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Not-So-Hidden Secrets

When I share these Google Maps tricks with friends who are about to go traveling, they frequently respond by saying something like, “Whoa! I wish I’d known this sooner.”

Too frequently.

These tricks aren’t buried deep within Google Maps or anything. They’re only a tap or two away, but Google doesn’t make them obvious and I suppose most people don’t have the time or interest to fiddle around like I do to uncover them.

Whatever the case may be, here are my favorite not-so-secret Google Maps tricks I use when traveling. Hopefully one or two will be new to you and make your trip a little easier.

#1: Download and Use Google Maps Offline

Just Say “No” to Screenshots

Google Maps app screenshot of saving the map for offline use.
Downloading Google Maps to use them offline is VERY easy.

Instead of relying on the screenshots you take before leaving WiFi behind, download the map of the area you’re traveling to instead to use Google Maps offline.

Steps:

There are a few ways to download Google Maps for offline use now. I prefer this one:

  1. When you’re connected to the internet, open Google Maps and zoom in/out to the area you wish to save online.
  2. Type “ok maps” in the search bar and click Search.
  3. Confirm the area and download.
  4. When you no longer need the map, click the three horizontal lines on the top left -> Offline maps -> Select the map to delete -> Press delete.

Video Walkthrough

#2: Take Google My Maps on Your Travels

Save Others’ Google My Maps to Your Phone

“Google My Maps” are maps like this example:

Helpful bloggers like Kim and I make them to show our readers the exact locations of points of interest we recommend with custom locations and symbols.

We don’t want you to just look at them, though…

Take them with you!

Save these Google My Maps to your phone so that, even if you’re offline, you can still see and access all the info on your Google Maps.

How to Save a Google My Map

Screenshot of a Google My Map saved on my phone.
Here I’ve saved and opened our Vancouver Google My Map on my phone.

Any time you see a Google My Map you’d like to refer to later on your phone, click the rectangle icon on the top right corner. This will open the map up in Google Maps on your phone and automatically save it on your Google account.

Get Google My Maps Ready For Offline Use

Annoyingly, Google Maps doesn’t allow you to save Google My Maps information for offline use, but there is a workaround.

Just before you go offline, open the My Map you want to use so it stays in your phone’s cache and can therefore be accessed offline.

Here are the steps.

  1. On Google Maps on your phone, click the three horizontal lines on the top left.
  2. Tap “Your Places.”
  3. In “Your Places” tap “Maps” on the upper right of your screen.
  4. Locate the Google My Map you want to see and use offline and tap it to open it up on your screen.
    • The map will then be accessible for offline use
  5. Don’t exit Google Maps.
    • You can switch to other apps, but don’t close Google Maps entirely or else the cache will be wiped out and you will no longer be able to see your desired Google My Map offline.

Note: You can only have up to 5 Google My Maps visible on your Google Maps at a time.

Video Walkthrough

#3: Make Your Own Customized Google My Map

Not Recommended

Screenshot of the Google My Maps interface, where you can create your own custom maps.
Don’t try this at home.

I don’t recommend creating Google My Maps for travel planning unless it’s for a blog or to otherwise share with many others.

The reason why is you can’t edit them on your phone, which makes Google My Maps particularly unhelpful for travel.

Instead, I recommend everyone used Saved Places. It’s less customizable, but you can edit them on the fly on your phone. I’ll explain Saved Places in the next Google Maps travel tip.

…Unless You Really Want These Functionalities

Google My Maps has some functionalities that Saved Places doesn’t have that might make it useful for specific needs:

  • More customizable. Custom icons, lines, and directions.
  • Collaborative. You can work with with others on the same map.
  • Notes. Add personal details to each location you add to your Google My Map.

How to Make Your Own Google My Map

If you really want the functionalities or are just curious to see for yourself:

  1. On your desktop, log in to your Google account
  2. Open the Google My Maps page
  3. Click “+ Create a New Map”
  4. Type in the search box to begin adding locations.
  5. Play around with all the mostly self-explanatory functionalities or follow Google’s My Maps instructions

#4: Save Places on Google Maps

Our Favorite Google Maps Travel Technique

As you can see, I use Saved Places heavily.

