Why I Love Google Maps Offline Mode

Filed Under: Travel Technology

Even though I work online and basically rely on technology in all forms to live my day-to-day life, I’m actually quite low tech. I have certain apps and websites I use that I’m really good with (Google Flights, ITA Matrix, etc.), but for the most part I’m a pretty late adopter when it comes to technology. I sometimes think that using more technology bogs me down, so I don’t use something unless I truly think it’s beneficial.

So when I write about apps, I’m not doing so in the sense of “hey, check out this awesome app that I’m the first person to discover,” but rather I do so in the sense of “I’m probably the third to last person in the world not to use this, so you need to start using it as well.”

Google Maps Offline mode is awesome

I can’t believe I only used this for the first time a few weeks ago. Let me explain.

I use T-Mobile for my phone service, and that gets me 2G coverage in 140+ countries. 2G speeds aren’t great, but they do the trick for texting, checking email, and using maps when traveling, which is really all I need to do when I’m out and about (Tiffany, on the other hand, uses Google Fi).

So really my challenges when it comes to navigating my way around cities when traveling are twofold:

  • Some countries aren’t covered by T-Mobile’s Simple Choice Plan
  • Even when countries are covered, sometimes the 2G is so excruciatingly slow that it takes several minutes to load a map

That brings me to Google Maps Offline, which I recently used for the first time in the Seychelles, since oddly the Seychelles isn’t one of the countries covered by T-Mobile’s Simple Choice Plan. Tiffany told me to download it, and I can’t believe I hadn’t done so before.

Essentially Google Maps lets you download the map for a particular destination in advance so that you can use it without having data or wifi. That way you can still use it to get directions. The only downside is that if you’re driving, you won’t get local traffic reports (though in the Seychelles traffic isn’t exactly a huge issue).

How to download Google Maps Offline

First and foremost you have to actually download the Google Maps app.

Once you have the app, search for the place you want to download the map for (generally you’ll want to search a city, though you can choose an area that’s more or less specific than that if you prefer).

Once you’ve opened the map, you’ll want to swipe up on the bottom part of the screen, where you’ll see the “Download” option.

That will then bring you to a map that it will ask you to size, depending on how much of the map you need. Keep in mind that the bigger the area, the longer it takes to download, and the more space it takes up. You’ll want to be connected to wifi when you download the map, since otherwise it will take quite a while.

Once that’s complete you’re all set — you can be in airplane mode and still use the map at your destination.

Note that the saved map will automatically expire after 30 days so that you’re not taking up too much storage space. However, if you want to delete it before that, it’s easy to do so. Click the button at the top left of Google Maps,  and then you’ll see a section for “Offline maps.”

Once you click that you should see your saved maps.

When you select the map you can click either “Delete” (if you don’t want it stored on your phone anymore) or “Update” (if you want the most up to date map).

Bottom line

I’m now downloading Google Maps for all my international travels going forward. Even if I’m traveling somewhere where I’ll have 2G data, it’s nice to have the map downloaded so that you can instantly get directions, rather than having to wait for a page to load.

Am I basically the last person on earth that hadn’t been using Google Maps Offline? Anyone have another map app that they really like?

Comments
  1. I am fairly similar to Lucky in technology uptake. I am a whiz at navigating websites to search flights etc but not too advanced with app usage. I discovered the offline mode a while ago and pass it on to all
    Our Aussie visitors to
    Chicago. I don’t even think you need the google maps app! I use the iPhone maps app. If you search for a place and ask for directions you can then turn off your internet and the gps will still direct you.

  2. Doesn’t work for Japan. No maps provider I am aware off allows you to download offline maps. It’s a shame since maps in Japan are quite detailed (showing you individual levels in department stores, stations, exit numbers of subways, etc.)

  3. Lucky, I strongly encourage you to take a look at the Here We Go app. Its predecessor, Here Maps, became the standard for car GPS around the world. It was originally part of Nokia’s maps app. With Here We Go, you can download offline maps for almost the entire world, and the maps do not expire. You then choose to use the offline maps settings, when you are in an area that does not have mobile service. Let me know what you think.

  4. @potato – i’ve used pocket earth in japan regularly and for travelling its superior to google maps imo. you can save wikipedia and wikivoyage articles, as well as points of interest offline as well.

