For every trip or vacation Taylor and I take, we do a lot of research on the locations we plan to visit and what to do. Some would argue it’s better to go with the flow than having something planned, however, we think otherwise when you’re on a limited time crunch due to other obligations. We use a tool called Google My Maps to plan our trips and vacations which helps us spend less time planning and more time enjoying them!
Prior to leveraging Google My Maps, we used to write down where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do for our trips/vacations in a notebook. This process was time-consuming and often led to additional work because we had to “re-google” everything we previously wrote down.
Today, we are thankful to use Google My Maps and hope to inspire you to leverage this great tool that helps us plan our trips and vacations.
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We found a happy medium between going with the flow and planning out things to do and places to see while vacationing.
We document what we want to do add them to our custom map. Once added to Google Maps we gauge how far each location is from one another to help us get an idea of how much time we want to spend at a specific location as well as how long it will take to get to the next location or point of interest.
Here’s a sample of Our Bucket List Map which covers everything we want to see (highlighted blue) as well as every place we been so far together (highlighted green). If you want access to Our Bucket List Map and make a copy of your own, click here. We’ve been all over the West Coast, Hawaii, Thailand, Bali Indonesia, the Phillippines, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, and more.
1. Ease of Use
Google Maps is incredibly easy to use once you have it set up and ready to go. It links directly into your Google Maps app on your phone as well as the Google Earth app.
2. Device Agnostic (Works on Any Device)
Google Maps works on a laptop, tablet, and a mobile device. We love to use it on a laptop when planning a trip and while we’re traveling. When traveling we pull up all of the locations on our iPhones.
3. Share the Maps with Others
Google Maps lets you share your custom map with others. This is incredibly useful if your traveling with friends or family members who also have interests and want to add their unique spin to the trip. It’s a perfect collaboration tool!
4. Leverage Google’s Saved Information
Most locations on the maps already come prepopulated with Google’s data and information. For example, if you’re adding a restaurant or a museum to the map, Google will automatically populate the details of the location. Below is an example of this information automatically populated for a winery on the Big Island of Hawaii.
5. Reference For Later And Create Memories That Last!
Taylor and I take a stroll down memory lane looking at the map and seeing all of the places we’ve been together. That’s why we switch the markers to the color green instead of blue showcasing what places we were able to visit when traveling. Our intent is to reference this for later use. For example, if folks ask questions about a location or itinerary, we can share our experiences but also showcase exactly where a particular location is.
6. Look Up The Directions to a Location!
Once a location is added to the map, you can look up the directions on any device from your current location. This is great when your actually on your vacation and need to figure out where to go!
We recently bought a Sprinter Van from Michigan. So for our road trip, we added the dealership on Our Bucket List Map and we can easily just tap the icon on our iPhone and look up the directions.
7. It’s Highly Customizable
Google Maps is highly customizable and will fit the need for most itineraries. You can customize the marker’s icons, colors, your own notes, and your own photos.
If you notice in the pictures above, you can see the different icons, like trailheads (the hiker), waterfalls, cities, Insta-worthy locations (camera), fork and knife (restaurants), and so much more. You can also customize the color with 30 different colors to chose from.
8. Filter Icons Based on Categories
Google Maps has a “layer” option, which allows you to categorize your markers into buckets. For example, let’s say you put all of your waterfalls in one layer and name it “Waterfalls”. If you have 30+ markers ranging from different categories like restaurants, hikes, and others and you want to declutter the map you would only select the “Waterfalls” layer. This will filter out all other markers making only the waterfall markers visible.
9. Google Maps Optimizes Your Vacation
With Google Maps you can strategically decide where you want to go and when. Looking at all your desired points of interest on a map lets you bundle days together ensuring you’re not going out of your way. Taylor and I use the map to visualize where the bulk of our markers (points of interest) are and strategically visit the ones that are close together.
10. My Maps Helps You Decide Where to Stay
This is similar to the ability to optimize your vacation. When you can visualize everything on the map, you can find a hotel or Airbnb that’s within a close distance to your points of interest.
Now that you know why we love Google Maps, let’s walk through our step by step guide on how to use Google My Maps to plan a trip.
The first thing you need to do is create a Gmail account if you do not have one. Once you have a Gmail account created, head to Google My Maps on your laptop (this will not work on a phone, you can only set it up on a laptop/desktop).
Google Maps allows you to create layers in your map. Layers are filters for the markers on your map that you can display or hide when viewing your map.
A good example of using layers for a vacation is the following:
If I was planning a vacation this is how I would plan it and for the purpose of this tutorial/guide, I will plan a trip to Paris.
To create a layer, simply double click the text “Untitled layer” and change its name.
Click “Add layer” to create new layers. LIMITATION: You can only have 10 layers in a map.
When you click “Add layer”, a new layer is added to the layer panel. To change the name, click on the three dots to the right of the name “Untitled Layer” and click “Rename this layer”.
Once you set your layers up, you’re ready to add markers (points of interest) to your map. You can categorize the markers by tagging them to specific layers, changing their icons, colors and more.
First, let’s get into how to add points of interest to your map. You can do this in one of three ways.
In the example below, I zoomed in on France and found Paris, from there I zoomed in even further to find the Eiffel Tower and I simply clicked the default google landmark icon. Once you clicked the landmark, Google automatically will automatically populate it with relevant information in a popup.