For Kim and I, Google Maps’ Saved Places functionality is our go-to way of keeping track of potential things to do when traveling (and at home).

How to Use Saved Places When Travel Planning

Whenever want to save a location for future reference.

  1. Open Google Maps
  2. Locate the item you want to save.
  3. Tap the name of the location on the bottom of your screen
  4. Click the little bookmark icon that says “Save”
  5. Pick which list you want to add the item to, or create a new list.
  6. Add more and more items as you read about them and people recommend them to you.

How to Use Saved Places On the Road

  1. Open Google Maps on your phone
  2. Go to the area you’ll be traveleing to
  3. Look at the icons to see what nearby locations you’d previously saved and decide which, if any, to check out.

The Downsides of Saved Places

  • You can’t collaborate with others. You can share your list with fellow travelers, but those people you can’t contribute to the list. They can only see it.
  • No custom icons. You can’t distinguish between lists because every item on every list has the same default blue icon.
  • No notes. If a friend recommends a certain dish at a restaurant, you can only save the restaurant to your Google Maps list. You can’t note down the dish your friend recommended for future reference so you’ll have to keep track of that tip somewhere else.

Video Walkthrough

Tips and Tricks

  • Use the hearts, flags, stars, and blue dots strategically. Under “Your Places” -> “Saved” of your phone’s Google Maps menu, you’ll see a heart icon is used for Favorites, a flag for Want to Go, and a star for Starred Places. Instead of using those Google definitions, make your own. Maybe use hearts for restaurants instead of Favorites. That way you’ll be able to more easily distinguish between different types of locations you’ve saved on your Google Maps.
Google Maps screenshot of Saved Places showing you don't have to use the Google's predefined categories for each icon
Just because Google Maps says the heart symbol is for “Favorites” doesn’t mean you have to use it for that purpose.
  • Use labels for locations that aren’t on Google Maps. When we find a location we want to save but doesn’t exist on Google Maps—like, say, a hidden waterfall or a hole in the wall street food stand—we:
    • Drop a pin on that location (by tapping and holding our finger on Google Maps)
    • Tap “Dropped Pin” on the bottom of the screen
    • Select the “Label” option
    • Write a name (you’re limited to about 30 characters).

Video Walkthrough

#5: Find Spots to Stop Along the Way

Example of using the trick to add a pitstop on Google Maps
I’ve added a quick detour to a coffee shop onto my Google Maps directions.

If you’re using Google Maps for directions and need to stop for a bathroom, coffee, food, or whatever break along the way, here’s the best way to do so.

Add a Pit Stop

  1. When you’re in the step-by-step direction mode of Google Maps, click the magnifying glass search icon on the top right of your screen
  2. Choose from one of the options that appears there, Gas Stations, Restaurants, Grocery Stores, and Coffee shops, or tap Search and type in whatever category of location you’re looking for
  3. Google Maps will show you on the map all the potential places along the way and how many minutes of a detour each is.
  4. Tap whichever location you want to stop at along the way and the app will automatically add it to your route.

Remove a Pit Stop

  1. Tap the bottom part of the screen where it says the time and distance to your destination.
  2. Select “Remove stop.”
  3. Choose which stop to remove from your route.

Video Walkthrough

#6: When NOT to Use Google Maps

For Hiking Trails, Use Maps.Me

Screenshot where Google Maps doesn't show Brandywine Mountain hike.
Google Maps shows no trail to Brandywine Mountain…
Maps.Me screenshot showing the trail to Brandywine Mountain.
…Maps.Me does have the trail. Maps.Me 1, Google Maps 0.

If you want to go hiking, don’t count on Google Maps to have the trail you’re looking for.

Do count on Maps.Me to have it, though. It’s a free, easy-to-use, and lightweight alternative.

How to Use Maps.Me

  1. Before you go offline, locate the hiking trail you want to follow on Maps.Me.
  2. Download the map of the area Maps.Me will ask you to download. These are generally less than 30 Mb.
  3. You’re set! The map’s ready to be used offline.

#7: Locate Your Travel Companion(s)

Screenshot of Google Maps' location sharing functionality, which is useful when traveling with others.
Kim ALWAYS knows where I am. That’s a good thing… mostly.

