How to Use Google Maps Offline

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Getting Started

smartphone with map
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Google Maps has made traveling in unfamiliar areas a breeze with its detailed maps, car, cycling, and walking navigation, and turn-by-turn directions. But what happens if you travel to an area with no cellular coverage or to a destination abroad where your smartphone can't connect? The solution: save the maps you'll need now so you can access them offline later. It's a bit like ripping pages out of an atlas for an old-school road trip: you'll have to read the maps rather than getting guided navigation, but you won't be flying blind either.

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How to Save Your Map

Google Maps: Save
Android screenshot

Once you've searched for, and found your destination, click on the place name at the bottom of your screen. You'll see a save button in the middle of the screen, but that will only save the destination, not the map. Instead, click on the menu button at the top right and select "download offline area." 

From the next screen, you can pinch and zoom to select the precise area you want to capture, and then name your map; your search term is pre-filled, but you may want to add a more specific label, so you can find the map you need when the time comes.

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Beware Time and Size Limits

Google Maps: zoom
Android screenshot

There are a few limitations, though. First, offline maps can only be saved for thirty days, after which they will be automatically deleted. Second, you're limited to capturing a map covering 50-by-50 km (about 31-by-31 miles). If you try to save an area bigger than that, you'll be asked to zoom in to a smaller area. as you can see in this image. Your best bet is to save several smaller maps of your destination since what isn't limited here, is how many maps you can save for offline access.

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How to Access Your Saved Maps

Google Maps: Places
Android screenshot

So you've saved your maps, and now you're ready to use them. To get to your offline maps, tap the menu button at the top left of your screen and select "Your places." Here, you can see everything you've saved, including your home and work address, saved places, such as restaurants and other points of interest, a timeline showing where you've been, custom maps you've created, and finally, your offline maps.

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How to Use Your Saved Maps

Google Maps: offline
Android screenshot

When using Google Maps offline, you can't use any feature that requires connectivity, obviously. So, while you can zoom in and out of your saved maps, you can't get turn-by-turn directions, or search for points of interest. You can rename and delete offline maps at any time.

The last time I needed access to Google Maps offline, was when I traveled to Spain for a conference. I ended up taking screenshots of the various neighborhoods I needed to get around, which was helpful, but not as easy to navigate, so to speak. Having a list of maps labeled by neighborhood or point of interest would have been much easier to use.

Some good news: Google announced that it will eventually offer full offline access to Maps. Stay tuned. In the meantime, competing apps such as HERE Maps and CoPilot GPS, though the latter requires a paid subscription.

Which GPS apps do you use when traveling? Have you tried out Google Maps' offline feature yet? Share your experiences on Facebook and Twitter