As all my friends know, I have a throw-away phone. I’m not a texter, or Face-Timer or data-junkie. In the day-to-day life, this really isn’t a problem.
But when travelling? It’s tough.
Nowadays, it’s incredibly easy to use data on your phone to navigate new towns and foreign cities, to find nearby bus routes or metro lines. For my recent trip to Barcelona, it would have been ideal! But no. I have a throwaway phone.
So what now?
It’s totally possible to get around new places data-less, you just need to be a bit creative.
I always book a guided walking tour for the first day in any new city. I absolutely recommend it! Not only will you learn about your new location, you’ll also get your bearings without getting hopeless lost. Guides are also get resources for restaurant or attraction recommendations and point you in the right direction for the rest of your trip.
Many cities offer “free” walking tours and ask you to pay what you think it’s worth at the end. From my experience, these tours often end up being the best.
I didn’t have an itinerary for my recent trip. I had a list of activities I wanted to do, but no idea in what order to do them or when. This made planning transportation difficult. Instead, I printed off a handful of Google Maps directions (the type with maps and written directions). These would be directions from some of the attractions back to the hotel (which bus routes to use) or how to get between attractions with nearby metro stations.
Even if I didn’t use the actual directions, it was incredibly helpful to have those maps handy if we found ourselves in that area, or have multiple routes home from different areas readily available in my backpack.
I downloaded this free app to my Ipod Touch, which can get local wifi but no data options. Before my trip, I downloaded a map of the city using my wifi at home. This map then gets saved and can be looked at, zoomed in and out and plan routes while travelling without wifi.
So when I found myself stuck on some street, I could open the app without wifi, plug it a local street or shop, plug in where I wanted to go and it would load either a walking or driving route. So incredibly helpful!
The downside was it couldn’t tell me public transportation routes. But my printed off Google Maps showed me bus and metro routes to get around, so I could use Maps.Me to get there first. Teamwork!
My hotel (as many do) had free wifi. God bless. Before bed, I would create a basic plan for the following day: first we’ll do this museum, then walk to this park, then finish somewhere in this area before bussing home.
I would then pull up directions on Google Maps (the date imputed was correct but the times were just general) and take pictures with my Ipod of the directions. For example, take a picture of the route to walk to the bus stop. A picture of the bus number, stops and which one we needed to get off. A picture of the walking route to the attraction. And so forth! Whenever I was unsure, I could just pull up the pictures on my Ipod easy-peasy.
After a few days, I had a feel of which busses I needed to get home and where we could catch them from, along with the main metro lines and where they would bring me.
If you intend on using public transportation at all during your trip, it can be really helpful to have these maps. For Barcelona, I printed off the city’s metro map, which showed all stops and available lines. Same as the London Underground, it helps to get a full picture so you can plan connections if need be.
Travel guides like Lonely Planet also have tips and maps included, if you’d rather carry around a book. I’ve seen tons of people with them, but never bothered using it myself.
If all else fails, ask
I hate asking for directions. I hate asking people anything, really. But if you’re desperate and need help, there are always locals to ask. Staff at tourist attractions, such as art galleries or museums, tend to have the best information because they’re often asked by tourists just like you!
Navigating a foreign city on foot is totally possible without data. Good luck!