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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.”
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
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.
There are a few ways to download Google Maps for offline use now. I prefer this one:
- When you’re connected to the internet, open Google Maps and zoom in/out to the area you wish to save online.
- Type “ok maps” in the search bar and click Search.
- Confirm the area and download.
- 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.
✓ #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
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.
- On Google Maps on your phone, click the three horizontal lines on the top left.
- Tap “Your Places.”
- In “Your Places” tap “Maps” on the upper right of your screen.
- 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
- 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.
✓ #3: Make Your Own Customized Google My Map
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:
- On your desktop, log in to your Google account
- Open the Google My Maps page
- Click “+ Create a New Map”
- Type in the search box to begin adding locations.
- 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
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.
- Open Google Maps
- Locate the item you want to save.
- Tap the name of the location on the bottom of your screen
- Click the little bookmark icon that says “Save”
- Pick which list you want to add the item to, or create a new list.
- Add more and more items as you read about them and people recommend them to you.
How to Use Saved Places On the Road
- Open Google Maps on your phone
- Go to the area you’ll be traveleing to
- 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.
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.
- 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).
✓ #5: Find Spots to Stop Along the Way
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
- 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
- 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
- Google Maps will show you on the map all the potential places along the way and how many minutes of a detour each is.
- 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
- Tap the bottom part of the screen where it says the time and distance to your destination.
- Select “Remove stop.”
- Choose which stop to remove from your route.
✓ #6: When NOT to Use Google Maps
For Hiking Trails, Use Maps.Me
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
- Before you go offline, locate the hiking trail you want to follow on Maps.Me.
- Download the map of the area Maps.Me will ask you to download. These are generally less than 30 Mb.
- You’re set! The map’s ready to be used offline.
✓ #7: Locate Your Travel Companion(s)
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.
✓ #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:
- Double tap the Google Maps screen with your finger of choice
- On the second tap, hold your finger on the screen
- 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!
✓ #9: Make a Custom Route with Google Maps
Here’s how to make a custom route on Google Maps, save it for future use, and share it with others.
It’s not as easy as it should be, unfortunately.
For whatever reason, you can make a custom route on Google Maps, but you can’t send that route with directions to your phone.
This leaves us with two options:
Option 1: Step-by-Step Directions With Less Control
With this option is you cannot drag the route to be exactly what you like. You have to play with stops along the way to get Google’s directions to match your desired route.
- Open Google Maps on your phone or computer
- Enter two locations along your desired route.
- Add stops on your phone by clicking the three dots to the top right of your screen and tapping “Add Stop” in the options menu that opens up. Add stops on your computer by clicking “Add Destination” on the top left of your screen, just below the two locations you already input.
- Arrange your stops in their desired order.
- Fine tune your route by adding more intermediary stops. This is only necessary if the route Google Maps gives you isn’t exactly what you’d like.
- Note: Google limit you to eight such intermediary stops.
- Note 2: You can drag the route to customize it, but Google Maps does not send those changes to your phone.
- Share or save the route on mobile by tapping the three dots in the top right and selecting “Share Directions” in the option menu. To share or save the route on your computer, either click “Send directions to your phone” or click “Details” to get the detailed step-by-step directions and clicking the share icon that appears to the left of the print icon.
Option 2: Exact Route Without Step-by-Step Directions
Using this approach, you can make the route exactly as you wish, but you won’t get Google’s step-by-step directions when you follow it
- Open Google My Maps on your computer and make a new map, naming it however you wish.
- Click the “Add directions” icon underneath the search bar. This will open up a new Untitled Layer.
- Type in the locations—your starting point, destination, and points in between—in this new layer.
- Fine-tune your route any time by clicking and dragging the blue route line.
- Open this route on your phone by following the steps in Google Maps Trick #2 above. The line you made will show up, but Google Maps will not provide you the step-by-step directions.
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.