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Why Offline Google Maps is My Travel Lifeline

5-Oct-2017

Offline Google Maps is one of my favorite apps on my phone for a few simple reasons.

Why it’s great

  1. As the title says, it works perfectly well offline…  no wifi connection is needed. And more importantly, no data is used. This makes it a great choice for the super budget traveler. It is 100% FREE!
  2. You can still use all the normal GPS services. For example, locate where you are now, get directions to somewhere, or search for a named location. It will even track you real time with a little blue location marker.
  3. Offline Google maps has saved me so much travel time and untold stress. I can quickly tell if I’m walking in the right direction — especially helpful where street signs are rare. Or I can confidently hop a bus that I think may be the right one. If the bus takes a turn I don’t like, I hop off and catch a different one.

The drawbacks

Of course nothing is perfect and offline Google maps is no exception. There is a downside and some details to pay attention to. But in my opinion, these are minor when contrasted with the huge benefits.

  1. You must pre-load your phone with the maps you want while you still have wifi service. So you must think ahead, plan, and get everything downloaded to your phone before you step out the door. Of course, even when you’re out and about, you can always stop and get a coffee somewhere with free wifi. Then load up your phone with maps while you relax.
  2. The downloaded maps will take up precious storage space on your phone. If you have a phone with a removable storage chip, save them there.
  3. The maps expire after 30 days. They’ll be auto-deleted off your phone with no warning notice. So if you’re going to be in an area longer than 30 days, set a reminder for yourself to periodically refresh your maps.
  4. Using the GPS services burns through my battery life pretty quickly. So I tend to use it for spot checking instead of leaving the application open and on all the time. I turn it on, get my bearings, and turn it off. When in doubt, I quickly check it again. (For extra safety, I carry a plugin phone charger — just in case!)
  5. You still must be within a cell phone coverage area for the GPS map features to work. You can’t be in the middle of a jungle or on a remote mountain top!
  6. Setting a route and getting directions is more limited offline. I can usually only get driving directions, not walking or public transport. However, that’s not been a big issue for me, I just walk the driving route. Unless of course it means a major limited access type road where pedestrians are prohibited. In that case I can easily zoom in and figure it out.

Setting up offline Google Maps on your phone

  1. Turn on wifi and get online. Go to the Google Play store and install the app on your phone.
  2. Open up the maps and search for the city/area you want. You should see the map itself, and below it an area showing the name of the city/province/country. At the very bottom you will see a footer that says “More Info” and “Directions”.
  3. Touch the place-name band under the map and gently scroll up. You should then see a photo, another name band, some buttons and a place description, weather, etc.
  4. Tap the button on the right that says “Download”.
  5. Next you’ll go to a new screen where you can pinch to expand or contract the area you want. It will also give you an estimate of how much space it will use when downloaded. When ready, tap “Download”.
  6. When it’s done, you’ll be back at the original map. Tap the hamburger menu icon located top left. You should see a menu item labeled “Offline areas”. Tap it.
  7. You then are shown a list of all your offline maps you’ll be able to use. However, the app doesn’t know what to call them. So it just labels them “Area 1”, “Area 2”, and so on, as you download new areas.
  8. Tap the name of the area you just downloaded. You’ll see a highlighted map showing what got downloaded. At the very top is the area label and a pencil icon. Tap the pencil to get an edit screen. Rename it to something you’ll recognize.
  9.  At the bottom are 2 more buttons. So you can Delete an area you no longer need and free up storage. Or you can update it and you’ll get another 30 days on the clock.
  10. Lastly, check to make sure offline Google maps is working properly. Close down the maps app and go back to settings. Take your phone off wifi. Then simply try it out. Tap on the little compass icon to see if it finds you. Search for a popular hotel, restaurant, or attraction that you know is in one of your downloaded areas.
  11. And a final note… if you’re looking at a map within your downloaded area, you’ll be able to zoom all the way down to the street name details. If you venture out of that area, you’ll still see major cities and highways, but the fine details will all be missing. It will look somewhat like a choppy patchwork of topo map colors.

Have fun navigating!

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