My new favorite travel planning tool: Google maps

My new favorite travel planning tool: Google maps

You might think this is a no-brainer: of COURSE you use Google maps to plan your travel! How else are we supposed to get around? But I am not talking merely about plotting points on a map and figuring out how to get from point A to point B; I have taken Google maps to a whole other level with color codes and daily itineraries. You type A folks out there – you’re going to love this, I promise. Here’s step-by-step guide to transforming your next trip with Google maps. (And by the way, you can now read more about my worldly wanderings on Pink Pangea, the online community for women travelers.)

google mapsStep 1: Create a Google map

When you are logged into Google, select the apps icon and click maps. When you click in the white text box to search for a location, other options will drop down. Select “My custom maps” and then “Create.” Name your map and get planning!

Step 2: Book the big stuff

Confirm your flight, hotel, car rental, etc. This is your base. Add these to your map. (By the way, my favorite hotel booking site is hotels. com. You rack up a free night for every 10 you stay, which helped me recently stay 2 nights for free on my most recent trip to San Diego.)

Step 3: What do you want to see/do?

I consult Frommer’s and Trip Advisor, and I also always check to see if my hotel offers special packages with local attractions. Ask friends who live there or who have visited for recommendations. As you look these things up online, start plotting them on your map. The great thing about Google maps is that in addition to the geographic location, it will usually link to the attraction’s site, so you can easily click on it right from the map. You can also add your own notes. “Frommer’s says the ___ are not to be missed.” “Jane says make sure to get there first thing in the morning!” etc.

Step 4: Now, start thinking about your itineraries

Now that you are looking at a map with all your points of interest, you can see where things lie in relation to one another. Hopefully there are clusters of things that are close together – those will be things you do on the same day, so you don’t have to backtrack. Use the directions feature to figure out how far away points are from one another – it might look far on a map, but maybe it’s only 15 minutes driving. If you’re using public transportation, definitely get a sense of transit times – you might not be able to fit in all 5 things that seem close to one another unless you have a car.

google map pinStep 5: Code your map by day

This is my favorite part (squee!). (Calm down Rachel, your Type A is showing). Ok, once you have a sense of what can be accomplished in a day, you get to start coding. You can do this in a few ways.

A. Colors: Change the colors of the markers depending on the day – red for Monday, blue for Tuesday, whatever you like.

B. Shapes: You could also do different shapes – stars for hotels, circles for attractions, etc.

C. Layers: you can create a different layer for each day, toggling them on and off depending on how much you want to see.

Step 5: What do you want to eat?

My worst fear is being stuck somewhere without access to decent food – God forbid I have to eat at McDonalds! I honestly don’t know where this comes from; it’s not like I ever went hungry (although I was stuck on the tarmac for several hours  THE ONE TIME I did not bring snacks with me on the plane. Figures.) At any rate, I always like to have a few food options for wherever I’m going to be throughout the day, so I get to taste the best of the best of where I’m going. For this, Yelp is your best friend. Trip Advisor is ok for restaurants… but I think Yelp is better. Plot a few promising places in each location, keeping with your color scheme.

Step 6: Use it while you’re there, and adjust as needed

Use it throughout your trip to get walking, driving, or transit directions from one place to another. Finish something earlier than you thought? Search out a cool place nearby. Got a recommendation from the concierge? Add that sucker to your map. For all my love of planning, spontaneity is the spice of life, and some of the best experiences I’ve had while traveling happened on the spur of the moment. For me, having a clear plan actually gives me the freedom to be spontaneous. It also drives my husband nuts. But even he was impressed by my Google map for our San Diego vacation.

Step 7: Share with friends, and keep as a reminder of your trip

Having a Google map at the end of my trip assures that when my memory fails (as it surely will), I will still be able to figure out where I had those awesome fish tacos. It’s also a really helpful way for me to share my trip with friends in the future who ask me for recommendations.  I  just created a map recently for friends who are staying in my apartment while I am on vacation. They are new to NYC, so I thought a map would be the best way to share the most information in the most concise way possible… and it saved me from copying and pasting dozens of links into an email. In case you’re interested, here are all my insider faves when visiting NYC. (You’re welcome!)

Hope you enjoy the maps and find them helpful! Happy traveling!

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