At home, we’ve become reliant on our vehicle navigation systems or smartphones to tell us how to get from one place to another. It is difficult when traveling abroad to give-up this luxury, especially in places like Europe, where many cities were planned before the advent of the automobile, and directions and addressing isn’t always intuitive. Paying for a data plan for smartphones is one solution, but it quickly becomes cost prohibitive. This last trip, however, we discovered a very elegant workaround: if we explored the areas we planned on visiting in the iOS maps application on our hotel wi-fi connection, when we later went out, that map data would be cached and available for our use. If there was a specific place we planned on going to, we would do a search right before, and “drop a pin” on the location. Even with cellular data off, the phone’s GPS and compass function, allowing you to see yourself as the “little blue dot” in relation to your destination.
The trick with map caching on the iPhone is to pan across the area of interest at different zoom levels. You don’t want to go overboard, because the iOS Google Maps application will only cache 22 MB of data. If you go too far, you’ll lose the areas you cached at the beginning.
One of the few advantages of the new Apple Maps application (starting with the iOS 6 upgrade) is the move from bitmap to vector graphics. With the iOS Google Maps application, data was retrieved as bitmaps (or pictures). With the new application, just the points that define lines are delivered. The result is that a lot more information can be stored with far less data (as much as 80% less data according to some sources), and a wider area is available for offline browsing.
Android phones actually have a built-in feature in Android Maps to save map data within a 50-mile radius for offline browsing. You just need to select “Make available offline” from the options menu. Google actually has a video in it’s announcement of the feature that shows two individuals caching their entire destination before leaving home. This is certainly possible for those going on a single-destination trip. Otherwise, a wi-fi connection somewhere on the ground is a must. I actually cached Lisbon before our last trip at home, to aid in finding our hotel before we got lost.
In conclusion, don’t forget your smartphone next time you travel abroad. It can make navigation a breeze, and eliminate a lot of the stress associated with getting lost. Make it part of your routine to cache your areas of interest before leaving the hotel each day. You’ll find that offline map caching is the perfect travel companion.