We were lost. Maybe it was the fact we hadn’t stopped traveling for ten months, but Andrea and I had slipped when it came to planning. Our new plan: arrive via plane, bus or train and then figure it out when we got there.
This can have drawbacks. Like when we arrived in the Andorra bus station with no WiFi and a loose idea of where we were going. Like I said, we were lost. Then I remembered the world’s best travel app – one that you probably already have, but don't know how to use.
Google Maps: A Savior?
My vote for world’s best phone travel app is for Google Maps. Yes, really…Google Maps.
Just hear me out. In the situation above, we went from being lost to quickly pulling up the exact location of our hotel, then tracking our progress via GPS as we navigated there. Meanwhile, we had no WiFi, didn’t have to ask anyone – not that I could have, my Catalan is non-existent – and didn’t have to buy data for our phones or a taxi ride.
It sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t. This is because Google Maps operates on a few little-known facts, with one being the most important: that GPS is not tied to an Internet connection. Which means that your location can be tracked with or without WiFi or phone data, saving you (and your wallet) in more ways than one.
In order to maximize usage of Google Maps, there are some important considerations. Here's a few below.
How To Use Google Maps Offline
Let me backup for a second. Prior to being lost in Andorra, Andrea and I both utilized a practice that has become ingrained in our travels: the night before our travel day, we loaded Google Maps in the city we were traveling toward (in this case, Andorra La Vella).
By “loaded” I mean just that – we opened Google Maps, moved over until we reached our destination, then zoomed in until we had a street view. This would look something like the below, then I move it around to capture the whole city.
As you can see, not only do the street names appear, but places relevant to your search history also show up. Keep that in the back of your mind, because it is important.
The best part is, when you don’t have Internet, the map will remain cached in your phone the next time you open it. So all those street names you see now will be available when you arrive, regardless of your situation.
But Why Is Google Maps So Valuable?
OK, so now you have a map of your destination city at your fingertips. In addition, you have GPS that will function with or without Internet and places that you searched previously are saved.
Do you see where I am headed? Google Maps becomes a personalized electronic map, requiring no cost to download and track wherever you are. It is the 21st century version of the paper map - available at no cost, but with a few bells and whistles only technology can enable.
The single most valuable component of this is the “places” that are shown. These are far more robust than you would expect. For example, any hotel reservation that was sent to your Gmail account will appear on the map, including the date you check-in. Major subway stops will also appear, as will restaurant reservations, concert tickets and much, much more.
Don’t Forget To Save
Maybe my most favorite part of the app, however, is the ability to “save” any point on the map for future reference – not just traditional places. Let me highlight two separate ways I use the save function.
First, as big hikers, Andrea and I now have the habit of saving the starting points for hikes. Even with a built-in GPS, sometimes cars are not able to distinguish points in a road that don’t have a traditional address, or it can be hard to input exact latitude and longitude. Adding these to Google Maps is straightforward, and having a big, yellow star on my map makes navigating easy.
Second, for the sentimentalists, I routinely save places where I had a great experience – whether a hotel, restaurant, venue, park, etc. Because Google saves these places in your Google profile, users can review them at a later date.
I end up using my saved places for a number of reasons, like trying to remember that restaurants name or wanting to show a reader incredible hikes to undertake. It becomes a travel journal in map form, available any time I return – immensely valuable to me.
And that’s my brief case for the world’s most valuable travel app. If you are reading this, you fall into two buckets - and I have advice for both.
If you already have Google Maps, I recommend you pre-load the destination anytime you travel and pair it with Trip It Pro, which will save confirmation numbers, contact information and other travel details offline. You’ll never know when you won’t have Internet, and this process helps, if anything, for piece of mind.
If you don’t have it, then download it today on your phone's app store. Personally, I think it blows Apple Maps out of the water with the pre-loaded places, based on search and Gmail history. And I should note: TFG doesn’t get paid to say that.