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Travel tips: How to use Google Maps without data or WiFi

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Google Maps. It’s an invaluable tool for getting around and exploring a new travel destination. But did you know you can use it when you’re not online? I’m going to share my tips for using this handy tool offline, when you’re away.

When I arrive in a new city, my first instinct is to explore.  I like to think that I’ve got an eye for interesting alleyways and turnings, and have a belief that my feet will ultimately guide me to the most delightful parts of town.

I’m not always wrong in this sense.  I love to wander and stroll without a plan and have had the absolute joy of stumbling across beautiful places and exciting events that I might never have found with an itinerary.

But I’ve also grown slightly more pragmatic as I’ve grown a little older.  There is something to be said for actually knowing how to find our accommodation, rather than taking a best guess.  There’s also a lot to be said for a plan that means you don’t miss out the things you’d most like to see.  Other things I wouldn’t recommend? Wasting precious time traipsing across most of Paris because of a misguided belief that you can navigate your way to the Eiffel Tower using just it’s spire on the horizon as a compass.

So, I’ve accepted that it’s OK to have a map.  But best of all, I’ve figured out how to follow my way around somewhere new without looking conspicuously like a tourist.

The answer is Google Maps – but not as you know it.  It’s possible to use this infinitely helpful tool without needing access to WiFi or data roaming, provided you plan in advance.  It’s easy, discrete and SO useful.

Today I’m going to show you how to download maps from Google Maps for use offline.  I’ve included step-by-step instructions for both Android and Apple operating systems.  I’ll also show you how to add in helpful flags so you can add pins to you maps to make it easy to find you accommodation, places to eat and more.

Why do I want to use Google Maps offline?

Google Maps is a really helpful app.  If you’re travelling in Europe, you can find accurate, street-level maps of pretty much every city, town and village that you can zoom in and out of to your hearts content.  You can also find local business, restaurants, cash machines and much more.

But, getting online can be difficult when you’re away.  You might have WiFi in your accommodation, but not necessarily when you’re out and about.  Data roaming can also be expensive or coverage limited.

Don’t despair!  Google have thought ahead for you.  But, like me, you probably won’t know unless someone’s told you.

Before you leave home, you can select an area to download and save a copy of a map to your phone.  You can reference this any time you like, offline, and it’ll remember any pins you choose to save to your maps.

Make sure you’ve downloaded the Google Maps app

Before we begin, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve got the Google Maps app installed on your phone. You can download it for free from the App Store and Play store.

Make sure you download any maps before you go away, so you can take advantage of free WiFi at home.

How to add pins and labels to Google Maps (Android and iPhone)

This is really useful feature of Google Maps if you like to research places to eat and visit before you go away.  You can also mark your accommodation on your map, irrespective of whether Google has a published listing for it.  This is really useful if your staying in an Airbnb or rented home.

If this isn’t your priority, feel free to skip ahead to How to download offline Google maps.

Let’s get started.

1. Search for the place you’re looking for.  When you see it on the screen, tap and hold on the location

If Google recognises the location as a business or recognised location, it’s name will appear.

If Google don’t recognise the location, don’t worry.  The name ‘Dropped pin’ will appear until the name, or Google’s approximate name for the location appears

2. Next, click on ‘More Info’ (Android) or ‘Start’ (Apple) in the bottom left-hand corner.

3. If it’s a recognised location, the following screen will appear. Click ‘Save’ to save this pin on your map.

You can now choose to add this location as a ‘favourite’ (a red heart), ‘want to go’ (green flag) or ‘starred place’ (yellow star).  You chosen icon will now appear on your map whenever you search in this area.


4. Dropped a pin rather than choosing a recognised location?  You can choose to ‘Save’ or ‘Label’ your pin (you can do both, in turn).

If you choose to save your pin, you’ll have the same three options to choose from as a recognised location.  Choose to label your pin, and you’ll be given the option to select from popular labels, such as work or home, or give it your own meaningful name.

Once you’ve saved all the pins that’ll be helpful for your travels, you’re ready to download your map.

How to download offline Google Maps (on Android and iPhone)

1. Open the app and search for the town or city you’ll be visiting.

2. On Android:  When the location appears on the app screen, click on ‘More Info’ in the bottom left-hand corner

On Apple:  You’ll want to click on the the ‘Start’ in the bottom left-hand corner

3. Choose the download option on the right-hand side

4. Select the area of the map you’d like to download.  You’ll see that Google Maps has added a blue frame around the edge of the map.  You can drag this frame to make the area it’ll download bigger or smaller.  The size of map you choose at this point will have no bearing on the level of detail of the map – whatever the size of the area, you’ll be able to zoom in to the lowest possible level on the download

5. Click ‘Download’ when you’re happy

6. When you’re ready to use your map, go back to the home screen of the app.  In the top left-hand corner, click on the menu icon.  Choose ‘Offline maps’ on the menu.  You’ll see all your downloaded maps here, simply click on the one you want to open.

Helpful tip:  If you’re planning to download more than one map, you can click on the three dots icon next to the map on this screen.  This will let you rename the map, so you don’t need to remember what ‘Map 1’ is.

This is how it looks on Android;

And on an iphone;

So that’s Google Maps in a nutshell.

A five minute task that’ll save you much more time when you’re next away on your travels. Using Google Maps when you’re travelling is easier (and more affordable) than you think. You’ll never worry about the overseas data allowance again.

I’ll be back soon with more of my favourite travel tips that I use to make the most of my time away (and make packing a breeze).

Are there any travel secrets you’d like me to share?  Or do you have any tips of your own you think everyone should know?

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  • CestLaVie- 6 Apps You Shouldn't Travel Without
    Posted at 19:00h, 21 June Reply

    […] an article from Girl with a saddle bag on how to set up your google maps so you’re ready to go when you get into a spot without data […]

  • Adrienne
    Posted at 00:43h, 08 June Reply

    Getting ready to do a travel apps post on my blog and am going to use your article to refer people to on how to set up! So easy to follow along to. Thanks!

    • Alice
      Posted at 20:45h, 08 June Reply

      Thanks Adrienne, I’m so glad you found it useful! It’s so easy once you’ve worked out how, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it 🙂

  • Amanda Blizzard
    Posted at 18:16h, 20 January Reply

    This is a great guide!! I am a huge fan of google maps, and being able to use it offline is a lifesaver!!

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