Whether you temporarily split up with your travel companion to do different things or you’re looking to meet up with someone, Google Maps’ location sharing function makes it easy to find each other.

It allows you to share your location, and see the location of others who’ve shared with you, for a predetermined amount of time, from 1 hour to 3 days.

Other apps like WhatsApp and Find My Friends have the same functionality, but I find it more convenient when it’s right on Google Maps.

How to Share Your Location

  • On Google Maps, tap the menu icon on the top left (the three horizontal lines beside the search box).
  • Select “Location sharing.”
  • Tap “Get Started.”
  • Choose how long you want to share your location for, from 1 hour to 3 days.
  • Share your location. Google Maps creates a link that you can share with specific people or even share publicly.

How to Stop Sharing Your Location

You can stop sharing your location any time.

Simply go to your “Location sharing” settings and tap the “x” beside the people or link you want to stop sharing with.

Video Walkthrough

#8: Zoom in and Out With One Finger

Ditch the Pinch!

We were taught as children not to pinch and it’s a lesson we should continue to abide by when it comes to zooming in and out when using Google Maps.

Instead of pinching:

  1. Double tap the Google Maps screen with your finger of choice
  2. On the second tap, hold your finger on the screen
  3. Keeping your finger on the screen, swipe up to zoom out and swipe down to zoom in.

Give it a try and you’ll immediately realize it’s a much easier, smoother, and faster way to zoom in and out.

Ditch the pinch and start swiping!

Video Walkthrough

Happy Travels Using These Google Maps Travel Tricks!

Please leave a comment if you have any question about these Google Maps traveling tricks or if you have favorite some tricks of your own.


More Travel Tips

Stay fit while traveling cover photo of Kim showing how it's done
Read these tips to stay fit while traveling and have more fun.

Disclosure: Whenever possible, we use special links that earn us a cut if you pay for stuff we'd recommend anyway. It costs you nothing, so we’d be crazy not to.

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23 comments

  1. Hey there! We tried to do save a map offline then turn off the wifi and data. Unfortunately, the map disappears from the google maps app once we do that. Any suggestions?

    1. Hey Aarthi, thanks for reaching out with your question. If it’s Google offline maps you’re referring to, click the three horizontal lines on the top left corner of Google Maps to open the menu, then select Offline Maps. If you don’t see the map you saved there, a mistake was made saving the map for offline use. Try saving it again.
      If it’s a Google My Map whose locations keep disappearing, here are a couple points that might help: 1) You can only have one “Google My Map” displayed on your Google Maps at at time, so if you look at one then the other, the locations from first one are removed. 2) If you close the app or restart your phone, the map will disappear when you reopen it, so keep Google Maps open as long as you need the offline Google My Map. You can go to other apps. Just don’t shut down Google Maps. 2) The safest bet is to double check the map and the locations are there just before you leave a wifi zone. That way they certain not to disappear until you close the app or restart your phone.
      Hopefully one of these things helps!

  2. Hi Chris! Thanks for the quick reply! It looks like the map will stay on the screen offline as long as I don’t close the app. However, I can’t zoom in or else the pins disappear. I also can’t click on any of the save locations for any information. Do you notice those same limitations? I tried on an iphone and ipad. I wonder if that’s as good as it gets with google my maps offline.

    Next best option I can find is downloading the map data as kml and uploading that to the maps.me app. Unfortunately, any color coding saved in google my maps is gone but all of the data is available offline. If you notice the same problem with google my maps as me, this might be worth checking out!

    1. Hey Aarthi. With Google My Maps even if you’re online if you click any of the pins it won’t show any other information other than whatever the creator of the map input. You don’t see the Google Maps info. I’ve never come across the zooming issue, though.

      Thanks for recommending maps.me. The problem with maps.me is making maps with it only helps those who have the app. Which is better: an imperfect Google Maps map that just about everyone can use easily, or an much better maps.me map that only a fraction of the same people would actually use?

    1. Glad to have helped, Les. Hopefully now that you know how to use Google Maps offline you won’t be getting lost searching around cities for ages like you were searching the web for these tips!

    1. Google Maps. Maps.me is definitely a worthy alternative. I keep both on my phone. Google Maps has better info on businesses and is better for saving locations; Maps.me has better hiking trail info.

