Using cellular data when traveling is costly. Squandering it to find your way around an unfamiliar city eats up your data faster than Kobayashi eating hot dogs at Coney Island on July 4th. The best way to find your way around and still save cellular data is to use offline maps for travel. I put two free offline mapping tools to the test recently on a trip to Europe, never got lost and came back with data to spare.
Like all good travelers I’m always willing to share my knowledge so, here is my take on Maps.Me (Maps With Me) and Google Offline Maps.
Let’s Begin With Some Tips on Using Offline Maps for Travel
- Try out offline map apps before you depart on your journey. Download maps for your home town, and take the apps out for a drive (and a walk).
- Remember one simple but important rule: always download the area map for your travel destination while you’re on wifi. No downloaded map = no offline map = frustration.
- During your trip-planning stage, save or bookmark places you plan to visit while traveling, using the “save” feature. Then, when you’ve got your traveling boots on the ground it’s easy to find that intriguing museum or pub you heard about.
- Offline maps for travel apps use your device’s GPS to find your location
- Remember to turn OFF cellular data usage for the offline map you’re using. Wouldn’t you rather save your data for more important things, like Instagram and Facebook food posts?
Maps.Me Offline Maps for Travel
First, download the app from the store your device uses (Apple’s app store, Google play, etc). Next, use the search function to find your destination (like Austin, Texas or Timbuktu, for example.) Once you download a map, turn off wifi. No need to use up your cellular data. Maps.Me is usable completely offline. And it’s awesome. Maps.Me claims their app covers the entire world and I believe them.
Maps.Me Features (the good stuff)
- Fantastic map details. Zoom way in to get not just practical information like address numbers, pharmacies and public transport stops, but also the fun stuff you want in offline maps for travel: points with great views, museums and even the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue here in Austin. The hiking paths I used were even visible.
- Star your favorite locations through the Save function.
- Get directions, including turn-by-turn voice, if you choose, for travel by car, walking and bicycle (in beta).
- The map automatically orients to the direction you’re traveling.
- Did I mention it’s all completely off-line? And that it’s awesome?
The Not-so-good Stuff About Maps.Me
- Could not provide me with public transport directions in the way that Google offline maps can.
Google Offline Maps for Travel
Again, start by downloading the Google maps app to your device. Next, sign into your google account (or create one). To use Google’s offline maps for travel, search for your destination (like Chicago, which is one of my favorite cities.) Next, tap in the bar at the bottom that says the name of the place. Select “Download”. A new screen will appear telling you how much space the map will use. Tap “Download” again. The maximum size of a google offline map is 120,000 sq km/46,000 sq miles so, if you are zoomed out too far, the app will tell you to zoom in further. The good news is that, even the maximum size, you can zoom way in when offline for some great detail.
Google Offline Maps Features (the good stuff)
- Many many people already use google maps, so if you’re one of them the layout is already familiar.
- Map details are pretty great. Not as great as Maps.Me though, so it won’t automatically show you addresses, etc.
- Stars your favorite locations through the Save function.
- Gives you directions, including turn-by-turn voice, if you choose (only for travel by car if you are working solely offline).
The Not-so-good Stuff About Google Offline Maps
- Google offline maps can’t give you walking directions offline, but that’s a problem pretty easily solved. To get walking directions or public transport information and directions to bus or tram stops, you need to go online via wifi or your cellular data, which requires you to think about your next destination before you leave a wifi zone. But there’s good news about this: once you’ve got the directions, you can turn off wifi or cellular data for Google maps and still keep the directions. The text directions are available, as is the route map with your location icon moving as you move.
- Your Google offline maps for travel expire after 29 days, so must be updated to keep them. You can update an offline map anytime you’re on wifi (or using cellular data if you choose).
Keep in Mind
When using either Maps.Me, Google maps or another app, offline maps for travel use storage space on your device. To save space, you may need to delete an offline map once you no longer need it.
One last reminder: Download the map you need while still on wifi!
And the Winner is…
For my purposes, Maps.Me beat Google offline maps for travel based on functionality, level of detail and the true offline capability of it. On the other hand, Google maps gave me the ability to get directions using public transport while in Amsterdam, which was important to me. I was already doing a lot of walking so, it was a relief to hop the tram or bus now and again.
Both apps saved me money by not using cellular data, though Maps.Me edged Google out on that as well. There’s a bonus to using offline maps that I hadn’t thought of until I was using them in Amsterdam: I felt safer, knowing I could find my way anywhere in the city.