you look at the Map and the morning sky, you may conclude that the top of the Map rather than indicating the direction of North is actually East, since that is the same direction from which the sun rises in the morning...
As it turns out this is not the case at all -- as the developers have confirmed that the reason that the top of the Map is oriented towards the direction of the sunrise is simply because in the world of Minecraft the sun rises in the North and sets in the South!