If you travel much or just like driving to new places, then you know this feeling: you’re trying to find someplace new to visit but your phone is pulling data as if it is stuck to a slow IV – drip, drip, byte by byte. All that is displayed on your phone is a brownish-gray background with a few squiggly lines here and there, some blue and some red. The display looks more like a close-up of a zombie’s translucent skin than a map.
There’s nothing worse than getting a few bars on your phone and not being able to navigate around or at the least see where there is an ATM or gas station nearby. Fortunately, with a little planning, you can avoid these annoying scenarios.
Google Maps is King
When it comes to maps, Google Maps is still king. Usage wise, Google Maps had, as of October of 2016, twice as many users as Apple Maps, with the caveat being that Google Maps can be used on Android and iOS, while Apple Maps is only available to iOS users.
Google Maps is also ahead of the competition in turns of map accuracy, trip time and usual routes are faster in Google Maps vs Waze and Apple Maps.
Add the ability to download and use Google Maps when offline and we have ourselves some real travel opportunities, data towers, and dead spots be damned.
Preparing Offline Google Maps
Preparing and using an offline map is really easy to do from within the Google Maps application. To download a map for offline use, perform the following:
- Preferably, be connected to Wi-Fi and open Google Maps (you can use your mobile data, but Google Maps will warn you of high data charges). See Figure 1.
- Search for the place you will be navigating in/to. In our case, we are planning a trip to Big Bear, CA, L.A.’s snow playground. Coverage isn’t always good up in the mountains, so this is a perfect offline map location. See Figure 2.
- Once your map is up, click on a nearby spot. Since we are interested in the whole Big Bear Lake area, we will click right on the red icon labeled Big Bear Lake. See Figure 3.
- You will be taken to an info screen that tells you a little about the place you are looking up. Additionally, you will get a glimpse of the local weather conditions, pictures, hotels, shops, restaurants and navigation options. You will even get a travel estimate to that spot based on your current location. See Figure 4.
- To prepare your map for offline use, click on Download. If using mobile data, now is the time to connect to Wi-Fi. See Figure 5.
- Select the area you want to use offline. The bigger the area, the larger the data package you will need to download. See Figure 6.
That’s it! Your phone will now download the area map and be available when you are offline.
Using Offline Google Maps
Now comes the hard part, using your offline maps. Be prepared to perform the following:
- Open Google Maps. If you have location services enabled, it will pull up your current location.
- Here’s the hard part: use Google Maps.
It is that simple. If the area you are in does not have good data coverage, Google will use your offline map and show you it is using offline data by displaying a lightning bolt. See Figure 7.
You can still navigate and zoom in on your map to see nearby places of interest and travel time estimates.
Things to Consider when Using Offline Google Maps
There are drawback to offline Google Maps. Here are some things missing from offline maps that are available in live Google Maps:
- Public transit routes are not available, even for cities that have this option like Los Angeles.
- Bike and walking routes are not available.
- Live traffic will not be employed.
- Travel estimates will not be as accurate.
- Routes can’t be modified (avoidance is not an option).
There are other tools available for offline maps. Some, like maps.me, allow you to download everything at once, while others offer city, state and country downloads. If you are a hunter or exploring areas off the grid, these maps may be a better option.
However, for most travel and tourist needs, Google Maps does a great job of showing you what is around you, how long it will take you to get there and now, you can even use these maps if you’re tapped out on data or just have a slow connection.