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Using GPS Without Data: How to Navigate With Offline Maps


Think you’re a slave to your cell phone plan just because you want to use GPS and maps on your phone while traveling?

Think again.

You may have heard that your cell phone’s built-in GPS will work offline, but what does this really mean in the context of traveling?

It means that you do not need an internet connection to use a maps app.

It means that you do not need a cell phone plan to use GPS.

It means that you can turn off cellular data or cancel your cell phone plan entirely and still get directions while traveling.

This is all possible because your phone’s built-in GPS radio works independently of your cell phone/data plan.

While adventuring in foreign lands, your GPS-enabled phone will figure out where you are, plot it on a map (pulling stored map info from your phone’s memory) and give you directions to your destination.

You probably won’t even notice a difference from the internet-connected map version.

This is HUGE for cost-conscious travelers like me.

In fact, rather than paying extra to make my cell phone plan more usable overseas, I decided to cancel my cell phone plan entirely.

When I get to Malaysia next week, I’ll not only have peace of mind knowing that I can navigate my way to any destination, I’ll also feel better about my travel expenses since I’m saving $90/month without my data plan.

Here’s How You Can Start Using GPS Without Data (or Even a Cell Phone Plan)

Step 1: Have a GPS-enabled phone.

If you have a smart phone, chances are it has a built-in GPS tracking chip. This became a standard feature for smart phones built after 2007. If you’ve ever used turn-by-turn directions on your phone and saw a little dot that represented your location on a map… then yeah, you’ve got it.

Step 2: Download an offline-friendly navigation app.

There are a few map apps that work for using GPS without data. Unfortunately, Waze is not one of them (neither is Apple Maps for that matter).

Google Maps is a decent option, though it will require downloading specific map areas (see next step).

I really like Navmii, which is free for basic use ($2 to get rid of ads). They have different apps for different maps, so make sure you download the correct version for your country of choice.

Step 3: Make sure you’re good to go before shutting off the data.

You may have a navigation app on your phone, but does your phone have the right map data necessary to provide you with useful directions?

If you’re using Google Maps, follow the four steps below.

1. Search for a city or region.

Google Maps

2. Tap on the name at the bottom, then tap the download button.

Paris in Google Maps

3. Confirm the area to download.

Using GPS without data

4. Google Maps will begin downloading the area.

Offline Maps

Now when you use Google Maps offline, just be sure you’re looking for directions in that selected area.

If you’re using Navmii, turn off your cellular data and see if you can get directions. Even if you’re not yet traveling, you can still plot directions from one location to another (in your country of choice) to see that the map data is there.

And this really shouldn’t have to be said… but check your map data before you go off the grid! The last thing you want to do is show up in a new country expecting to use your phone for directions only to find that you’re missing key map info.

You know… or don’t.

Just winging it is fun too.

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