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Travel news and advice

Three best offline map apps for road trips and GPS navigation like a sat nav

If you don’t want to rack up roaming charges or rely on a data connection in remote places, try one of these apps with offline sat-nav features

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 March, 2018, 8:05pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 March, 2018, 8:07pm

If travel is about finding yourself, it has got a lot easier in recent years with the launch of some excellent mapping apps. If you’re driving – and particularly if you’re on a road trip – the turn-by-turn directions offered by such apps are incredible.

However, if you want to resist roaming charges and/or visit remote areas without mobile phone coverage, you do have to do some preparatory work before you leave home. Even if you use them in offline mode, it’s wise to be wary of using your phone’s GPS too much, which will quickly run down the battery.

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Those warnings aside, these three free apps on both iOS and Android are all worth considering for your next road trip.

1. Google Maps

It’s the go-to mapping app for many, but Google Maps has only recently permitted offline use, and the way it does so is curiously cumbersome. Instead of downloading specific cities, countries or regions, you have to highlight an area of the map you want to download by pinching the screen to zoom in and out.

Thankfully, it only downloads when your phone is attached to Wi-fi unless you change the settings, and automatically updates it only when you’re on Wi-fi.

It works well enough once it’s on your phone, but Google Maps does not allow spoken turn-by-turn navigation when it’s offline. You can hack this downside by beginning a navigation while you are still on Wi-fi, perhaps as you leave the hotel lobby, though that is not great if you’re planning a driving tour to multiple stops.

Another downside to Google Maps is that downloaded maps have no name, so deleting maps you no longer need can be time-consuming. However, Google Maps remains a reliable mapping app, with no adverts.

2. HERE WeGo

Here’s a polished, intuitive map app that allows you to download maps for entire countries at the touch of a button.

Its chief advantage over Google Maps is that it can give you spoken turn-by-turn directions even without a data connection, just like a sat nav. Better still, you know you are doing it; there’s a “use app offline” slider, so you know you’re not using any data.

Of course, you must download the maps you need over Wi-fi before you venture off-grid, but it is so easy to do. The app even prompts you do to download a map for the entire country or region you’re in, while also telling you exactly how much storage it will take (and even how much space is left on your phone).

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That one-button operation makes it superior to Google Maps, and much easier to understand. You can browse a list of all map packs, and download and delete them at will before and after setting off on your travels.

The downside to HERE WeGo is that it doesn’t tell you which lane to get in when exiting motorways. You also get small adverts when downloading maps.

3. Maps. Me

What sets apart Maps. Me from the other two is that it’s designed primarily to work offline. The app won’t even let you navigate to somewhere that you have not downloaded the map for, so even if you have a roaming plan in place, you’re likely need to find some Wi-fi.

Consequently, its search functionality isn’t as polished as on other apps, being limited to places only on maps you’ve already downloaded, so it can take some time to find the exact destination you want to navigate to.

Based on the OpenStreetMap free wiki world map, Maps. Me is constantly updated by an online community, and does include highly detailed maps, many points of interest, and spoken turn-by-turn navigation while offline. It even contains exact grid references.

Despite it being built on the downloading of maps, Maps. Me has plenty of online functions that Google Maps and HERE WeGo lack. It integrates seamlessly with Uber, and lets you book sightseeing tours using Viator, but there’s an awful lot of advertising clogging up the small screen.