How to Travel without Online Maps

In many cases, you may find yourself traveling without the always-available internet on your phone, which is so dear to you in your home country. Therefore, it pays to make some preparations before hitting the road. One way to avoid getting lost when you travel without online maps is downloading some offline maps. Google maps have this handy feature I wish I had known about earlier (it would have saved me so many hours of aimless wandering), allowing you to download a map of the area you wish to visit. Believe me, if you find yourself in the middle of an unknown Panamanian city full of red zones that you’d like to avoid, with no internet connection available within 40 square miles, having an offline map to help you navigate is a blessing sent from heaven.

How to download a map

Downloading maps is so easy, even a tech-illiterate like me can do it:

  1. Open the Google maps app on your phone, and make sure you’re logged in to your Google account
  2. Search for the area (city, street, zone, town, etc.) you´ll be wandering around
  3. Now tab the little bar at the bottom of the screen that says the name of the city or town you just searched
  4. Tab the download button, and you’re good to go

Your map is now downloaded on your phone. It can only give directions for driving, which can make using them while on foot a bit of a challenge. Yet, even if you aren’t driving, these offline maps are very useful when you have to travel without online maps. They still allow you to zoom into areas of interest, swipe around, etc. You´ll not only have a convenient little map you can read to find your way, but you´ll also have something to point at when asking for directions in a language you are less than fluent in.

Be prepared

When you travel without online maps to unknown countries, sometimes it’s fine to put on your adventure hat and just go wherever the road takes you. Often the most unexpected places you end up in are the best ones, and they’ll give you the coolest views and greatest experiences all far off the beaten path. However, if you’re traveling solo at night, or in a country that isn’t exactly known for its safety, I say better be safe than sorry. You don’t want to end up lost in the slums of Cape Town or the red zones in San José

The old-fashioned way

Believe it or not, my friend, there was actually a time before smartphones. People found the way without the world wide web in their hands, and travel without online maps was the only way to travel. This method might take some more talking, preparing or thinking, but even without an online (or offline) map on your phone, finding the way is still possible.

The first and most obvious solution is just buying a good old paper road map. Most souvenir shops sell them, and if you’re in a very touristy city, you’ll find maps are sold literally everywhere. You can also walk into a hostel and ask for a map there, as most of the time they have them ready (and for free) at the counter.

If you’re like me and you suck at reading maps, the best way to get to your destination lies hidden in postcards. When looking for that one historic building, great museum, or towering church, buying a postcard with these destinations on them will make your job of asking directions just that much easier. Simply point at your postcard with a puzzled look on your face, and before you know it you´ll be on your way. Even if your destination isn’t considered postcard worthy, knowing which of these postcard destinations are near yours will at least get you close to where you need to be. I use this technique all the time when I travel without online maps, and it works every time.

Another thing I like to do if I travel without online maps to unfamiliar places is to write down the directions before I leave (often accompanied with a map as accurate as my art skills will provide). Just have a little notebook with you—something I recommend even if you don’t imagine getting lost—write down the names of places you need to be, and the instructions on how to get there. If your own instructions fail you somewhere along the way, you’ll at least have something of a reference when asking around.

Which brings me to the final tip for finding your way when traveling without online maps: just ask someone. You don’t need to speak the language perfectly, hands and feet will get you by. Be wary of scams (trust your gut when deciding who to ask) as well; however, I’ve found that people are almost always happy to help you out.

About the Author: Renee Schrader is savvy travel blogger at asabbatical.com, a personal travel blog of Adrian Sameli. To connect with Renee, follow her on Facebook.

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