  5. In the past I’ve used maps.me. It’s worked fantastic all over the world including japan.

  6. I’m a slow adapter of technology and discovered offline mode a few months ago. Been using it ever since, especially since I travel to many developing countries and to smaller towns where the data coverage isnt always great.

  7. Hi Lucky,

    I too have never downloaded google maps offline. Perhaps I will download it and see how it compares to what I currently do. Usually, as soon as I check in to hotel, I connect to the WiFi and open up google maps until it loads up. Then I just put phone on airplane mode. Google maps still works in airplane mode as long as it was preloaded and gps still works and follows you around so you know where you are.

  8. maps in most east Asian countries do not work, including Japan, Korea, China, and Taiwan. It is really frustrating when you are completely reliant on the offline maps and gets lost in those places.

  9. I have been using maps.me for some time and they are great! Pin what you want and even was quite accurate when we were driving in Australia without data turned on.

  10. I was using the Google Maps offline feature for several years until, like Tiffany, I switched to Google Fi and this is now a non issue. Maps load fast in most countries I’ve been to!

  11. Google Maps is late to this game.There are other apps offering downloadable maps that have been around for years. I’ve been using Pocket Earth for many years.

  12. @Lucky:
    I can only recommend chitownflyer’s suggestion.
    The app might not be perfect, but it allows you navigate offline anywhere you get a GPS signal.

  13. As others have mentioned, plenty of countries don’t allow offline maps, and Google being big company that plays by the book – will not allow you to download an offline map of China, for example. Some smaller, earlier players (like maps.me) don’t have such limitations (but then, their navigation leave a lot to be desired).

    Also, bear in mind that directions in offline mode are not exactly reliable – I have been stranded in Italy with offline maps not providing any directions at all (it just sat on “calculating” forever) and even in Orlando, offline google maps would randomly decide to not give spoken direction in middle of the road navigation or just lose the navigation altogether if you veer of the prescribed path by 10 feet (can be challenging driving alone through thick rain in the night). Having a partner to deal with technical glitches is always best, but even then, sometimes it just does not work (could not provide directions from PLS airport simply because the exit road from the airport was not labeled as “street” in maps). Have been using offline maps for some 3-4 years now, and I don’t have the single answer – still use google, maps.me and whatever current flavor-of-the-day is in app store.

  14. Thanks for pointing out this functionality, Lucky! I was aware it exists but never used it – will give it a try now!

  15. For many years now I have been using PocketEarth on iPhone. I think it is the best app by far for downloaded maps. You choose which countries to download (or even sub-locations like a state). Once downloaded it stays downloaded until an app version update.

    It works for all the Asian countries people mention above – we used it on a 3 week Taiwan trip this year.

    Other cool things? I love being able to pin things in advance – hotels, restaurants etc. You can also do this as you travel to remember where you went. It makes exploration of an unfamiliar city great too – easier to find a place you pinned on your app!

    It also has some great features like cycle routes. I also find that many walking routes are much more accurate than Google. Having said that Google is often much more detailed on places – hotels, restaurants etc.

    Final tip? If you are flying cross-country, even with Flight mode on, if you have a window seat the gps will work and you can see where you are and pin places you see as you fly.

  16. Ive been using this feature for a long time now. It’s immensly helpful and has gotten me out of many tight situations.
    In places like rural India or in places where there’s a language barrier, it’s very easy to find your way around confidently irrespective of data or speeds.

  17. I am a hardcore fan of Google Maps, but for offline use a better option is Here WeGo, which was originally Nokia Maps and is now owned by several german car companies. It’s built from the ground up for offline use, and it’s awesome. You can download entire regions, countries, or just states offline, and the app has a dedicated “offline mode” that works brilliantly. Turn-by-turn navigation is excellent with speed limits and alternative route options all available offline. You can save places to a “collection” in advance and then get guidance and great mapping while out and about.

    Side note: when I fly somewhere, I love to download the states/countries I’m flying over, so that when I don’t have wifi I can hold the phone near the window, get a GPS signal (even on airplane mode), and know what I’m flying over. Here WeGo is the only app I’ve found that can give you that much offline function.

  18. Thanks for the reminder @Lucky. I too have T-mobile and love the global connectivity but get frustrated by the 2G download speeds when travelling. I knew about the google maps download feature but had not really used it. After this post, I’ve made sure to download maps for several upcoming travel cities I’m visiting.

