Even though it’s fairly easy nowadays to rent a temporary smartphone or data-plan SIM card at airports, I still find myself in situations where I don’t have data while traveling to a foreign country. Maybe it’s not a good deal, or maybe I’m only staying for two days and it’s not worth the hassle.
That’s when I turn to City Maps 2 Go – the best, offline equivalent to Google Maps I’ve found. It uses maps from OpenStreetMap, contains a basic, searchable set of shops/restaurants/hotels and uses the GPS on your smartphone or tablet to give real-time location data. For an extra couple of dollars, you can download an add-on that links city destinations with offline-ready Wikipedia entries. It’s a pretty great map, though there are some caveats to keep in mind:
- GPS with no data plan is spotty. I’ve found it often failing when there’s no wifi connection nearby (though you don’t need to be able to log on to anyone’s wifi system, just detect it).
- The destinations lists vary depending on the city. London was great, but Seoul was pretty bad.
- Usability is rough around the edges: expect some finger frustration.
Despite these shortcomings, it works well on my iPhone and iPad, and I’d highly recommend it for data-less travel.
My favorite experience of it was when I had plotted all the places I wanted to go to beforehand in a city, and then over the course of several days, I was able to wander from one to another depending on what was nearby.
The final caveat is that there may be some places with high theft where it’s dangerous to be seen wandering around as a tourist, staring at a shiny smartphone or tablet. Though it’s probably no worse than staring into a map or guide book on a street corner :)