July 13, 2024

 

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Traveling can be a great adventure.  Getting lost while traveling – well, that’s an adventure of another sort.  When traveling to a new and unknown location it’s always good to know where you are.  In the “old days” people would grab a paper map and head out.  You do remember paper maps don’t you.? Today, it can be hard to find a paper map. As with so many other aspects of our lives, maps have pretty much gone digital.

A quick search of the internet reveals a large list of maps, mapping systems, and map apps which  travelers can be use on smartphones, tablets, or laptops. The best also incorporate GPS (Global Positioning Satelite) input, giving the user a clear indication of their current position on the map display. Some apps work best when you have access to the internet.  Others stand out when you are “off grid”, out there exploring the world without any internet connection.   Here are my favorite GPS Map Apps for the Traveler in each of these conditions.

 

TRAVEL WITH INTERNET ACCESS

Apple Maps and Google Maps – Personally, I find each of these map applications can be quite helpful when traveling in areas where there is internet access, either via WiFi or with a smart phone / tablet cellular data plan.   Both apps are quick and generally quite accurate. This is due, in part,  to the fact that the  GPS positioning is supplemented with positioning information provided through cell towers. Apple Maps has had some problems in the past but the app has improved considerably.  Both the Apple and Google apps actively download new map data and information from the internet as you travel.  They don’t store maps on your device. ** Each of these apps  provides maps with lots of information about area in which you are traveling, information about things such as restaurants, hotels, sites, points of interest, etc.  And you can get active route planning and directions from one point to another as well.

I generally use Google Maps for pre-trip planning.  With it you can establish your own personal overlays for regions, adding information about locations you want to visit, routes of travel etc. and then save them within Google Maps for later use as My Maps. If you have internet access while traveling you will also get information regarding your current location on the saved map.

I use Apple Maps more for on the go, spur of the moment location information or driving directions. I am an Apple user and like the fact that Apple Maps responds quickly to auditory requests input via Siri. Now you can also input your questions to Siri from the Apple Watch.  Quick and easy!

Both GPS Map Apps are available as free downloads. At this time Apple Maps is only available for Apple devices. It is Apple’s default mapping application and is automatically installed on Apple devices as part of the iOS operating system – currently iOS 9.  Google Maps is available for both Android devices (Android Google Maps)  and Apple devices (Apple Google Maps). If you want a more detailed comparison of these two apps, MacWorld recently did a very nice review (click here.) Both of these apps work well if you have internet access.  That makes them generally good options for domestic travel.  If you are traveling internationally, well then internet access can be a problem.  International cellular / data fees can quickly mount up.  Buying a local sim card for your device is an option in some areas and this can keep data prices at a more reasonable level    But then there are other areas where cellular data is extremely limited or non-existent.  That’s the case for my upcoming trip to Myanmar for example.

TRAVEL WITHOUT INTERNET ACCESS –

There are several GPS Map Apps which can be used without access to internet / cellular connections.  Apps operating in this fashion have two primary limitations.  1. Maps for the area of travel must be downloaded to your device prior to your travels. Because of this you have to plan ahead and the mapping system you use must have downloadable maps for the area in which you will be traveling.  2. Positioning information for these apps comes solely from GPS input. There is generally  no big problem with this.  Initial GPS acquisition or “lock” may be a bit slower than if aided by cellular tower information.  But once GPS lock is obtained you are good to go.   I’ve tried a number of Mapping Apps which don’t require internet access and almost without exception I have been very disappointed.  Some are confusing and ineffective. Many don’t have maps for areas where they are most needed.  Some have the right maps but they are just too expensive.  Finally, I am happy to report that  I found one I really like.

MAPS WITH ME  (MAPS.ME) This mapping app is available on multiple platforms including Apple iOS and Android.  It’s free (always one of my favorite words) It allows you to download maps to your device in advance of your travels (again maps are free) and it has downloadable maps for just about anyplace you might want to go.  Maps show good detail including many points of interest (hotels, restaurants, view points, etc.) and are available for each state in the U.S. as well as many other countries including lesser traveled locations such as my upcoming trip to Myanmar. Maps.Me uses GPS input to show your current position on the map.

I’ve been experimenting with this app in my local area just to test it out. I’m really impressed. Points of interest are searchable. Perhaps one of the nicest features is that you can also add your own information to the maps as “bookmarks”. This means that as you plan your next adventure – places to visit, eat, explore, etc. – you can place this information on the map so when you are traveling you can find it’s location and any related information you have stored about it. Below is an example of a map I’m building for the small city of Nyaung Shwe in Myanmar which is a jumping off point for trekking as well as visiting Inle Lake.

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Section of Maps.me – A portion of the city of Nyaung Shwe near Inle Lake in Myanmar. The red balloons are sites I have added. The box in the upper left corner appears when you click on a balloon giving other information which can be expanded in the notes section. The heavy turquoise line is a bicycling route I have mapped out in advance.

Thus far Maps With Me is clearly the best mapping app I have found for off grid / no internet travel.  Using Maps With Me you have a full map of the entire state, or country you will be visiting.  Maps are downloaded and always available on your device.  The maps don’t expire (see note below).  Your location is clearly indicated and positioned through GPS. You can zoom and change your view of the map at will.  And you can add information, sites, routes for later use as well.  The process of adding some of that information is a bit quirky. I plan to provide directions as to how to go about this in a future article, so stay tuned.

**Google Maps**  In all fairness I should add that with Google Maps you can download and save limited maps to your digital device. The areas available for download are limited and seem to change from time to time.  ( I previously saved a downloaded map of Yangon Myanmar but today when I tried to repeat the process I found that map area was “unavailable” for download. No explanation as to why.) If you find an area of interest which is available for download,  the downloaded maps can later be used without any internet connection.  Creating and downloading the maps is a bit tedious and these saved maps are only good for 30 days after which they must be “renewed” or saved once again – thus updating the information. Still, these downloadable maps can be used effectively when no internet access is available.   It’s an option to consider – maybe a backup for Maps With Me. But if you are going to be away from reliable internet service for extended periods of time don’t forget to “update” the maps you’ve saved, doing so  just prior to your departure to insure it will be valid for 30 days. If a map has “expired” it can’t be used again until updated, which requires an internet connection.

GPS MAP APPS  …………….  ENJOY THE ADVENTURE!

 

– Be sure to VISIT my Travel Photography Portfolio  – 

www.BWB-Images.com

 

 

DR.B, THE PHOTO TREKKER

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