With the help of Google Maps, there’s no need to rely on a classic map or an unreliable GPS your next holiday. Google Maps can help you plan your trip and get you to all those awesome places when you arrive.
Never believe your parents.
They see you utilizing apps and gadgets to navigate the complexities of 21st century life, and chuckle knowingly amongst each other before casting their “in my days” and “young people today” around. No, they claim, they didn’t need apps and gadgets to get around, and certainly not to orientate themselves in a new city or village. They had an innate sense of direction, supposedly, a mystical affinity with magnetic north (and clean, good value accommodation) which precluded any need for so much as a paper map, let alone a handheld device laden with GPS and new-fangled ‘software’.
All lies! Our parents’ generation spent half their time lost, and the other half screwing up the economy, so it’s up to today’s student, graduate or gap year traveller to forge her own way, using the tools at her disposal and transforming the travel experience as she does so. Few tools could be more perfectly crafted for the job as Google Maps, which has become far more than a ‘simple’ mapping service: it is your travel scrapbook in the cloud.
Well, Google Maps was never just a massive map. The comprehensive detail, zoomability, and instant scrolling put it head and shoulders above other digital maps and consigned paper maps to specialist status (ideal for back garden adventurers and seekers of pirate treasure only). But now it can be used to create directions, to save your favorite places and learn more about new ones, and to share instantaneously with your friends or the followers of your blog. So let’s take a look how.
Making your map
First thing’s first: when you’re serious about making a Google map that’s going to serve you for your whole trip, you need to take a bit more care over it than when you’re just trying to find your way from A to B in your home town.
Head to mymaps.google.com to start, and log in with your Google ID; click the red box that says ‘Create a new map’ and you’re in. Now you can name your map, zoom in on the area you want to study, and click ‘Base map’ to change the map style to whatever suits you best.
Planning your route
So you need to know how to get from the bus station to your accommodation (or that bar your roommate recommended).
First, use your map to search for your destination. Click the forked roads icon to create a new ‘layer’ that will contain your directions, then add your starting point where prompted.
As with regular Google Maps, you can switch directions between different modes of transport. Hovering over the blue route line brings up a little black circle that you can drag to change the route if there is a certain road or landmark that you want to pass on the way.
Adding some places
You’re bound to have at least a couple of friends who have been to this destination before, and they won’t have been shy about sharing their favourite places with you. Indeed, you may have too many to remember, so it’s a nice idea to mark them out on your map before you go – this is also a nice way to start to get an idea of the layout of the city.
You can, of course, also add new places as you discover them on arrival – there’s little more frustrating, when travelling than discovering an amazing new bar one day and then not being able to find your way back to it for the rest of your trip.
Start by using the search function to find the place you want to mark, then when it pops up click ‘Add to map’. You have several other options to personalize here, too – you can add notes, color-code the pin that marks this spot, or upload your own photo when you arrive.
A note on layers
When you’re using your own personal Google Map like this, the places and directions you save get added to ‘Layers’ in the left-hand box. You can drag the pin icons from one layer to another to create your own category (i.e. breakfast places, drinking places) so that you can then switch on only the layers you need at any given time.
This is super-handy for simplifying things when you’re hungover, or complicating things when you want a birds-eye view of everything that mattered to you in this town.
Sharing your map
There are at least two good reasons for wanting to share your map: you want your travel companions to be able to find each other, or you want to show off your in-depth knowledge of your destination. Maps are beautiful things and, even if Google’s aesthetic is somewhat substance-over-style, a well-annotated map is still a wonder to behold!
To share your map, hit the share icon in the middle of the left-hand box. Make sure to change the ‘Who has access’ option to the appropriate setting for your needs, and then follow the instructions to copy the URL or send a link via email or social media.
Using your map offline
If there’s one big grudge to be held against Google Maps, it’s how tricky it is to use offline. Such is the nature of travelling, you’re likely to be offline for a reasonable amount of time while getting from place to place. While it is still possible to consult your Google Map as you do so, setting this up is needlessly frustrating – and of course, you’ll need to add any of your own updates once you find a Wi-Fi zone.
Your offline map is a particular file type, the .kml. To produce this, click the three dots icon at the top of the left hand box, and save as .kml. You can send this to your phone in whatever way you normally transfer files (it’s probably easiest to email it to yourself), but then you’ll need a third party map application such as maps.me to open it.
Ready to go
So that’s it, you know how to save places, create directions, and generally build your own personal version of whatever region you visit; you can share it with your new found friends or jealous blog viewers, and send it to your phone for use on the go! For more step-by-step instructions on how to make use of these (mostly) powerful facilities, check out this epic new visual guide from Expedia.
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