Travel Tip: Use Google Maps to Plan Your Trip

How To Use Google Maps To Plan Your Next Vacation
Globes by Flickr user ricardo

Last February C and I took a quick weekend-long trip to New York City for the sole purpose of seeing theater. We got tickets to Hedwig starring Michael C Hall, and Sleep No More, two shows I’d wanted to see for a long time. We also finally made it to the MOMA, where we spent the day looking at Sturtevant while it snowed heavily outside.

Even though the trip was short we also managed to fit in some time with friends we only get to see about once a year. One of those friends, Greg, gave me a long list of places to visit in NYC — shops, record stores, restaurants, cocktail bars. I made note of each of these places in my phone, and then proceeded to not visit any of them.

Why? Well first, because we were only in New York for three days, days which were already pretty damn full. But also because looking at a list is a terrible way to spend your vacation time.

(In fact, the list is still saved in my phone, ready for my next trip to New York.)

Now, even though I’ve been living in Amsterdam for two months, I still feel like I’m kind of on vacation. There is so much to explore in this new city, and that list gets longer every day, since Amsterdam is the kind of place where new restaurants, pop-up stores and bars sprout up almost nightly. It can be daunting keeping track of all the things I want to do and see, from museums to parts of town, even to yoga studios I want to try.

Enter Google Maps. Recently, Google added a new feature called My Maps, which allows you to save and share custom maps.

I followed these directions to start my map, but it’s pretty easy to figure out on your own. You can also take a tour and start your first map by going to google.com/mymap. The maps you create are then saved to your Google Drive.

Here’s my ever-evolving map of Amsterdam. My map includes restaurants, denoted by little slices of pizza; bars (martini glasses); shops I want to visit (€), points of interest (pinpoints) and yoga studios (om symbol). Any time I hear of a new place I want to visit, I add it to this map.

As you are adding locations to your own map, you can change the icons, change pinpoint colors, and even add notes to locations you’ve saved. For example, I have notes on some locations that say “fireplace” or “BBQ” or otherwise indicate why I might want to visit that place.

Once you’ve got your map built, that’s when the fun begins.

Let’s say you’ve just left the Rijksmuseum and you’re hungry for a snack and a beer. Pull out your mobile device and let it geolocate you. Click the little three-lines menu to the left of the search box, then click “Your Places” and you’ll see a list of all the maps you’ve made. Once you pull one map up a couple of times it’ll actually show up under the main menu.

Select your map, let it load, and then you’ll see all the locations you’ve saved, including the locations that are closest to where you currently are. If you have multiple layers on your map you can narrow them down by clicking “View Map Legend.” (I don’t need to see the yoga studios I’ve saved when I’m looking for a bar.)

Clicking on a specific location will give you reviews of the place, a description, contact information and anything else Google Maps usually includes. You’ll also be able to route yourself to that location right from where you are.

I love this tool so much I’ve already started thinking of the other ways I can use it. I have maps started for Rotterdam and The Hague (I’ll be visiting The Hague in March to run a half marathon.) In Houston, a town I know pretty well, I’ve started a map for restaurants I want to try, in the hopes of avoiding the “I don’t know, what do YOU want for dinner” argument. I’ve also started a list of state parks, swimming holes and other outdoor places I want to visit in Texas. And my New York City list? It’s now its own map for the next time I visit the Big Apple.

How do you plan your vacation to dos?

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