Travel is amazing. Getting hit with exorbitant data roaming fees isn’t. Unfortunately, it can be damn near impossible to make sense of your mobile carrier’s international plans and pricing. What’s worse is that accessing map apps (arguably the most essential bit of technology for travelers) requires boatloads of data. But, with a little advanced planning, it doesn’t have to. These three offline map apps allow for map viewing without a data binge, so you’re (almost) guaranteed never to get lost while in a foreign country.
Second only to Waze, Google Maps is the silver standard for mobile mapping applications. One of its best and still relatively unknown features is the ability to access maps offline. It’s a godsend for travelers, but the functionality is buried in the app if you don’t know where to look. You can access it like so:
- Launch the Google Maps mobile app (make sure you’re signed in to Google)
- Search for a destination (“San Francisco”, for example)
- Tap the location name on the bottom of the screen to pull up its details
- Tap the three dots in the top right of the screen
- In the popup menu, select “Download Offline Area” and follow the prompts
The downloaded map will remain on your mobile device for up to 30 days, and you can manually open and update already downloaded offline maps at any time. Best of all, the app is free to download for iOS and Android.
Where Google Maps takes a high-level approach designed to get you efficiently from A to B, Avenza Maps is for travelers seeking specialized, niche maps. It functions as a means to distribute digital versions of paper maps to mobile devices. The app features a massive catalog of more than 750,000 maps from map agencies, cartographers, and organizations like National Geographic. In addition to offline functionality, the app also provides for plotting geo-tagged photos and recording GPS tracks. The app is free to download for iOS and Android, as are most of its maps (some maps may require a la carte purchasing).
Like Google Maps, MAPS.ME is designed with a bold, bright, intuitive interface to get you where you need to go. Because the app pulls from community-based OpenStreetMap data, it features one of the largest databases of points-of-interest in the world. While the maps render quickly on-screen, this comprehensive approach can mean that routing and search functionality might take longer than you’d like. On the upside, the makers promise the app can help you navigate “any country, any place, from the largest cities to the smallest villages.” So, even if you’re vacationing on some remote Pacific atoll, you’ll be able to find your way. The app is free (without ads) to download for both Android and iOS.
Keep in mind that, in offline mode, real-time feature (traffic, in particular) won’t be accessible in any of these apps. For that matter, neither will alternate routes or lane guidance. In some regions (like Cuba), offline maps simply aren’t available because of language support, address formatting, or contractual limitations. But, that seems minor compared to paying hundreds or thousands of dollars in roaming fees when you return home.