In Praise of Google Maps: Getting Around Foreign Cities Has Never Been Easier!

google-maps-bI have travelled outside Canada and the US more in the past year than ever before, and Google Maps on my phone has made getting around on public transportation less stressful, less expensive and much quicker. The feature of Google Maps that makes this possible is the integration of the majority of public transit schedules of major cities around the world.

When I was in Brasilia last June for the World Cup, using Google Maps made it simple to travel from my friends apartment we were staying to the soccer stadium by simply entering the name of the place we wanted to travel to (“National Stadium”), and then selecting “Your Location” as the starting point. By default Google maps give you directions for driving a car, but to see public transit options just select the bus icon at the top of the app, and directions to the bus stop along with bus number to catch magically appear. You can even watch yourself move around on the map to make sure you’re walking in the right direction as you head off to the bus stop or subway station… Not that I’ve ever done that before 😉

On a recent trip to Europe, Google Maps worked wonderfully helping us get around by both bus and subway in Dublin, Barcelona, London and Cardiff. It saved us more than enough money on Taxi fares to the airport and back to pay for the a local cell phone carrier’s sim card and pay-as-you-go plan many times over. The savings on traveling around town was gravy.
google-maps2That brings up the need for access to the internet on your cell phone. The roaming charges Canadian cell phone carriers charge for accessing the internet while aborad are criminally high. What I typically do when I travel is buy a sim card for my unlocked cell phone from a local carrier and buy a small pay-as-you-go data plan. This allows me to use Google Maps along with other useful internet connected apps on my phone including Google Translate, Yelp and Trip Advisor.

If you’re interested in trying this on your next trip, here’s how to get started:

  1. Find out if you have an unlocked cell phone. If you don’t know, contact your carrier. They should be able to tell you if your phone is unlocked or not. If your phone is not unlocked, your carrier can unlock it for you, sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee depending on where you live.
  2. Next, do some research to find a cell phone carrier in the country you’re visiting that has good value pay-as-you-go data plans. Here is a good resource that I found before my last trip: . To give you a sense of the costs involved, on my last trip to Europe, in Spain it cost 10 Euros for 1gb of data (Orange), and in the UK, 10 Pounds for 1gb of data (
  3. Before you leave home, use Google Maps to figure out how to get to from the airport to your hotel, and print the instructions to take with you, because you probably will need to find the office of the cell phone carrier you selected after you’ve dropped your luggage off at your hotel.
  4. Once you’ve arrived at the hotel, you can use the hotel wifi to map out the route to the cell phone company office on your phone so you can buy a pay-as-you-go sim card. After the new sim card is installed, it can take anywhere between 5-30 minutes for your account to activate.

After that, enjoy exploring!

One comment

  1. Thanks for this, Rich. It’s the best “algorithm” I’ve come across for dealing with an annoying problem — the insanely high price of data roaming for Canadians.

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