Travel Necessity: Custom Google Maps

Before I leave on any trip, I usually do some degree of research about the place I’m going to visit- even if it’s just making sure I know the basics.

For most trips, I create a travel map so I can keep track of places I want to visit and things I want to do.

Prior to discovering custom Google Maps a little over a year ago, I used to create lists in Word and rely on map printouts. However, it was always difficult to visualize how different interest points were connected.

Enter: Custom Google Maps.

Google’s custom Map feature is probably one of the most under-utilized tools in trip planning.

I love using Maps to plot interest points (museums, bars, restaurants, cafes, shops, etc.) so it’s easy to see what I’m near at any point during the trip. For example, while wandering Le Marais one afternoon in Paris, I pulled up my Paris map and saw I was two blocks from a cute wine bar. As much as I appreciate spontaneity, I also love how easy Maps makes it to see what is nearby.

If you use Foursquare or Yelp, you may be thinking, isn’t that what those apps do? Yes, but purely from a discovery standpoint- and there’s a lot of clutter on those apps. I love that Maps lets me save and aggregate places I’ve ever read about or that have been recommended to me so I don’t forget about them.

And, it’s easy to keep adding to Maps if you find yourself back in that city often. Maps for some of my favorite cities, like Austin and Amsterdam, are dotted with places I love going, as well as things I still want to check out.

How to Create a Custom Map

  1. Go to www.google.com/maps 

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  • Click on the Menu bar on the left side, and then Your Places

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  • Once in Your Places, hover over to the top right of the navigation bar and click on Maps

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  • Then, you’ll see previous Maps you’ve made (or ones that’ve been shared with you), and also an option to Create a New Map 
  • Once you click Create a New Map, you’ll be taken to a new screen

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  • The first thing you need to do is give your map a name. I usually keep it simple and name mine after the place I’m visiting

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  • Once your map has a name, set its starting destination. If you’re just using the feature for one city, you’ll only need to add a starting location. However, if you’re using Maps to plan a road trip, you can add a starting and ending location to help determine the most efficient route once you enter places you want to see along the way

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  • Before I start adding places, I like to organize my “layers”, aka a way to group locations. I usually default to standard categories, like- Museums, Shops, Cafes, Restaurants, Cocktails, Beer, etc.

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  • Now, you’re ready to add places! You can add places to the map by searching for them, and once you’ve found a place, clicking Add to map

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  • Once you’ve found the place you want to add, you’ll be able to choose which layer it gets added to either by dragging and dropping from layer to layer, or ensuring you’ve clicked on the layer you want to add new places to before searching
  • One of my favorite things about Maps are the customization options– you can change the color of location icons, shape of the icons, and add info to each icon (notes or photos) to help you remember why you saved it

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  • Once you’re finished with your Map, you can share it with friends or family, and if they want, they can add to it as well
  • The biggest reason I love Maps though, is how easy it is to access them from mobile. If you have iPhone, just open Google Maps, hit the top left nav button and tap on ‘My Places’. A list of any maps you’ve created with your Google account should pop up.

Want to see an example of a live Map? You can check out one of the Maps I made for a previous trip to Copenhagen.

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Custom Google Maps are just one of the many trip planning tips I rely on. These 12 apps are my go-to’s for finding the best travel deals and for discovering cool things to do in each place I visit.

Do you have any tired and true trip planning hacks?

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