  19. Baedeker and similar have always worked for me ; I find the google maps confusing , telling me in an insistent tone to turn left when I can clearly see that a right is required ( often a woman with a strong Australian accent).

  20. Although it’s only a slightly-useful workaround, you can always take screenshots of the Google Maps display (or any other map app), regardless of country restrictions on downloading. Of course, you only can see small bits of map at a time, but it can be useful for recording the location of your hotel, a restaurant or attraction you’re traveling to, etc.

  21. Dual SIM phone and buy a local LTE SIM card to cover data needs. Getting data connection without disconnecting my own number, and with out carrying an extra device around.

    I do that in most countries I go to. Usually reasonable to deal with. The US being one of the big exceptions.

  22. Here we go is great. The app when on line uses real time traffic like waze but with out all the distractions and irrelevant info waze shows. It also gives you options for nav like walking or public transport when on line.

  23. Does not work for Shenzhen, China. No download option for iPhone X, latest IOS.

  24. First they invented the GPS device, a device that tells you where you are in relation to a set of maps stored in memory.

    Then Google said, hey we can do better than that! and invented Google Maps, an app that tells you where you are in relation to a map stored on the internet.

    Then Google said, hey we have something even better! and invented Offline Mode, which tells you where you are in relation to a set of maps stored in memory.

    Good job, Google! So creative.

    Snark aside, I also love offline maps because no cell connection gives 100% coverage. It’s a godsend for oversees travel, but I also just keep my local area stored as an offline map so I’m never lost even if I’m in a cell dead spot.

  25. It’s a great feature and for short trips I don’t even pickup a local sim card anymore.

  26. Offline Mode is a great feature and I’ve been using it for a few years, but do highly recommend. I also will use Here Maps, which has the benefit of Points of Interest (restaurants / hotels) being downloaded into offline mode as well.

    The only gotcha with Google Maps’ offline mode is that it wants to update the maps every 30 days or it won’t let you use them.

    There won’t be any one map solution which works for everyone. Even in the Orlando, Florida metro area, entire sections of the area don’t exist on Google Maps yet, while I found them in Here.

  27. Another vote for maps.me (OSM)
    Usually up to date, including areas hit by the natural disaster. Also plenty of points of interest. And it’s also easy to update the maps if you find an error or missing information.

  28. Just tried to download Google for Venice since it has so many ins-and-outs. The detail is terrible. No street names anywhere. Should I be expecting more?

  29. …and to add, no walking directions on the offline version? Sorry, but this seems to be a complete waste. I don’t see how this is remotely useful.

  30. Lucky- Try the Google Trips app. It links to Google Maps for features you described, but also pulls trip data (think flights, hotel reservations, meetings, etc.) from your Gmail account automatically, which is in turn used to create a trip dashboard. The app includes Saved Places (anything starred in the area in Google Maps), Food & Drink recs, and Things to do. The app keeps trips organized, allowing the user to look up (past and future) confirmation codes, meeting details and saved locations in an instant.

  31. I often will get a local SIM with limited data for texting/restaurant lookups, etc. Disappointed that I could not choose to use offline mode in Google Maps. I had to put my phone in airplane mode to force it, potentially missing communications from travel partners.

  32. I’ve been using Pocket Earth for more than 5 years now. At one point I downloaded all maps for offline use and the apps and data were over 13GB. However I need to download updates every so often, especially after an iOS update, so I have been more selective of which regions I want to download. Recently I purchased the topographic maps option, will test it on a few hikes when I have the chance to do so.

    I’ve also been using Maps.me since its navigation is simpler and somewhat better than Pocket Earth when walking in the city. I also have Here WeGo maps but haven’t really used it as much as I don’t want to keep on downloading offline maps for all 3 apps, in addition to Google Maps offline mode.

    As the others have mentioned, be aware of the caveat for Google Maps. I downloaded maps of a few Chinese cities, not all places are in the right locations. Something that technology can’t always cover, we ended up asking the locals for directions.

  33. Hey Lucky, I recommend maps.me because there are so many small dirt roads and things that maps.me actually covers and google maps does not. And it’s all offline all the time you download whatever maps you need. Hope this helps!

  34. Poor explanation

    I thought it would be great to save DIRECTIONS. But, after umteen tries, I came to realize that all you are saving is a MAP. Useful, but the author of this and every other instruction I read on saving a google map fails to make that distinction CLEAR.

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