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Here at Too Many Adapters, we’re all about picking up local SIM cards while traveling. Well, most of us are.
Some of us (me) are too lazy and think we can navigate an unfamiliar city offline. Some of us (me) are often lost and confused as a result.
Let’s face it, though: there are some times when you won’t want to pick up a SIM in a particular country. If you’re travelling around New Zealand and don’t want to spend $50 a month for 1 GB of data, for example. Or if you’re only in a country for a couple of days.
Or if you’re in Turkey and getting your hands on a local SIM card involves an hours-long wild goose chase to cell phone stores and government offices. Yuck.
But having data when you travel makes everything so much easier — particularly finding your way. When getting around involves scribbling directions into a notebook and taking photos of maps, or drawing maps, and writing down addresses, travel is often more frustrating than it could be.
Enter HERE Maps, which has now helped me out when I haven’t had data more times than I can remember.
HERE Maps, unlike Google and Apple’s versions, allows you to download an unlimited number of offline country maps for free, and use them with turn-by-turn navigation when you’re not connected.
Here’s How it Works:
Step two: Open the app. You know how to do this, too.
Step three: Tap the menu on the top left of the app and turn on “use app offline”.
Step four: Tap “download maps”. Select all of the countries (or states if you’re going to be visiting the U.S.) you’ll be hitting up, and tap download. Make sure you have enough space on your device! Some of the country maps can be pretty large.
Step five: Head back to the main map and search away! All of the maps you’ve downloaded are now fully searchable and ready to use offline. It’s that simple.
I used HERE Maps for three months of travel across Europe this summer and here’s how it worked out.
Getting Directions Was Flawless
The main advantage of HERE Maps is the offline navigation, and I encountered zero problems when using it. HERE Maps owns Navteq, which supplies the map database to the big GPS companies like Garmin — which means they’ve been mapping for longer than Google, and can even be superior to it.
HERE Maps offers directions for driving, walking, and transit. They all worked well, providing quick and accurate information for every country I was in, whether it was Spain, Finland, Estonia, or Taiwan.
While I don’t drive because I’m a klutz and don’t want to die, the options for avoiding toll roads, unpaved roads, highways and more are useful, as is the driving mode that gives you bigger buttons to minimize your chances of steering off a cliff while tapping on your phone.
When it comes to public transport directions, I found HERE Maps to be just as accurate as Google.
As for the walking directions, I appreciated not having turn-by-turn instructions shouted at me from the app, something that embarrasses me when using other mapping apps.
Collections Is Surprisingly Useful
I didn’t expect I’d use the collections feature much, and I was wrong. It’s actually really useful.
It’s basically a way to can save locations on your maps and separate them into groups. Before starting my trip, I’d search for the addresses of my Airbnb apartments and hotels, and save them in a collection called Accommodation.
When researching each city, I saved each recommended site in my “Things to Do” collection. That way, when I was out exploring, I could check out my map to see if anything I’d saved was nearby.
It’s Stingy With Your Data Allowance
HERE Maps is great even when you do have data, because if you’ve downloaded the maps in advance, it will automatically use them rather than burning through your data allowance.
It’s Perfect if You Have an Address, But…
The one downside to HERE Maps is its search engine. I’m used to Google’s approach, where searching for “supermarket” or “ATM” or “toilet” or “café” will bring up the nearest ones. HERE wasn’t so intuitive, and would instead only bring up places that had supermarket or café in their names.
I could usually find what I was looking for, but sometimes searching for a grocery store in Latvia only resulted in me being directed to one in Estonia.
Addresses, however, worked perfectly. Searching by name bought up hotels and hostels 95% of the time, but there were a couple of times they weren’t in the directory and I had to search for the addresses instead. That’s not ideal if you forget to look it up in advance, and don’t have any way of getting online to find out where you’re staying.
The same problem often occurred with landmarks. Searching for the harbour or port in Stockholm brought up nothing, for example. And searching for the harbour in Helsinki took me to a road called Harbour. Not quite what I was after.
The Final Word
Is HERE Maps good enough to warrant deleting all of your other mapping apps? Not yet. The search does require a few workarounds, especially if you are used to Google’s or Apple’s way of doing things. Despite that, however, it’s a worthy addition to your phone.
This app will save you if you don’t have data on your phone, and is far superior to many other offline mapping services: it’s completely free, there are no limits to the number of maps you can download, and it sources its maps from the leading mapping service in the world.