To add it to the map simply click the “Add to map” button on the popup. Make sure you select the layer that you want the point of interest to fall under!
The second method to add points of interest to your map is through the search bar. In the example below, I searched for a point of interest and started typing the Grand Canyon. Notice the search bar automatically populates with a drop drown of locations to select from.
You can simply select from the drop-down or hit enter on your keyboard to display the point of interest on the map. Again once the popup displays you can click “Add to map” to save it to your map.
If your point of interest isn’t on Google already, you can create your own. A good example of this is a perfect spot to watch a sunset, or the start of a hiking trail, etc.
After you click the pin to add a marker, you then click anywhere on the map where you want to add a marker. Here’s an example of me marking a surf spot in my home town on the map. Notice there isnt a google icon for the surf spot like other points of interest like hotels, restaurants, and stores on the map.
To delete a marker, simply click on the marker from the layers panel or from the map and click the delete (key for you MAC users) or escape key (for those on Windows).
Once you marked down your points of interest, you can visually display the directions between two points. You can leverage the google maps app for this when you’re ready to visit the point of interest, which is what we prefer, but jotting down the directions on the map can come in handy to give you a general idea of where to go and how to get somewhere.
To add directions between two markers or from any location to a marker, simply click on the marker and from the popup select the direction icon that looks like an arrow.
You can also change the transportation mode by clicking the driving icon on the layer on the left side of the map. It can be changed from driving to walking or biking.
Once you’ve added some point of interest markers to your map, it’s time to customize the markers to make it more user-friendly.
When you click on a marker and the popup is displayed, click on the paint bucket icon. This gives you two options to customize the marker, the ability to change the color and the ability to change the icon of the marker.
To change the color or the icon of the marker, click on the paint bucket. Here you chose a color from the color options displayed. If you don’t see one relevant on the shortlist, simply select “More icons” to view more.
In the screenshot below, I changed the color of the marker from blue to green and changed the icon of the marker to a surfing icon.
If you recall, Taylor and I use Google Maps for managing our bucket list and for planning trips.
For our bucket list, we mark everything we want to do in blue and then when we visit a point of interest, we change the color to green. This helps us visualize everywhere we’ve been since we’ve been together, it’s pretty neat!
For our regular trip planning maps, we use different colors and icons to help us plan and see different points of interests.
Below is an example of the map we are using to plan our trip to Europe. This only shows our points of interests for Amsterdam, but you can see here that we color-coordinated the markers. The markers are color coordinated by the following key:
Now that you know how to change a marker’s icon and color, you can further modify the marker by changing its name and description. To do this, simply click on the desired marker so the popup displays. Next, select the pencil icon to modify the name and description. You can add any text you want, even URLs to your favorite blog post for more information!
One of my favorite features of Google My Maps is sharing the maps with others. You can share your maps with friends and family very easily and collaborate on a map with whoever you want. Taylor and I share all of our maps so we can plan our trip together at our own convenience.
To add others to a map, simply click the “Share” button under the name of the map on the left panel. From there you can define access, meaning decide if you want to make the map publicly available or keep it private.
There are three different options:
If you choose to add specific people to your map and keep it private then simply select “Off – Specific people” and click “Save”, then invite others by entering their email.
Once you share your maps with other people, especially those going on a vacation or adventure with you it’s time to load the map onto your phone! To do this you will need the Google Maps mobile app.
The power of Google My Maps resides in the Google Maps mobile app. It is great to plan a trip or vacation from your computer but it’s even better to utilize it in real-time while you’re on the go. Below are ten steps to use your google my maps on your Google Maps Mobile App.
Notice in step 8, you can share your map with others through the app in addition to the desktop, this makes life more convenient when you’re on the move.
If you come across a blog that has a map embedded on a blog post, you can make a copy of it to save as your own. To do so, simply follow these steps:
Yes, you can plan a route in Google Maps, however, it’s not as intuitive as other map applications and websites. To do so, simply load the app, set directions to your first location, then select the three dots in the top right-hand corner to add an additional stop. We cover how to do this in Google My Maps above, in step 4, “Add directions to your map”.
To plot multiple locations on Google Maps, I advise using Google My Maps and following the steps indicated above, plotting your markers on a custom My Maps in Google, on a desktop/laptop device first. Once you plot your markers on your custom map, you can load your custom map on a mobile device.
Google used to have Google Trips but discontinued the service in August of 2019. However, you can use Google My Maps to plan your trip and this post provides a step by step guide on how to do that! Scroll back up to see how to use Google My Maps to plan your trip.
Overall, Taylor and I use Google My Maps for every trip we go on, no matter how big or small. We also use Google My Maps to keep track of our bucket list, which helps us share stories with others, keep memories, and helps us write blog posts when we visit a location and write about specific places.
Also, we love the ability to share the maps with friends and families as well as our readers! We offer our readers a copy of the “Our Bucket List“ map which contains points of interests all over the world, it’s a great opportunity to see where we’ve been and where we’re planning on going. If you want access to the Our Bucket List map, click here!
If you have any questions about Google My Maps, please drop a comment below and I hope this step by step guide inspires you to plan your next trip!