The routes of young, inexperienced pigeons released at four sites up to 13·5 km from the loft were recorded with GPS-based tracking devices. The routes were found to differ from those of old, experienced pigeons in several aspects: (1) Although being oriented when departing, young birds show more scatter and larger deviations from the home direction, but usually restrict their flights to a semicircle. (2) They apparently ignore prominent landmarks near the loft that are clearly visible. (3) Their tracks are typically more complex, consisting of a number of distinctive phases where the young birds head in different directions, which results in significantly longer routes, often exceeding the direct home distances more than four times. (4) At the same time, young birds seldom venture further away from the release site than the direct distance to home. Their behaviour can be interpreted as exploration to obtain new information on the distribution of navigational factors to be included in their still rudimentary navigational ‘map’. At the same time, their flights seem to include elements of safety, like anchoring the flights around the release site and a sense of distance, which help to reduce the chance of getting lost.