I’ve often emphasized the value I place on local transport over the convenience of tour buses and cab rides. However, this preference occasionally lands me in a pickle, especially when navigating public transport beyond the big cities to the lesser-known areas. My first encounter with this challenge unfolded in Normandy, France—a region equipped with a comprehensive network of buses and metro. Surprisingly, Google Maps navigation detected none of it and insisted that I either drive or walk. With no international driving license in hand and the reluctance to spend a whole hour walking in the cold winter (though it was possible, considering the abundance of time on hand), I found myself in a bit of a dilemma.
Don’t get me wrong; I still rely on Google Maps daily. The platform is improving day by day, and it’s undeniably handy for looking up destination details and reviews. However, when all else fails, I often find myself exploring alternative apps that could guide me to places just as conveniently.
01 – CityMapper
I first stumbled upon the Citymapper app while planning my initial trip to London. Given its London-centric roots, it naturally excels as a navigation app, encompassing the entire transport network of the city, including Santander bicycle locations and routes, along with their car-sharing service. Over time, Citymapper has expanded its coverage to numerous cities in Europe, North America, and Asia. I’ve personally used it in Los Angeles, Singapore, Paris, and Toulouse, and was thrilled to discover that Taiwan was added to the list in the past year.
What sets Citymapper apart for me is its ability to calculate fares for various routes, allowing users to choose more cost-effective alternatives. For bike routes, the app suggests both scenic and speedy options. Even when the internet is unavailable in the subway, Citymapper remarkably predicts my arrival time and notifies me of the upcoming stop accordingly. While it still has a way to go in terms of covering all cities, it has become my go-to app whenever available.
02 – Moovit
I didn’t download Moovit until I found myself lost in the midst of Andorra, uncertain about my ability to navigate the local bus routes using a paper map. It was more of a test-for-luck situation, but it turned out to be a stroke of fortune. Moovit is a public transit app that boasts nearly worldwide coverage, thanks to crowdsourced data.
While the app requires internet to generate the route, it’s not a problem if you plan your trip ahead. Keep the app open after you’ve started your journey and watch the map ticking off each stop as you move. Although some data could use an update, I find this app incredibly useful, especially in situations where public transit information is not available on Google Maps or Citymapper.
03 – Maps.me
I recently downloaded the Maps.me app in 2022 based on a recommendation from a blog about navigating Indonesia. I was struggling to recall the name of the village I needed to reach and found it challenging to locate it on Google Maps. Enter Maps.me, and I didn’t have to zoom in much before every village in the area became visible. I was instantly sold.
What sets this app apart is its traveler-centric design. Unlike Google Maps, which displays every nook and cranny, Maps.me only showcases hotels, restaurants, and places of interest. This approach simplifies the itinerary and reduces clutter in navigation. While there’s room for improvement in terms of details and navigation, I genuinely enjoy the user interface.
04 – Locally-developed maps
Many countries have developed their own maps with comprehensive navigation for public transport, often surpassing generic maps. Based on my personal experiences, I highly recommend the following:
- Singapore: GoThere.sg
Despite its basic appearance and browser-only functionality, GoThere.sg offers remarkably comprehensive navigation. It often suggests more efficient choices for public transport. However, it lacks real-time updates for transport arrivals.
- South Korea: Naver Map
While initially overwhelming with most place names in Korean, Naver Map can be navigated in English. Locals’ reviews help identify excellent places, making it a valuable resource.
When all else fails, there’s the tried-and-true paper map, often found in tourists’ brochures. This trusty companion served me well during my days living in Taiwan, significantly enhancing my map-reading skills to the point where I was no longer a direction idiot. Coupled with the nostalgia of unfolding a tangible map, these paper guides proved invaluable, reminding me that sometimes the best navigation tool is the one you can hold in your hands.