Google Maps is still the best map and navigation app out there, and continues to improve with Apple and others working on competing apps. It’s great for getting around unfamiliar corners of your own city, but even more valuable for navigating in new places. Unfortunately, when you travel, your data plan often stays home.
Google Maps loads maps only as you need them, over your phone’s data connection, so if you’re outside your mobile network, and have data roaming turned off, you’ll find that you don’t have access to the app when you most need it. You’ve got a few choices for data access outside your regular network.
- Most carriers offer roaming packages, where you can buy data and voice calls for discounted rates, but these rates are still extremely high in most cases. My carrier charges about $150 for a reasonable amount of data and calls for 7 days in the US.
- You can get an alternate SIM card from a local carrier. This is a great option for trips that are longer than a few days. This will mean having a new local phone number, and usually requires an unlocked phone.
Having access to data can be important if you’re travelling on business, or if you simply must post your latest Eiffel Tower selfie without delay, but being somewhat offline can be a rewarding experience.
You do have another option.
For a while there’s a little known feature of Google Maps that will download the maps of a selected region to your device, so that you may use the service with no internet connection whatsoever. The unpublished trick was to just go to a map in the app, type “ok maps” in the search bar, and follow the directions. Your map can be at most 50 kilometres (30 miles) square, but you can save as many as you like. The size of the map data depends on the map detail for the area.
Google has now put this feature into the app officially, and it can now be accessed in the menu. Open Google Maps and move the map to the region you want to save. Touch the search box at the top, and scroll down to the bottom. Select “Save map to use offline”. You can manage, update, and delete your offline maps in the “Your Places” section of the app settings.