Everyone knows how massive Google is. They have a plethora of apps for almost any need and are definitely not lacking in the travel department. I, and many other travelers use Google extensively on our adventures and for good reason; it just makes your life so easy!
When I start planning my next trip and have an idea what places I want to visit I head to Google and type in “things to do in <insert city/location name here>”. I find this a great way to get started with planning what i’m going to see and do once I get there. Google provides a nicely laid out banner with many of the top things to see and do in a given location so I can get a quick at-a-glance idea of what to do.
The one thing I rely on the most when travelling is my phone because of Google Maps. I use the maps app so extensively to save the places I want to see, my hostels and other important to-do’s in each place. A lot of people ask me if I get data plans in various places when i’m travelling so can stay connected in case I need the internet to find my way or to do something. To that I say no. I do get data plans sometimes when it really constitutes it and justifies the expense but it’s definitely not a requirement and almost never really needed.
Instead I use the amazing feature of the Google Maps app called offline maps. You can go to a location on the Maps app and save a copy of said map to your device for offline use. This offline map is just as detailed as what you get when you’re online so there’s really very little loss. The only problem i’ve encountered with the offline maps is that you can’t search for locations when you’re offline within the offline map. However this is not a huge problem and can easily be avoided by good planning. NOTE: There is talk that Google will be adding this feature soon so stay tuned and I will update this article when that happens.
So how does it work?
- First, open up the Google Maps app on your phone
- Search for a location/city that you want to save for offline use using the search bar
- Once you have found your destination, erase what you previously typed in to the search bar and now type in “ok maps” and search for it
- You will now see a “Save this map?” notice at the top with a “save” and a “cancel” button at the bottom. At the top, under the “Save this map?” text it will say either “Area too large, zoom in” or “pan and zoom to adjust”. “Area too large” means that you can’t save an offline map that is that large and covers such a big geographic area. You will need to zoom in until that message goes away and the “pan and zoom” message appears. The “pan and zoom” message means you can save an offline map of the current on-screen area. I generally like to zoom in/out just to the point where the “Area too large” changes to “pan and zoom” so I can get as much map as possible in my offline map.
- Once you have selected your desired area that you want offline, just press the “Save” button which will then prompt you to name the map. I usually name them by their city/location, it doesn’t really matter what you call it. Once named, the map will download to your device. Once downloaded, if you go offline and open Google Maps to the area you just downloaded you’ll see a complete and detailed map including road names and points of interest in the city. it really is an unbelievably helpful resource.
- ***NOTE: Sometimes you can’t download an offline map for a region because it is unavailable for whatever reason. When this happens you will see a message saying “Area Unavailable” rather than the normal “Area too large” or the “Pan and zoom” messages. A workaround for this is to zoom in to the location you wanted to save until the street names and points of interest become readable. Then just browse around the map letting it load as you do so. This will save a cached copy of this map in your phone so even if you go offline, you’ll still be able to see the detailed map info.
A word of advice, if the Google Maps app updates, go back and check your offline maps. They may need to be re-downloaded after the update. Trust me, you don’t want to get to a new place only to find out the offline maps you downloaded are no longer there or valid.
To get even more use of your offline map you can pin locations to it so you can find them later when you no longer have an internet connection. To do so, search for a location (when you are still online and within the same confines as the offline map you downloaded), press the location name at the bottom of the screen and then press the star button that says “save”. This will add a yellow star to your map for this location. When you have downloaded the offline map are are subsequently offline, you can touch any of these yellow stars on the map and a popup will show with the location information. I usually save the airport, hostels and other sights/attractions I want to see in a given place. Then, if you have your GPS turned on on your phone you will be able to follow the blue dot on the map (you) in relation to all your saved locations to easily find your way around and not get lost. never leave home without doing your proper Google Maps due diligence first!
Another great travel tool for travelers is Google Flights. It’s a great way to find cheap flight deals (in addition to other methods outlined here). They also offer an explore feature so even if you don’t know exactly where you want to go yet, you can enter your home airport and they will show you a map and various destinations along with the price to fly from your airport to those destinations so you can quickly see where the more budget friendly options are.
Google Location History
Another amazing offering by Google is Location History within Google Dashboard. If you have the Location/GPS feature of your phone turned on on your phone (and if you are following the advice above then you will already anyways), then Google will keep track of where you go via the GPS and you can plot it on a map using the Location History app in a browser (recommend doing this on a computer, not your mobile device). This is a really cool app that I love using after every trip where I continuously plot new trips on the same map with old trips so you can see one world map with all the places you’ve been!
All-in-all, I love Google’s products for travelling. It makes the entire trip much easier to plan and more convenient to get around with such great apps. I always make sure never leave for a trip without getting all my Google Map info lined up first! Trust me, it is a true lifesaver to have in the pocket of any backpacker!