A few weeks ago, our GrabHitch driver (let’s call him Bee) shared his experience driving overseas for his business trip. He’s not a novice overseas driver. However, he mentioned he bought a SIM card specially for using his navigation maps app (Google Maps). I asked him why he did so, since his phone had GPS. He responded with, “Huh can meh? How does it work?”
So I gotta state first, that Bee is not a tech idiot. In fact, he’s an engineering guy. That is why I was surprised he did not know how far our smartphone apps have advanced. And he wasn’t alone. One of my best friends also bought a SIM card to use her smartphone for navigation overseas. And it failed on her when she lost reception in the mountains. After making some wrong turns, she finally managed to drive out of the area, two long hours later.
How Does the GPS in Smartphones Work?
Before I get into how you should prep your phone for navigation when driving overseas, I shall very briefly describe how Global Positioning System (GPS) works on your smartphone. You may skip ahead if you find me too ‘chiong hei‘. 😛
Most smartphones have a GPS receiver that communicate with satellites to get your position. However, it may take quite awhile to sync up when you go to foreign land, especially in an urban area. It will, eventually, once your GPS device leaves a sheltered area. These coordinates will be pinpointed to a position in your map, and that’s where your smartphone navigation apps come in. As you move and change location, your device will obtain the newer coordinates and update the map.
Sometimes, the smartphone will estimate your coordinates based on cellular tower positioning. This means you need phone reception (note: NOT mobile data). With this, it speeds up the GPS function in your smartphone. This technology is also known as Assisted-GPS (or AGPS).
If you have some form of data connection, it will help as well. WiFi or 3G/4G. But! You still don’t need mobile data. This leads me to the main point in my post.
How Does Data Connection Help With Navigation on Your Smartphone?
In the older smartphones, there isn’t enough space to store maps and navigation details. Hence, the older GPS navigation apps require mobile data to give directions and show the maps. As you enter a new zone, your navigation app will download a new tile containing your current location. So this is more or less the only reason why you would need a SIM card with mobile data. (Besides this, as I’ve mentioned above, it’s to aid in obtaining your coordinates faster. But GPS can also do the job for FREE, once you are not in a sheltered zone.)
Our modern smartphones contain way more space, and even allow us to use external storage. This has opened many doors for better apps, and in this case, improvement in our navigation apps.
How to Prep Your Phone at Home for Driving Overseas?
I assume most of us have Google Maps app in our phones. If not, please download it first.
- Open Google Maps app in your smartphone. Make sure you have WiFi connection.
- Enter the area you need a map for in the search box.
(Or, if you have particular start and end points in mind, enter your starting point and destination into the app after you select Directions.)
- Go to the menu and tap on Offline maps.
- You will see the following screen and your existing maps (it will be empty if you are doing this for the first time).
Now tap on Select Your Own Map and this is what you’ll get to the following screen.
Google Maps will even inform you of how much space downloading the map will consume. You may zoom in or out of the map to include or exclude certain places. This will certainly increase or decrease memory usage respectively. It should be fine as long as your device has enough space.
- After determining the area you need directions for, select Download.
You will see your map added into the list of maps. Clicking on the three dots at the side allows you to make changes to the map. Usually I’d like to rename it to something more relevant to my trip.
So there you go, you’re all prepped up! But do take note of the important next steps!
* Note: I would recommend doing a simple test in your current location, to ensure your device GPS works properly. Perform the above steps with your current area. Then when you head out, turn off your data connection (and of course, TURN ON your GPS, I mean that’s the whole point right? :P).
** Another note: Please remember to update your map before your trip by tapping on the three dots and selecting Update!
Important Next Steps Before Starting Your Journey
Most of us are able to get WiFi connection from our hotel, or hosts. And even at the airport. The next few steps will help you to obtain your location faster, even if you are in an urban area.
- Connect to WiFi and load your Google Maps app. Also turn on your GPS on your smartphone device.
- Enter your starting point and destination into the app, and load your directions.
- Click Start to begin the navigation, even though you are not in your car yet.
- Go to your car and start your journey! You will get out of range of the WiFi connection, but the GPS will kick in very quickly once you are outdoors. Enjoy your road trip!
* Note: Make sure you position your device properly and visible to the sky to get the best out of your GPS!
Hooray for Grab/Uber Drivers!
Yup, now that I’ve described how you can save money when driving overseas, you can also apply the same concept here in Singapore! If you require navigation over your smartphone most of the time, like a Grab or Uber driver, then perform the same steps above with the Google Maps app. Be sure to download the map of Singapore into your mobile phone. When you start getting directions now, you will be able to save your precious 4G mobile data! 🙂
Hope this has been useful for you! Do share these useful tips with your friends who are open to driving overseas. Save precious data and save money when driving overseas! 🙂
Check out our previous post on our JB staycation trip with Baby J, that didn’t involve much driving overseas! 😛
* Last note: Do check out HERE WeGo app by Nokia that works just as well! You may play around with the menu and explore how to download offline maps. You will even be able to load these maps into your external SD card. We usually use this app as backup! It proved extremely useful for us when we went to the UK 1.5 years ago for our babymoon road trip.
Need travel insurance? INCOME has a pretty great deal online!