If there is one app that I would always have on my phone for a trip, that would be the Pocket Earth map app. I have raved about it since I got it last 2013 for my solo Eurotrip and I have always recommended it to friends, family, and blog readers. Because I love it so much, I took it to my trip to Japan and South Korea last September 2014, testing if can hold up to the challenge of giving me directions in two countries with different writing systems.
The first step I do when preparing my Pocket Earth app for any trip is to download the maps I need. Pocket Earth does not come with all the city maps. You have to download them before you can use them. This is actually good because it saves you precious storage in your phone because you only have to download what you need.
You can see from the photo on the left that I downloaded the maps for Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and Seoul. Paris is still there because I haven’t deleted it yet. After you are done with using a map, you can simply delete it from the app, like what I did for the maps I downloaded for Rome and London. This frees up space in your phone again.
The downloading part is very easy and all you have to do is search for the cities you need maps for and then save the map to your phone. You have the option to download via WiFi only so that you do not incur additional charges on your data plan as some maps are big in file size.
The main challenge during my Asia trip was navigating through cities and relying on signages that were in the local writing system. South Korea had Hangul and Japan had Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. I was sure there would be English signages. But I still had to prepare myself for the challenge of trying to find my way amidst the jumble of unfamiliar street signs. That is where Pocket Earth helped me.
With Pocket Earth, you have the option of displaying the map labels in OSM Default (the default names normally appearing on OpenStreetMap maps and is usually in the native language and script of each place), International (internationally recognized names of places), and Local (the names that locals like to call places in their area). Of course, there is also an option for English and other languages such as French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Czech, and Russian. A good example of being able to change the labels is in the comparison of the two photos below.
The photo on the left shows Harajuku station with the label in English. On the right is the same photo of Harajuku station, except the map label is now in Japanese. Where does this come in handy? Why would one even want to change the map labels to Japanese? It is inevitable that you would ask people for directions. Even if you have a map like Pocket Earth with you, sometimes, you would still ask people if you are going in the right direction just to be sure. When traveling around Japan and South Korea (and maybe even in other Asian countries with their own writing system), it is best to show people the address or the name of the place you want to go to in their writing system. When I was in Japan, people found it more challenging to point me in the right direction when I showed them the address in English. When I showed them the address in their own writing system, it was easier for them to give me directions as they were more used to reading their own writing system characters. If I didn’t have Pocket Earth, it would have been harder for me to ask directions. I know a few phrases in Japanese and Korean but my trip became so much easier with just showing the address on the Pocket Earth app to the locals. That is a tip, for you all! Make sure that when you ask directions, show them the address in their own writing system. Let it be a way of helping them help you better.
For some places on the map, the map label is shown in both English and the local writing system, like in the photo on the left showing the name of the Meiji Shrine in both Japanese characters and English. Having that feature saves you from having to switch to another language in the app if you ever need to show it to a local to ask for directions. Not only that, Pocket Earth also shows the address and coordinates of the Meiji Shrine. Even the website address of the shrine is included so you can visit it for more information.
Another feature of Pocket Earth that I loved is that it showed the bus numbers serviced by the bus stops. Take for example this map of Kyoto showing one of the bus stops in the terminal near Kyoto Tower. This particular bus stop in the map services bus number 100, which is the bus that will take you to Kiyomizudera Temple. You can also see that there is a pink route from the bus station and it shows which places in the maps it will pass by. On the second picture, the one on the right, you can see that it passes by the nearest bus stop to Kiyomizudera, which is indicated on the map with the snowflake-looking symbol on the right. You can follow the route throughout the rest of the map to see where else it passes by. But take note that tapping on another map object will make the highlighted bus route disappear. I find this more useful when trying to plot places on the map using the bus stops as basis and when following where the bus is going and how near I am to the place I want to go to. This feature also helps me find alternate buses to take. I can check their routes and see if they also pass by my destination. This will save me time waiting for a specific bus number to pass by the bus stop where I am in.
When you tap on the name of the train station displayed on the map, like the Harajuku station sample above, it will show you the different subway lines passing through the station. Directly above are two photos showing details of the Anguk Station in Seoul (left photo) and Kuramae Station in Tokyo (right photo).
For Anguk Station, it shows that Line 3 passes through this station. One side of the tracks is for the train going to Ogeum Station while the other side is for the train to Daehwa Station. On the other hand, Kuramae Station is shown as part of the Oedo Line, which runs from Tochomae Station to Hikarigaoka Station. You can actually dig deeper and get more detail about the subway lines serviced by a particular station by tapping on the subway line. Let’s the take Oedo Line as an example.
Pocket Earth shows you the stops in a particular line, in this case, the Oedo Line. This is handy for when you want to track your train trip. You can count how many stops there are to go until you reach your destination and this will help you get out the train at the right station. If you tap on any of the listed stations, Pocket Earth will display the data of that particular station. I tried tapping on Daimon Station, still part of the Oedo Line. This is what Pocket Earth showed me for Daimon.
You can see from the photo above that there are other lines that also pass through Daimon Station aside from the Oedo Line. The Keisei Sky Access Express and the Toei Asakusa Line also have trains passing through Daimon Station. This will help you should you need to plan train transfers from one line to another.
I would like to note that not all of the subway lines in Pocket Earth have the stops listed. I checked the subway lines in the Osaka and Kyoto maps and they did not have the stops listed. I am sure the people behind Pocket Earth will continue working on this and this could be part of the next updates. Until then, you might want to use a train trip planner app to support Pocket Earth.
Another Pocket Earth feature that helped me a lot was the route planner. I highly suggest that you use this and plan your routes ahead while making your itinerary. This will save you a lot of time scrolling and scrolling through the map in search for your next destination.
On the map, tap on “Route”. It’s underneath the search bar and beside the “Track” button. It will take you to the screen shown in the photo. From there, you can choose whether the route is for driving, cycling, or walking. I mainly used the route planner for my walking routes. You can then choose your starting and ending points from your list of favorites or by searching places on the map using the app’s search feature.
One of the routes I had plotted on Pocket Earth was from Changdeokgung Palace to Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul. If I would walk the whole way, it would take me around 35 minutes to get there. But as you can see from the second photo (on the right), the route passes through Anguk Station. I can take the train from there and get off at Gyeongbokgung Station, walking the rest of the way until I reach the palace entrance. Another tip for you guys is that do not rely entirely on the map. Take a good look at your surroundings and adjust your route accordingly.
All the routes you have planned are saved in Pocket Earth’s route history, which you can access by tapping “My Routes” from the menu. You can see two of my planned routes here.
Pocket Earth is, and will always be, a part of my travels. It has been three years since I first used it and it has only gotten better and better. It has proven itself reliable locally and abroad. It worked superbly in Tokyo, just as awesome as it did in Paris. I have even recommended it to all the people I know. And I am recommending it to you, my lovely readers. This will be the first and last map you will ever need for your travels. It is simply worth it.
Got any Pocket Earth experiences? Share them in the comments below. You can also share your suggestions for the app’s improvement in your comment. Let’s all help make Pocket Earth better!