A Guide to Offline Navigating

No bars? A guide to offline navigating

Navigation without using your phone? Preposterous! Ridiculous! Insane. Gone are the days of having your copilot translate a large cumbersome map. Even the days of printing out Mapquest directions and keeping them by the dashboard are ancient history. But what do you do when you find yourself without technology, helpless, sweating, and afraid?

The next time your phone dies while you’re in the city, and it’s 1am and you can’t find your friends, you’ll be happy that you read this article. These tips will work for frequent euro-travelers as well.

Be prepared to find your way around the country or city with these these steps.

Offline Navigating

Using Google Maps to Save Destinations

Let’s first assume that your phone’s battery still has plenty of juice but you know you’re going to be Internet-less soon. With the newest updates to Google Maps, the steps are simple. Note that the first steps must be done while still connected to the Internet.

– Route to your destination.

– Tap the name of your destination or address.

– Tap the three vertical dots in the top right corner and choose “Save offline map.”

– You’ll now find your route saved in the Your Places tab.

– Explore your new destination worry-free!

Using Waze to Drive while Offline

While Google Maps will give you an offline map, it lacks in the driving department because it will not tell you your next turn as you approach it, despite it updating your location (follow the blue dot!). Waze will give you turn-by-turn navigation, you just have to prepare yourself with just two steps. I prefer this to Maps.Me since I can navigate to anywhere with Waze, and Maps.Me is kind of limited to just landmarks.

  • Open the Waze App > type the location you want to go to.
  • Download Waze traffic info: Connect (or stay connected) to wi-fi > Go into Waze’s Settings > Advanced Settings > Data transfer > Download traffic info > turn it on to save the current traffic info.

Waze will keep these map details & navigational info in it’s cache until you close the app.

Next step, fight the impulse to close the app.

Using Maps.Me

The Maps.Me app specializes in offline navigation but it’s not suited to finding an exact address. It will open an OpenStreetMap for whatever you set your destination to and get you there without an Internet connection.


Using a Topographic Map

According to Bob Burns, author of Wilderness Navigation, having no understanding of topographic maps is like “not learning to drive because there’s cruise control.” GPS and map apps should be used to augment navigation, not be a sole source of reference. Next time you’re camping, make sure to bring a topographic map along, and make sure you know how to use it. Say you’ve arrived at the national park you’re exploring. Your GPS will not tell you exactly what the terrain is like, only how to get there. Nor will it let it know where to set up camp or what dangers may be present. A topographic map gives you a much clearer idea of what your environment will be like to better plan your trip.

What do the colors mean

Simply put, green means trees, blue means water and brown means elevation. These are general guidelines, and are not meant to be taken exactly literally. A river may have dried up for the season or a sparsely treed area may not be indicated in green at all.

What do the lines mean

Notice the density of the lines. To keep things simple, denser groups of elevation lines mean a steeper climb, and the thicker elevation lines help you find exactly how steep things are getting. Plan your trip around these marks for the smoothest journey.


Use the city itself to find your way

But you’re not in the woods, are you? You’re in a new city, maybe visiting friends or family or having your own adventure. You can use the city itself as indicators of how to get around.

  • Look to the rooftops. Satellite dishes will point towards the equator (tv satellites generally float around this), so depending on the city you’re in, this can be a useful tool to find the general direction you want to go.
  • Look at religious buildings. Christian churches are usually oriented west and east, while mosques will point towards Mecca. A basic understanding of world geography will have you on your way in no time.
  • Check out the tennis courts. Many courts are built to face north and south to minimize sun glare for the players.
  • Follow the crowd. During rush hours, crowds will usually help guide you to a train, subway or bus stop.
  • Look to the sun! It rises in the east and sets in the west. Use this and the shadows of everything around you to point you the right way.


Wean yourself off GPS.

But wouldn’t it be great to not find yourself stuck in the first place? By weaning yourself off the use of GPS, you’ll be less dependant on your phone and better equipped in a time of need. It will also make getting around a bit faster. Imagine skipping the act of searching out your destination on your phone.

The best way to do this is to simply start memorizing directions. If you’re going to the same places frequently, start noting landmarks and streets where you make turns to help you find your way. Note intricate details of buildings to make them stand out in your mind– “Pass the building with the tattered banner that’s turning kinda green and grey.” As you grow confident in your ability to get around, your ability to gather where to go based on your existing knowledge will grow. Each pinpointed location in your mind will soon relate to each other, and you won’t need your phone again. Navigating can seem daunting for people in today’s GPS-dependent world but it doesn’t need to be.

Start small and eventually you’ll be able to get to unfamiliar places without relying on technology.

And If you’re going to wean yourself off of GPS, then you should;

Offline Navigating

Understand your city’s layout.

There are two main types of city layouts: Grid and organic. Grid layouts, like in New York City, were created with long term development in mind and are easy to figure out. Numbered avenues run north-south and numbered streets run east-west.

Organic layouts are usually found in older cities and can be a lot harder to figure out. The trick here is to understand where the different neighborhoods are in relation to each other so that signs and landmarks can be used to quickly identify where you are in relation to other areas of the city.

Offline Navigating

Wrapping it up

Your GPS failing you is not a situation to panic, provided you’re prepared with a backup plan. Whether it’s using apps or more old-fashioned methods to get around, being singularly dependent on one source of information is never a good idea. And of course, don’t be afraid to use the most old fashioned method of all and ask for directions.

We tested this all at our California office. For more info, visit http://www.ibolt.co/blog/

Have you been lost without GPS? Did you use these methods to find your way? I’d love to hear about it!

About Nick Post –At iBolt, I have the opportunity to have fun adventures and document my experiences. I love travel, driving and technology and most of all, sharing what I find with everyone around me. http://www.ibolt.co/blog/

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  • This is good advice. GPS devices are great for out-of-town experiences and learning how to navigate new places, but people should avoid becoming completely dependent on them. Still, satellites are a savior when it comes to tracking ourselves and our location, so I can understand the interdependence! Thanks for sharing this!

    • Morgan- Totally agree. My phone was broken last month for about a week and I was amazed at how dependent I had become on it for navigation, even in my own hometown! Love the idea of using it as an interdependent tool.

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