By Scott Littlejohn
As Gandalf famously said, “Not all who wander are lost”. Getting lost wastes time, energy and frays nerves. Holiday minutes are irreplaceable and great maps are the answer.
Of course you need to know how to use maps, so I’m going to show you step by step instructions to make free use of the most popular maps in the world, Google Maps when you aren’t connected to WiFi or cell data. You need never get lost again- anywhere. Not in your car, RV, or on foot– anywhere on Earth that you have a view of the sky. You only need a phone made in the past few years and a Google account.
Turning on the location function for your phone lets you transmit/receive GPS signals- and that part is free- it doesn’t use your cell plan data.
BUT, getting your GPS location placed onto Google Maps for driving directions, the nearest Timmy’s, gas station, or hospital—THAT requires data from Google. And unless you’re connected to WiFi, for as long as you have Google maps open, that continuous data transfer uses up your paid mobile data plan allowance.
The free solution is to download the map area that you need using Google Maps when you’re still connected to WiFi. Then when you disconnect, the free GPS location function on your phone still tracks your position, and the Google Maps app uses the map information needed to continuously update your position on the map you downloaded, since it is already on your phone now.
Using Google Maps while completely disconnected from the net (mobile data turned off as well as WiFi) doesn’t allow you all the Google map features, but it does place you on the map accurately and provides directions from one place to another.
You just need a bit of storage space on your phone for as long as you want to use the map, and you have the tools to never get lost again—even on a hike. The downloaded map even self deletes after a month if you don’t use it, so you don’t fill up your phone with unused maps. Brilliant!
Connect to WiFi and turn on your device’s ‘location’ setting. Open your Google Maps app (download free at Google Play or Apple’s App Store) and let’s get started. Space won’t allow me to give directions for the iPhone/Pad version of Google Maps, but they’re very similar.
1. Tap the three lines menu icon in top left corner
2. Tap ‘Offline maps’ partway down the menu
3. Tap ‘SELECT YOUR OWN MAP’
Now you should see a map of where you currently are. As with any Google Map, just drag your finger on the map to change locations and use two fingers to pinch or zoom out to increase or decrease the amount of the earth the map frame covers. What you see in the frame is the map area you are about to download.
A message below the map will tell you how much storage space is required on your phone for the map area you see in the box onscreen. Zoom in and the storage required goes down, zoom out and it goes up.
Have enough storage on your device? Check by tapping the gear icon on your phone’s general menu and find storage.
After you choose a map, tap DOWNLOAD. In a short time, the map will take up temporary residence on your device so Google Maps can use it without connecting to the net. You now have data free use within that map’s border!
But before assuming a map area is on your device (free usage) always open the app before leaving your WiFi area, tap offline maps and look for your downloaded map.
Still unsure? Test the internet free use status by turning off your mobile data AND the WiFi on your device. Now try to get directions within the downloaded map zone. If you can you’re good to go.
Then tap update. This ensures you have the latest map information. Updating also resets and extends the 30-day self deleting countdown for that map. It’s like a library book! If it’s already deleted itself, re-download it.
Getting lost is the worst but now you can be a ‘Gandalf wanderer’ with Google Maps. Show your friends, they’ll be impressed.
For accommodations in British Columbia go to Travel-British-Columbia.com
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Published: October 30, 2019
Scott Littlejohn is newly retired from being the Community Engagement and Marketing Coordinator for Nanaimo’s Living Forest Oceanside Campground and RV Park. He reluctantly admits to being lost many times, but not since having Google Maps riding shotgun on the road or out hiking. He’s made his own Google Map showing his favourite outdoor recreation places on Vancouver Island, with videos, info, photos and trail difficulty to share with other Island explorers. Scott is not affiliated with Google in any way, though he wishes he owned lots of shares.