Getting ready for a road trip isn’t as difficult as it used to be. There was a time when you needed to know your route ahead of time, which meant pulling out the trusty atlas to see the highways you’d be traveling on.
The role of the navigator was almost as important as the driver. That person was responsible for feeding turn by turn directions while making sure the car radio was providing quality traveling music and staying awake to make sure the driver didn’t fall asleep.
Technology changes and mobile GPS, TomToms or SatNav devices have made navigation on a trip as easy as following directions from Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cookie Monster or Yoda. Well, maybe easy that would not be.
Nowadays, we don’t need a separate GPS device, as our cell phone gives us directions to where ever we want. Well, until it doesn’t.
Your phone is great for driving directions until you get to a place where you no longer have cell phone reception. The last thing you want to see is a road like this ahead and you no longer have any signal.
I found out the hard way that using the wrong map program (and stopping at a scenic outlook to take pictures) can cause your online directions to disappear.
Here’s a rundown of some map programs that work when you’re offline
I started to use the Waze app at the recommendation of one of our friends. I love it for driving locally, as it gives up to the minute traffic information as well as provides alerts for red light cameras and speed traps. I don’t speed (much) but that’s why I would hate to be stopped the time when I’m accidentally going a bit over the speed limit. Well, I also can’t be blamed for getting a Dodge Charger as a rental to drive through the Arizona desert. When you need to pass someone on a two-lane highway, it’s incredible how fast that car can get up to triple digits.
Unfortunately, Waze depends on cell phone data to update its maps while driving. Here’s what they say about driving where you may lose cell phone reception.
Waze was built assuming a data network connection would be present all, or at least most, of the time. For all aspects of Waze to operate, you must have an active data connection on your mobile device. This connection enriches Waze with real-time traffic-related information and ensures an up-to-date map. Without an internet connection, you won’t be able to locate or navigate a route.
If you have an intermittent connection, Waze will try to get data from the servers for traffic alerts and hazards, but may not be able to give you reliable information. Additionally, if Waze doesn’t have a connection back to the Waze servers, you will not be able to post hazards. Waze does not cache reports or map issues to send later.
Many websites claim to have a workaround for this. If you input your route before leaving and can get a map to load, this map will stay on your phone’s cache for the trip. However I learned the hard way that if you accidentally close the app, your map is gone. If that happens in a place where you don’t have a signal, like a beautiful scenic overlook, you better hope you get a signal back before you were supposed to make your next turn. This selfie better have been worth losing our map!
I still use Waze for local trips but I’m not going to use it for road trips outside of large cities anymore.
If there’s a 500 lb. elephant in the room, it’s Google Maps. While Google owns Waze, they run the services independent of one another. Google Maps has many functionalities that Waze lacks (as well as lacks some of the things I like with Waze). The one significant advantage of Google Maps is the ability to download maps ahead of time. All you need to do is open the Google Maps app on your phone (or download it if you haven’t already). When you search for a location where you think there might be no reception, like near Helen, Georgia, one of the options at the bottom of the page is to “download”. You’re able to select how large of a map you want to download.
Of course, these maps take up storage on your phone. Google has set these maps to expire after 30 days. You can extend them if you want but make sure not to set them up too far in advance. You also have to know the area you’ll be traveling in but if you’re taking a road trip, hopefully you’ll have a route before you leave.
There are other apps that people recommend but I have no personal experience with them. Here are some of the most commonly mentioned ones:
HERE we go
The HERE maps programs for iOS and Android provides driving, biking, walking and public transportation directions. They’re fully functional for offline use, even giving turn by turn guidance even when not connected to the internet.
The ability to download offline maps for larger areas, such as a whole state, make this a more straightforward program to use if you don’t know the exact areas you’ll be traveling through.
This app truly uses the GPS functions of your phone and relies less on WiFi or cell towers for positioning.
This app isn’t free, The premium US version is on sale for $12.49 and the worldwide version costs $24.99. This app will apparently connect with some in-car infotainment systems. However, I wouldn’t count on that for a rental car (it takes me days to figure out how to pair my iPhone with a car via Bluetooth).
The app does seem to be really detailed, with 3D maps and real-time road displays. It gets 4.6 and 4.7 reviews from the Apple and Google stores.
I’m not one to pay for an app that does the same thing as one I can get for free. However if we were driving around the USA, having a map that worked everywhere even when offline would be invaluable.
I mention this one as it came up on almost every search I did for offline maps. I’m sure it’s a fine program but from the screenshots, it doesn’t look like it’s for me.
I can’t help but think that this looks like a map for people who like to send out selfies of themselves with animal faces to their friends on Snapchat. That’s so not me (Note from Sharon: Nor me!).
If you’re planning that road trip across the USA this summer, make sure you have the right map application on your phone for your trip. While Waze is great for when you have a cell phone signal, make sure to download maps for rural areas with apps like Google Maps, HERE we go or Sygic GPS. That is unless you want to take that ancient road map out of the glove compartment (why is it called that anyway?)
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary