While we love creating endless bucket lists of the dreamy destinations that we plan on visiting, nothing beats travel planning like pinning destinations on a map. But with the amount of technology we have traditional paper maps have quickly became irrelevant, and countless of apps and websites have taken its place. But through our last 3 years of full time traveling there has always been one travel planning tool that we loved just a bit more then the others, a planning tool that we now use to plan every single trip: Google Maps. From sightseeing and mapping out road trips to tracking where we have been across the world, Google Maps can do it all. Add pins on your laptop and access your map on your phone, ready to go explore the city, Google Maps will make your travels so much easier. However, we realised during our 3 years of travel not many people are familiar with the Google My Maps feature, a feature and for that reason we have created this blogpost. In this blogpost we will share how you can use Google Maps to plan an unforgettable trip and will share tips on how to create the map, how to share it with your friends and how to access the map both online and offline on your phone! But before we get into details, let’s talk why you need to use Google Maps to plan your next trip.
Please note: This post contains affiliate links. This means that purchasing a product or service via these links may earn us a small commission (at no extra cost to you of course).
Why Use Google Maps to Plan Your Next Trip
1. Create itineraries before leaving on your trip
Travel planning is essential if you want to make the most of your time during your trip. While we have previously gone with “winging it” style, we came to the conclusion that we often ended up missing sights we known we would have loved, or ended up booking too many nights in destinations where there was not much to do, and not enough time in destinations where we would have liked to stay longer. When you plan your travels before leaving on a trip you can travel worry free and focus on the fun activities and sights instead of the research and Google Maps is the perfect tool that will help you create an unforgettable itinerary. After you added all your pins on Google Maps on your computer you will be able to see in a glance which destinations you will be visiting within a country or region, and it will be easier to visualise how you can make that happen, which brings us to our next point.
2. You will have a complete overview of all activities and sights
While you are planning your trip you can add all sights, instagrammable spots, accommodations and restaurants you are planning on visiting to your map as pins. This way there is no need for any other lists or travel planning tools, with one look at the map you will be able to see exactly where everything is located. And to make it even better, you can add extra info to every single pin such as opening hours or ticket prices making it easy to find all your research back within seconds. You can also customise your pins adding icons or different colours making it easier to see what kind of activity or sight you added to the map no matter if it is a museum, waterfall, temple or iconic photo spot.
3. With Google Maps you can make the most of your trip
Now, because you have all your activities, sights and accommodation pinned you will be able to create easier day itineraries and group activities together. While previously you were spending your days taking buses and metros across town to tick of the items on your list you now will easily see how to make the most of your time, this is one of the things we love most about using Google Maps to plan our travels. Give your pins different colours for every single day so that when you wake up the next morning you now exactly where to go and what to do, this way you can enjoy your trip stress free, and have more time for relaxation!
4. You can access the map from your phone
While the map has to be created on a computer or laptop, you can actually access the map from your phone, which will make it incredibly easy to navigate your way across a city or country when you go sightseeing. Update the map before you leave on your travels with all the travel inspiration you have found and with the click of a button you will be able to access all that information in the Google Maps app. The downside is that you can only access the map when you have internet access, however, we will also show you a way that you can access your map offline so that no matter where or when you will be able to access all that travel planning and inspiration!
5. The map can be shared with family and friends
And last, but definitely not least, is that this map can be shared with your family or friends. Google Maps allows you to share the map from the moment you create the map. This way you can create your trip with multiple friends, all adding ideas to your dream vacation. Invite your best friend to create a dream itinerary for your summer backpacking through Europe, or plan your honeymoon with your soon to be husband or wife, with Google Maps you can do it all! If you prefer to do all the travel planning yourself you can allow your friends or family members only to view the map, this way they can see all your travel inspiration and ideas, but can’t change anything to the actual map. This last feature is what we use for maps that we share on this blog, this way we can make sure that our maps stay exactly the way we intended for our readers.
If after these 5 reasons you are still not convinced that you should be using Google Maps for your travel planning, then perhaps these example maps will. Below we have three maps that we have used for our past travels, and maps that you will actually find on the blog as well. The maps differ largely in their region and purpose, which hopefully will show you the amount of things you can actually do with Google Maps.
Map 1: 3 Days in Kiev
Our first map focusses one of our favourite cities in Europe: Kiev. For this city we had a total of 3 days to explore all it had to offer, so when doing our travel planning we added pins to our map of sights we wanted to see, one by one. This way we knew exactly what we wanted to do in Kiev and how we would be be able to make most of our time in the city. After reviewing the activities and location of each activity we divided the activities into the 3 different days with each day having a different colour: yellow, orange and magenta. We also had a couple of sights left on our list that we were interested in seeing in case we were in the area or in case we had extra time on our itinerary, we coloured these sights purple. As you can see we now spend our days exploring different neighbourhoods with all sight being within walking distance of each other. With the help of our phone we easily navigated our way around the city, allowing us to spend more time sightseeing and less time on the metro!
Map 2: Day Trips from Ubud
The second map is a bit different, as this map doesn’t focus on a city but on a whole island instead. We created this map for illustration purposes for our blogpost on the best day trips from Ubud. We created 7 day trips all with different activities so our readers could pick the day trips they would enjoy without spending too much time stuck in traffic. As you might realise by now we love creating Google Maps and divide our activities into days, however, another option would of course be to divide categories based on for example activities. Create a category for sights you want to see, restaurants you want to go eat at and perhaps even bars where you want to spend your evenings. We’ll go a bit more into detail on how to create categories and customise pins below, but before we do we wanted to share one last map.
Map 3: Where We’ve Been
The last map we wanted to share is a bit more of a personal map we keep. As we currently live a full time life on the road, we don’t have the traditional world map where we can add pins of our trips at home. So instead we created this map: where we’ve been. This map is an overview of the places that Rob visited (orange), I visited (yellow) and the places that we have visited together from the moment we met. We can only hope to fill this map with many more blue pins spread across the 7 different continents. While this map might not be your traditional planning map, we still wanted to share it with you to show you how many things you can actually do with Google Maps. So if you are still reading this we probably have convinced you that Google Maps is the travel planning tool you need. So now without further ado, let’s create a custom map together!
How to Create a Custom Map with Google Maps
Step 1: Create a Map
First things first, let’s create a new map together. To create a new map head over to Google My Maps and sign in with your Google account. Once you are signed in navigate your way to the button on the top right and click +Create a new map. Now before we start pinning, don’t forget to give your map a name, this way you will be easily able to find it back in both your Google account and on the Google app on your phone. To change the name of your title, simply click Untitled Map, a box will pop up that will allow you to change both the name and the description of the map.
Step 2: Divide Your Map into Layers
So now that you have created and named your map, it is time for step 2: dividing your map into layers. Your map will standard come with one layer, however, you can add up to 9 more, dividing your map to a total of 10 layers. You can add more layers by simply clicking Add layer, located right below the title of your map. Once you have added a layer you can rename it to anything you like by clicking on Untitled layer. If you are not sure how to divide your map, here are a couple of ideas:
- By day: this is our a method we love as it allows us to easily divide our time during our trips. We create different maps for cities and simply divide them into the amount of days we are spending in a city. In this case your layers could be called “day 1”, “day 2”, and so on.
- By category: instead of days divide your pins into different activities, this way you will easily be able to see what you are planning to do on a trip. Name your layers “restaurants”, “bars & cafes”, “photo spots”, “museums”, “hikes”, “things to do”, or any other activity or category that you like!
- By destination: another option would be, and this is the what we often end up using for our region maps, is to divide your map into destinations. Name your layers after countries, islands or cities and add the respective pin to the layer. We love using this method as we can turn certain layers off when we don’t need them and only focus on the area that we are currently traveling in.
In the end it doesn’t matter how you divide your map because if you change your mind a bit later on in the planning process you can just rename your layers and move your pins! For this article we will create a fictional Europe trip map together, so we went with our preferred method of dividing a map by destination and we created three layers: Netherlands, Germany and Poland.
Step 3: Add Pins
Select the layer you want to add the pin to by clicking anywhere in the layer, a blue bar will indicate which layer is currently selected. And now, finally, it is time to start adding pins. The easiest way to add a pin is to type the location you want to add into the search bar. The locations work the exact same as the regular Google Maps so you can look for cities, restaurants, hotels, coordinates and so on. Once you have found the pin you are looking for, click it and a new box will open up at the location of the pin. To add the pin to your map, click the button +Add to map, it is as easy as that!
You have now successfully added your first pin to your map! You can continue to add more pins to your layer filling up that map with all your travel inspiration, and once you zoom out you will be able to fully see the trip you have planned. However, we are not done yet, as there are another couple of features we went to talk about that will help you to organise your map even more! We added a total of 6 pins to our map, if you have done the same your map should look a little bit like this:
Step 4: Customise Your Pins
While having a map with all your pins is great, you will realise quickly that a map filled with pins won’t tell you much, especially if you decide to add more specific pins such as sights to see, museums to visit and bars to get that drink at. But there is a quick solution to that problem as Google Maps allows you to customise your pins. To customise your pin simply click on a pin either in your legend or on the map itself, once clicked a little box will pop up. In the bottom of this box you will see multiple icons, click on the Paint bucket to start customising your pin.
With over hundreds of different icons out there, you will find an icon no matter what pin you like to add. From temples, beaches, churches, museums, photo spots, restaurants, cafes, hotels, to waterfalls, Google Maps has it all. If you like to customise your pin even more you can decide it to give it a different colour as well! In this menu you can also delete the pin by clicking on the Trash can, or you can edit the name of the pin and add additional information by clicking on the Pencil icon.
Tip! If you have accidentally added a pin to the wrong layer, don’t worry, you don’t have to delete the pin and re-add it, you can simply move the pin. Just click on the pin, hold your mouse button down and drag your pin to the right layer. Another way to avoid this from happening is by deselecting layers during your planning process, you can do this by clicking on the Check box right before the layer title.
Step 5: Create Your Trip Itinerary
Now you have all the knowledge you need to create that unforgettable trip itinerary. Add more layers, pins, and customise your map until your trip is complete. Once all your travel inspiration is mapped out you will have a great idea of in which locations you should book your hotel, how long to stay in each destination and how you will spend your upcoming trip. Your map will stay in your Google account for as long as you need it, so you can keep on adding destinations until you have finalised your trip. But before you leave, be sure to keep on reading because we share another couple of useful tips down!
How to Share Your Map with Family or Friends
If you are planning on travelling with family or friends you might want to share the map with them, either so they have an overview of the trip or because you would like them to contribute. To share a map click on the Share button in the Google Maps legend, located right below your Map title. In the mid section you will find “Who has access”, where the standard access has been set to Private.
Invite people through email – In the bottom section you will be able to invite family members or friends through email and assign them permission to either just view, or to help you edit the map. If you invite people to view the map they will not be able to make any changes or add pins, however, if you invite people to help you edit the map they will be able to change your pins, layers, and well basically everything you can do. Once someone has been invited they will be able to find the map in their Google My Maps account.
Invite people through a link – Another option would be to invite people by simply sending them a link, you can find the shareable link on the top of the sharing box. However, before you share the link you should change the Who has access setting from Private to “On – Anyone with the link”. Without changing this setting your friends and family members will not be able to access the map. Also here you will be able to allow people to either view or edit the map.
How to access your Custom Map on Your Phone
While you’ll have to create the map on your laptop or computer, you can easily access the map on your phone in the Google Maps app. The main benefit of having the pins on your phone is that now you can easily navigate yourself around the city, without having to bring any other map or do any other research!
This is how you will be able to access your custom map on your phone:
- Step 1: open the Google Maps app on your phone and make sure you are logged in with the same Google account that you used to create the maps in Google My Maps.
- Step 2: In the bottom of the Google Maps app you will see a menu, click on the third icon that says Saved.
- Step 3: Now, right on the top a new menu will appear, scroll right until you see Maps, this is where all your custom maps will be located.
- Step 4: Open the map for your trip, this will give you a quick overview of the map, now close the map.
- Step 5: Head back to Explore, the pins of your map will now all be loaded here!
As long as you have internet access you will be able to view the pins. The downside is that many of us will not have internet access once we go abroad and we will now be simply relying on data. While you cannot view your map once you are offline in the Google Maps app, there is still a way to use access all your travel planning offline, but more on that in the next section.
How to Access Your Custom Google Map Offline
One of the things we often do not have access when going abroad is internet, mainly because roaming data can be incredibly expensive. So unless you are buying a local sim card you will need be able to access all your hard work and travel planning offline. Sadly, at this moment, that is not possible yet with Google Maps. But for every problem there is a solution, it just requires a different app.
The app Maps.me has been one of our all time favourite travel apps as it allows you to download maps of complete countries or states that afterwards can be accessed offline. Also Maps.me has the option of giving you directions, and while it doesn’t have the exact same info and layout as Google Maps, we have found it to work quite well during our travels. Here are the exact steps on how you can access your custom Google Map offline in the Maps.me app.
- Step 1: Download the Maps.me app.
- Step 2: Download the map of the country, island or province you are visiting. You can easily do this when you are on wifi by zooming into the destination you are visiting as when you zoom in far enough a box will prompt asking if you would like to download a map of this region.
- Step 3: Now head over to your map in Google My Maps on your computer or laptop. Next to the map title in the legend you see (3) vertical dots, click this to open the menu. From the menu pick Export to KML/KMZ.
- Step 4: Pick to either export your whole map, or just one layer. Be sure to tick the box Export as KML instead of KMZ before clicking Download.
- Step 5: Your map data will now all be stored in a downloaded file, it is time to transport this file from your computer to your phone. You can easily do this by emailing it to yourself or for example airdropping it.
- Step 6: Open the file on your phone. It will not open in Maps.me instantly, you will actually have to do this yourself. Click on the Share icon, as pictured in the top right on an iPhone in the picture below, and click the option to Copy to Maps.me.
- Step 7: The Maps.me app will open and if you followed the exact steps above all your pins should now be downloaded into Maps.me!
And there you have it everything you need to know about planning your next trip with Google Maps! Do you have any questions or tips for planning your travels with Google Maps? Be sure to share them with us in the comment section down below!