  3. Hi there, Are you aware of an issue with Google My Maps no longer working on iPhones? I have multiple My maps that have worked in the past but now when I try to open any of the maps, it takes me to the city but doesn’t show any of the placemarkers.

    1. Hey Hannah. Yeah, as of this week I’ve been having the same problem with my iPhone 6S. Kim, who has an 8, can still see the maps though. It seems to be a problem with older, 7 and below, models. I updated the post accordingly. Google says they’re working on it, but I wouldn’t hold my hopes up for a speedy solution.

      1. Hi Chris, Thanks for the update. I actually have an iPhone XS Max, and I deleted and re-downloaded Google Maps so I definitely have the most recent version. Seems like its not just older models sadly! Any suggestions for a workaround? Hopefully they won’t take too long to fix it!

  4. If I save a custom google map then reopen it years later will google update the map for any street additions/deletions/changes or will the map remain exactly how it was when I first made and stored it?

    1. That’s a really good question, Virginny! I don’t know the answer. I’m almost positive that the base map with the streets will change but I doubt that if, for example, a restaurant you saved on your My Map changes location, that Google will move it for you.

  5. It looks like I might have a similar problem as the folks with the iphones. I’ve used google maps offline for over a year that I’ve been living in my car. I love the saved places that show up on the map. Suddenly, I can only get lists of places. So I can’t get an idea of where things ARE. I’ve got an asus Zenphone 3. Yesterday I updated to the latest version of maps. No difference.
    (The same thing happens if I try “library near me”. It gives a list instead of showing me nearby libraries. I’m panicking. I can’t find things unless I know where they are! Which I obviously don’t.)

    1. Hey Irene. I’m sorry to hear you’re now having similar problems as us iPhoners were having back in Feb (which were subsequently fixed by Google). Have you checked the Google Maps help forum to see if anyone else is having similar issues? Here’s the link.
      p.s. Your comment, “I can’t find things unless I know where they are! Which I obviously don’t.” made me chuckle. Thanks for that.

  6. Thanks for the response! I was having trouble finding (irony) the forum; thanks for the link. You ifolks are addressed, but I’m still searching for us androids. Back to the search, thanks again.^

  7. Hi Chris, thanks a lot for your helpful website here!
    One question i didn’t find yet on the net:
    When riding with multiple stops, how can i tell or configure google map to continue his road automatically when reaching the “stop”? without asking to click manually on “continue” each time? You would understand i am a biker … thanks for your precious help!

    1. Hey Ben. Here’s an option: 1. On Google Maps on your computer, get the directions to wherever your ultimate destination is. 2. On the route that Google gives you, drag the little white dots to the waypoints you want to go by. 3. Once you have the route you want, click “Send directions to your phone.” It may be a bit more time-consuming to drag to the waypoints yourself, but that should do the trick.

  8. Hi, Chris,

    Thanks for all the great tips. I’m wondering if it’s possible to create a custom route and save it so that I can continue following it later on.

    Specifically, I’d like to follow the Blue Ridge Parkway which winds through the US Appalachians for hundreds of miles. It travels along many different roads, so I can’t just ask Maps to compute a route because my preferred route would not be anywhere near optimal.

    Therefore, I think I’d need to create a custom route by starting with one that Maps suggests and then adjusting it by dragging at various points to cover my Saved Places. This would be time-consuming, so I’d like to do it just once, save it, and then bring it back each day to continue from my most recent nightly stopping point.

    Maybe I could do this with Google My Maps but that would have the disadvantages that you point out in your article. I’d greatly appreciate any advice on doing this with the methods that you suggest.

    Dave Brill

    1. Hi Dave – Good question. I think you can do it! Ben asked a similar question in an earlier comment above. Make the route on Google Maps, not Google My Maps, by adding all the waypoints you’d like along and dragging the white dots along the exact path you want. Google limits you to 10 waypoints (but unlimited white dots). If you have more than 10, there are a few workarounds like the one here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlmUJ8-KQ5o. Once you have your desired route, save the URL for future use.

      Hope that helps. I’m going to add this one to this guide when I get the chance.

      All the best

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