Those who know me well will tell you that there is nothing I enjoy more than planning a trip. I take my time… I read the Lonely Planet’s guides (yes, I am a fan of them) and surf around blogs and information until that moment when, with a list of all the places I want to see on one hand, I set the map on the table and start highlighting all those locations I don’t want to miss.
After a while, you learn that a previous planning helps a lot when it comes to using your time wisely. And hey! I am a true believer of letting go, relax and let the city I’m visiting show me the way. Because, lets face it, by getting lost you may find amazing hidden places, non tourist gems and the city’s true essence. But at the same time, I must admit I don’t like to miss anything, so having the map and keeping it nearby, gives my soul a perfect balance.
I am not going to deny that, even though I love technology, when it comes to travel planning I am a bit of an old fashioned. And I’m a paper lover. I don’t get use to kindle (sorry Amazon!) so you might understand I never ever thought I would recommend planning a trip on an app like Google Maps! But here I am. Because since I started using it last year, I can’t believe how easy and practical it is. And the serial planner in me loves color coding, categorizing and all the functions available!
Why using Google Maps to plan your trips.
The first, and probably the most obvious reason, is that on today’s world, Google knows everything. You can search for places by their names, location or using the “near me” function that is super helpful! For instance, lets say we are at a new city, where we rented an airbnb apartment, we wake up and we are desperate for breakfast! If we wouldn’t want to go out and start walking around, not sure exactly in which direction we should be going, we only need to type “coffee shop near me” on Google and automatically the search engine will come up with a list of places, including their ratings, opening hours and listed by proximity. Isn’t that wonderful? It’s a feature I love, specially when I rent cars and need to refill the gas tank before returning them.
When planning for my trips, the Google’s feature I use the most is “create new map”. This way, I can search for all the places and attractions I want to visit and save them on custom lists, set itineraries, assign different colors and add notes with possible data I want to keep in hand when traveling. There are a lot of possibilities and I will show you how to do this later on.
By now, probably you are thinking: “Ana, all this sounds great, but what do I do if I am traveling abroad and I wont have data service?” Mr. Google, as always, thought on that too. His solution? We can now download the maps on our phones and tablets and use them without data at anytime. You only need to be careful of correctly selecting the area you need, and the maps will be on your phones for 30 days, unless you update them.
Last, but not least, if we are traveling as part of a group, we can now share our itineraries and maps from our Google accounts with the link provided by them. I am sure someone will be grateful.
How to create new maps and itineraries on Google Maps.
Everything starts with a Google account. If you don’t have one, you can create one. It will only take you a few seconds, but this way you will be able to save your map and download it on your devices.
With that set, go to mymaps.google.com and log in. On the first screen you will see a button that reads “create new map”. Sorry my photos are in Spanish, unfortunately my account is set on my native language but the steps are exactly the same.
As you can see, I have some custom maps already. (I will share them with you as soon as those guides are ready to be posted).
Give your map a new name, so you can find it easier. To do so, click on “untitled map”. You can also add a description or note. This could be useful, specially when sharing your map with others.
If by any chance you are a Photoshop or Illustrator’s user, you have heard the term “layers” before. Google uses the same concept for their custom maps. Basically, it is a feature that lets you work on different layers over an unique map. Like using them as categories, that you can later check or uncheck in order to hide them and simplify what you are seeing. For example: we could categorize the location tags we add by attractions, restaurants and cafes, shopping and so. During our trip, it may not be helpful to see and search for something on a map with thousands of location tags, so we may uncheck some categories (layers) we do not need on that moment and make it easier for us to navigate our itinerary.
Another example of categories we could use for organization purposes could be the itinerary set by day.
Once this is all set up, comes the fun part… to start adding the location tags! Just search for a place on Google maps’ search bar and add it to your map.
Click and drag the tags, from the list on the menu, to organize them around your layers.
As I said before, the planner addict in me enjoys the variety of possibilities regarding style and edits for each location tag. From adding notes and descriptions that we may want to keep in handy during the trip, to color coding! And that’s my favorite!
Once the map is complete, we will only have 2 more steps to go. For instance, if we were traveling with a group, we could share the map with the rest of our party by clicking on “share”.
And then, before we go on our journey, the last step will be to download our map into our phone or tablet to have it at our disposal at any time.
You will first need to download the Google Maps app on your device. You will have to sign up with your Google account and head to “my places”. At “my maps” you will find your lovely custom map. Select it!
Once you have your custom map, you will have to go to the app menu and click on “offline maps”.
From there, go to “custom area” and a map with a frame will open. All what’s inside that frame is what will be downloaded, so carefully select your map and fit it inside that frame.
Click on download and that’s it! Now you have your map ready to go on your adventures!
Do you use Google Maps? If you try this out, let me know what you thought of it!