As an urbanite, I am used to having good maps of the places we visit. We definitely had printouts of directions for all of the places we were visiting, but there were enough times that even that wasn’t enough to keep us from getting confused on the drive. Darkness, tiredness, and obscured signs make it hard to know where you are, and sometimes the Google printed directions are more confusing than helpful due to odd renaming of roads without turns. Before our trip, my dad told me that you can download the maps and use them offline. I didn’t realize this was a thing, but it was super helpful. This is a description of how to use Google maps offline on an android tablet and some of the limitations.
With any benefit comes some drawbacks. There are a few limitations I discovered on our trip.
- Not every business is shown – This isn’t the full featured online maps client. It does have many businesses listed, but it doesn’t show every one as you are skimming the map. I did notice that if I search for things specifically, it will find things that aren’t shown.
- Limited business info – Even if you find a business you are looking for, only rudimentary info is stored for offline use. Not critical in most situations, but good to know.
- Directions require internet – Apparently the power to create directions is too much for the app itself, and it needs to talk to server. So without a connection through a tethered phone or wifi, it won’t create directions. However, if you get a direction plan set up via wifi, the app will hold onto it and follow the directions when it it off the connection.
- Some areas of the world are better than others – In the US Southwest, even out wilds, I found the location point on the map to be pretty reliable. It didn’t always update super fast if we were too far from civilization, but it worked. However in Spain I tried the offline maps on my phone and it seemed often quite confused of where I was exactly and which way I was pointing.
- Your device may vary – I did this on an Android Samsung Tablet and it worked fine. I’ve not tried this on an Apple device, but the ability to have offline maps is definitely in the Google Maps app there.
Downloading Google Maps for Offline Use
- Make sure you are attached to internet. You need that connection to download the maps in the first place.
- Open the Google Maps app.
- Click the menu icon (3 parallel lines to the left of the search bar)
- Scroll down to “Offline Maps” with the crossed out cloud icon.
- You get a screen showing your downloaded maps and their recommendations. Clicking on Local will show you your current city and let you download it. “Select your own Map” lets you define a map to download.
- “Select your own map” is what you will need to use if you are planning a trip from home for another place. There is no search bar on my phone, so I have to zoom out to see the whole country and rezoom into where I want to download.
- There is a maximum size to the area you can select, so you may need to download several maps to voer your full trip. Select a map that covers your area and click download. Wait for this complete before disconnecting from the internet.
- From here, once it is downloaded, you should just be able to use your map in offline mode. When your device is offline, just open the maps app and use it for the areas downloaded. It should just work. To test this, download your Local Map, then turn on Airplane Mode (which should disable wifi and cellular data) and see if you can still surf around your map.
- Note on using this with a phone: If you are going to be in a place with patchy cell coverage, you might get better performance on the map if you turn on airplane mode while using it. I don’t know how it decides what info to attempt to download versus what is in the offline save.
- Definitely practice: Do these steps ahead of your trip and practice with a map so you know how it works and what the limitations mean before you are on the road potentially without access.