How to Use Custom Google Maps to Improve Your Next Trip

custom-google-map

One of my favorite travel planning resources is actually a really simple resource — Google Maps! Before taking off for any trip, I make use of Google’s custom “My Map” feature by creating a customized map of the activities, restaurants and neighborhoods to explore.

After traveling with a few friends using a customized map I made on Google, I realized that lots of people don’t know how to use this. My friends were so surprised to see my maps after I shared it with them, which is what inspired me to

Throughout this blog post, you’ll see a few of the custom Google maps I have made in the past to give you an idea of what they look like when they’re done!

Creating a Custom Google Map

If you’ve never made a customized map before, no problem! I’ll walk you through the basic steps or you can check out Google’s tutorial here.

  1. Open up Google Maps. In the top left corner, open up the hamburger (3 line) menu. Click on “Your places”. It should load any saved placed you already have on your google account (like your home or work address”
  2. You should see a “Maps” option. Click that, then scroll to the bottom and click “Create Map”. It should open a new window, where you’ll see a standard map in the center and a menu on the left.
  3. Start by titling your map & layers. I usually create different layers for restaurants, activities, and travel directions.
  4. In the search by on the map, search for whatever you want to add to your map! Just like any normal google map search, it should populate with various options that you can select.
  5. Once you’ve searched for it, click on the dropped pin which should pop up the details about the business or restaurant or whatever you’re searching for. You should see the option to “Add to Map” which will add the item to whatever layer you currently have open.
  6. Once it’s on your layer, you can change the icon or color that you see on the map. I usually use the picture icons for whatever it is (coffee cup for coffee shop, fork & knife for a restaurant, etc) so that it’s easy to notice what’s around you when you’re using the map.
  7. You can also save routes on the map for getting from one place to another, which I particularly like if I’m traveling somewhere where I won’t have access to data or real-time directions.

Research Spots to Visit Ahead of Time

Now that you’ve got the basic mechanics of how to make a Google map, start researching what you want to do & visit on your trip. Now I know that not everyone is as much of a planner as I am, but spending even an hour or two researching your destination prior to arriving will make your trip much more fruitful. Why waste time looking up places to eat while you’re there when you can do it ahead of time? Why read reviews about a museum while in country when you can do it ahead of time. You are likely to read about things to do at some point during your travels, and by doing it ahead of time, you can more thoroughly enjoy the limited time you have traveling.

A few things that I tend to research ahead of time are:

  • Foodie restaurants (and here’s how to find the best ones!) 
  • Local food favorites
  • Free walking tours
  • Museums or historical sites I might want to see
  • Live music or art festivals that are happening during my visit

I don’t necessarily plan out every activity of my trips ahead of time (although sometimes I do!), but I definitely research what sort of things are available at my destination. I will reserve things that I need to ahead of time, such as exclusive restaurants, sporting events or concerts, and then decide on the rest once I am there. By having pins saved on my map, I can arrive in a neighborhood of a new city and know what is around me that I might be interested in exploring.

Pin Your Favorite Finds to Map

Because researching tends to take a few hours and often utilizes multiple websites, such as TripAdvisor, Eater or Thrillist, I like to save all the information I discover on my Google map. I will pin the things I am particularly interested in because it’s easier to pull up once I’m there. Since Google Maps is already an app that I use regularly, having all my research saved in one convenient place makes simple to explore! Like I mentioned above, I like to utilize multiple layers & icons on my map to indicate different activities.

Write Notes About Places to Remember

One last feature I would like to point out is the notes option. Once you pin something to your map, you can add personalized notes about it by clicking on the little pencil icon you see in the info box. This allows you to take notes on restaurants, for example, to remind you what the food is or what their best dish is. Check out the Portland map below to see the kinds of notes I usually take on the locations.

I love taking notes on my maps especially if I am sharing them with fellow travelers. That way, they get an idea of what the place might have even if I was the one that researched it not them. It is also helpful once you are there, because sometimes you need to make a decision quickly, and don’t necessarily remember what distinguishes all the places you researched. Or you might be in the mood for something specific (like Mexican food or sushi), and your notes can include little details like that.

Share Map with Fellow Travelers

If you’re traveling with friends, share your custom Google Map with them so that you can share the research responsibilities. Maps are easy to share (there is an icon specifically for it on the top left) and if you give your friend(s) editing authority, they can pin their own things to the various layers on the map you’ve already created. This is a great way to limit the time that you invest in planning if you’re not much of a planner. You can assign various people various things to research, and then share your findings on the map! Map sharing is also helpful for making sure you meet everyone’s expectations because their pins will give you a sense of their travel style and the things that are important to them on the trip.

Download Offline Map

A few days before your trip, download your custom map to be an offline map so that you can access it no matter where you are! Sometimes when traveling, you won’t have access to data or internet and you don’t want all your hard work to go to waste. By downloading it to your offline areas, you can get it no matter what!

In order to get your map offline, simply pull up your Google Map app on your mobile device and click the hamburger (3 line) menu on the left. You should see the option for “Offline Areas”, where you can make a custom area. Go to the city or region you’re exploring and download offline. Then turn on your map. And you’re all set!

Have Fun on Your Trip!

Pull up your well-researched map once you arrive at your destination, and start exploring with the handiest travel buddy on the market! I’m sure you’ll quickly fall in love with this handy and convenient travel tool, and hopefully you’ll start making them on all your future trips!

Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to stay up-to-date about how I am accomplishing my 12 Trips in 12 Months!

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Author: Megan Arz

I am a travel and food obsessed Midwesterner living in Chicago and dreaming of the world. I work as a full-time program manager for Greenheart Travel, but I am also committed to integrating the travel lifestyle into my every day routines. I am passionate about ethical travel, meeting new people, creating unique memories and eating local cuisine!

2 thoughts

  1. Megan, nifty tricks – love it. I spent a year in South America, Central America & SE Asia in 2015 – too bad I hadn’t stumbled upon this earlier :) For any of your readers who want to be a little more pampered they can let my team guide them around Chicago with Free Chicago Walking Tours !!

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