I use Jack-o-lanterns when I go into caves. I just have them face the way home and the way out. As for the over world, I have my house coorendents written down in case I traveled far and gotten lost. I also had made a tall pillar on top of my base and remember some landmarks that was already there or I made.
I wander around randomly until I see something I recognize. I usually go in a circle 10 times before I actually make any sort of progress.
lol we have a winner, nah joking. There are many ways of navigating, even the cobblestone netherrack "L" that appears on the northwest corner of all the block (weird one I know) I just like to keep things simple. Four mods for me, magic launcher, modloader, better world generation and rei's kick @ss minimap. Thats all i need.
Huh, that's a cool way to look at it! I always put them on the right going in because if you start off with the torches on your right and then undo the trip with the torches on your left that's kinda like clockwise/counterclockwise!
I start exploring a cave with the right-hand rule. Then, after 10 minutes, I realize I've been following the left-hand rule for a while. Then I say awwww screw it, plant a few more torches, chop a few ores and head home.
The Meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything.
I too use Rei's Minimap on survival, but before that I just built giant watchtowers into the sky in a line, I also used maps and compass.
As for caving, i gave up, if there was something cool i'd write down the Co-Ordinates, but otherwise ill explore until i keep running over my own torches, then just try to get as high as I can and staircase my way up.
As others have stated, when underground place torched consistently on one side of a passage. I prefer left, others right. Additionally, for those big natural caves where you really need to light both sides, I place torches on the left at head level as normal, but also place 'em on the right perceivably higher. I know to follow the lower line of torches.
When traveling the wilderness, always carry a compass.
I found early on that I have a fetish for connecting surface locations with roads and bridges. My roads are nothing fancy. (Some bridges are.) Three or four blocks wide. Two blocks deep (for blast resistance). The bottom layer is always cobblestone. The surface layer is my road material of choice (it varies but is most often gravel), normally flanked by cobble. Point is, once those road and bridges are in place getting from point A to B is a breeze. Plus, it gives you something legit to do with all the cobble and gravel you unearth during mining excursions. Admittedly my roads don't yet extend far from base, but I have dreams of them eventually covering great distances.
Be prepared to BE lost. Pretend you're a Boy Scout or something.
Before you go adventuring, make sure you have a healthy supply of food, wood, chicken eggs, wheat seeds, saplings, wool or string, and TWO (2) buckets of water. If you get lost, you should have the resources you need to establish a renewable supply of wood, food, water, and a bed (and thus charcoal, torches, doors, basic tools and weapons). Once you have those, you have everything you need, and are in a position to plan how, when...or even IF you return home on YOUR terms.