For the city-dweller who’s used to constant connectivity to high-speed internet, going overseas without mobile data is WOE. For the social media addict a la yours truly, not having a prepaid 3G sim card or WIFI router is really, pure frustration.
As recent as January this year, I walked a few rounds at Athens’ airport and could not find a shop that sells prepaid 3G cards. It was the same situation at Santorini’s airport. I was travelling solo in Santorini and pretty desperately need mobile data.
Does no one need mobile Internet in Greece?!?
I ended up spending 4 days in Santorini without mobile data, and survived! Here are a few tips I’ve now learned to use so I can still travel effectively without mobile data!
Tips for travelling without mobile data
Before leaving, while you still have internet:
USING MAPS OFFLINE
Google Offline Maps – Download your destination’s city map
Google Maps has a function that lets you download offline maps of cities. Known as Google Offline Maps, this function is available for the more popular or developed cities such as Singapore, Bali, Santorini and so on.
How to download Google Offline Maps:
1: Search for the destination city
2/3: Tap the bottom area &/or look for available menu. Tap the menu.
4: Choose the button that says “Download” or “Download offline area“. You’ll then be prompted to confirm that you wanna Download that map.
Don’t forget to download the map only when you have WIFI! As it might be a little data-intensive.
After you confirm the download, Google Maps will save the map into your app, which you can access under “Offline Areas” within the app when you’re overseas, even if you don’t have mobile data overseas. You can search for a certain place of interest or address, as well as see where you are on the map.
Google offline maps will only work for driving instructions. There will be NO walking/public transport instructions available. If you wanna walk, you can still refer to the map to help you navigate the way manually.
Option 2: Use MAPS.ME app
I discovered this app only after the Offline Google Maps function.
Maps.me is an awesome, FREE map app which you can use without an Internet connection. Neither do you have to download maps ahead. Although its interface is not as sleek as Google Maps, Maps.me still worked well in providing navigating instructions to get you from place to place. I didn’t have an overseas simcard in Ubud, Bali and used this app to monitor that the driver is going the right way. It worked! (Sometimes it hangs though so all you have to do is to close the app and load it again.)
Note: Maps.Me provides driving, cycling and walking directions via the map. It does NOT provide public transport options the way Google Maps does.
Option 3: Download Here WeGo app into your phone.
Here WeGo maps work by countries, so you need to download the country’s map ahead, and it will be saved into your phone. I used it to get around in Stockholm in May 2017 and at times, this app actually proved to be more useful and user-friendly than Google Offline Maps!
More information can be found on itsHERE We Go’s website, or check out this travel blogger’s guide on how to use!
PS: There is no 100% foolproof method for offline maps.
As with online apps, I can’t be 100% certain that what worked for me in certain cities will work exactly the same for you in different cities. Sometimes they work, sometimes they simply won’t. There’s always a certain amount of risk in being over-dependent on offline maps.
Download TripAdvisor’s Offline Guides Ahead
If you’re like me, who enjoy using TripAdvisor, and who also likes to plan trips on the go, consider downloading city guides beforehand. After that, you’ll be able to access things like Where to Go and Restaurants, even if you’re offline. I used this method for planning out my day’s programs, while eating breakfast at the hotel (restaurant was an enclosed cave which couldn’t detect any 3G or WIFI) every morning in Santorini!
Make full use of free WIFI & public hotspots
Many Airports Already Provide Free WIFI
Airports in many developed countries will provide free wifi that you can use. Just like the free WIFI we get from some local shopping malls in town, they are either unlimited for free, or you just need to reconnect should you get logged out after a fixed period of time.
Skyscanner produced a guide to using Europe’s biggest airports’ WIFI (note, info is accurate as of 5 Sept 2014):
Book Hotels/Hostels/AirBNBs that Provide Free WIFI
In developed countries, many accommodation providers will have free wifi in the hotel premises. Either at the lobby or in-room WIFI. My AirBNB host in Kyoto even provided a portable router that I can use anywhere I go, for the entire length of my stay!
Use Cafes’ & Restaurants’ Free WIFI
The networks might be locked, but if the cafe or restaurant is ok with their patrons using their WIFI, all you have to do is to ask them politely for the password.
Some Cities Provide Free Public Hotspots on Streets / in Malls
In even more awesome countries, there will be free WIFI available at public hotspots on the streets or provided by the bigger malls. One time, I got lost in Seoul, I managed to navigate the correct way by using the free hotspots on the streets. I also managed to contact a friend at Fira’s bus terminal in Santorini, using free WIFI provided by the Greek government.
Note: Exercise caution when clicking to access free hotspots, because there’s always a risk of unsecured networks, fraudulent ‘public hotspots’, and hackers lurking around.
Hope you find this article useful! Any other tips to share for travelling without mobile data?
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