The present study investigated qualitative aspects of spatial memory for the parking place of one's car during an incidental visit to a shopping mall. A total of 115 participants (59 men, age range: 19–85 years) performed a number of short tests, designed to measure several aspects of applied spatial memory, prior to leaving a shopping mall in order to return to their car. Gender differences were observed on two aspects of spatial memory. First, women reported more landmarks in their route descriptions than men, whereas men used metric terms more often than women. Second, men outperformed women with respect to estimating the distance to their car. A main effect of age was observed for map location reconstruction: Older participants had more difficulty in relocating their car on a map. Overall, participants were fairly good in finding back their car. Only 14% made a substantial detour, most of them women. This searching behaviour appeared to depend on sense of direction as well as on map relocation ability. Participants employed a variety of strategies, but the number of strategies used was not related to the measured aspects of spatial memory. The current results give further insight into spatial memory usage in the real world. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.