I’m talking about the Compass app(opens in a new tab).
I know some people delete it immediately, and most just seem to ignore it (or save it for some hypothetical dire situation). I was one of those people who didn’t really think often about cardinal directions until I started traveling abroad and found myself with limited data on my monthly plan. It was time to get creative.
The handy trick of using Google Maps’ GPS tracker with your phone data turned off is a life-saver, but that little blue dot showing where you are and what direction you’re moving is fairly tiny. My Compass app hack points you in the right direction in a big, bold font and also works without data or internet.
I realized I could map out my upcoming route when I had WiFi on a mapping app (Google Maps, always) and then, once out of the subway station or cab or front door, use my internet-disconnected phone to tell me if I was walking in the direction of my destination.
As a friend pointed out, the app doesn’t tell you exactly where you are, but it helps orient you. No matter how remote the location, it will tell you your bearings, coordinates, and elevation. While in the Chilean desert I was fascinated to learn that, at one point, I was at 13,000 feet. So that’s why it was so hard to breathe! As someone who usually lives at sea level, it was cool to get a sense of elevation gain. I checked the compass frequently during a long drive.
For a journey to a famous sandwich shop in central Santiago, I knew I’d have to head east-ish once above ground from the metro. Coming up from underground is the most disorienting experience — I always pretend to know that I’ve picked the right way, but I’m just confidently guessing. Instead, I subtly pulled out the Compass app and, boom, I actually knew to turn right and not left. I was eating lunch in no time, not doubling back after walking a few blocks in the wrong direction.
Where are you headed?
Credit: Sasha Lekach / screengrab
Going the right way.
Credit: Sasha Lekach / Mashable
Even if you haven’t pre-mapped your route, the compass app can still be helpful. If someone gives you vague directions (“It’s towards San Cristobal hill” or any big landmark that you know is at the top of the city or a few neighborhoods below you) or if you just have a general idea that your destination is in a certain part of town, this app can make sure you’re on the right path.
It’s no Google Maps (even in offline mode), but it’s quick, easy, and I know where I’m going, without using any data.
UPDATE: Jun. 5, 2023, 12:00 p.m. AEST This article was originally published in Mar. 2020, and has since been updated in Jun. 2023.