Google Maps is a powerful tool that can help you save time when you’re putting the pieces of your next adventure together. My personal maps are full of places I want to visit and I create custom maps for my clients when helping with their itineraries. Learning how to plan a trip with Google Maps is super easy and, when you're done, you’ll have everything you need right at your fingertips while you’re out exploring!
There are a number of ways to customize your Google Maps. You can add routes between destinations, color code your location pins, and create multiple layers so you can change what you see on the map. In this article, you’ll see how to do each of these with simple steps and screenshots so you can easily follow along. Below are the basic steps you’ll use to plan a trip with Google Maps.
How to Plan a Trip With Google Maps in 4 Steps
Create bookmarks regularly. Add them to your “Favorites”, “Want to Go”, “Travel Plans”, or “Starred Places” list or create a new list.
Create a custom map for your trip by going to Your Places > Maps > Create Map.
Add the starting point for your trip to the custom map. Then add your next destination and the driving route. Do this until all destinations are added to the map.
Create new layers for each destination and bookmark sights, accommodations, restaurants, etc. Customize each type with a color and icon so it’s easy to see.
Download your custom map in your Google Maps app and have a great time!
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If you’re anything like me, you’re constantly coming across new places you want to visit! Maybe it’s a pretty picture on Instagram, a destination you read about, or a place you saw in a movie. You want to make sure you don’t forget them so start bookmarking them in your Google Maps!
The images below will show you how to create bookmarks for the places you want to visit. You can put them all on the same list or make customized lists to organize them however you want. I put all of mine in the “Starred Places” list and then organize them when I’m making a custom map for a destination, which we'll cover in a bit.
When it’s time to plan a trip with Google Maps, you’ll already have a head start if you’ve been bookmarking spots! When you’re deciding where to go and how much time to spend, you’ll be able to see if there are places in the area that you’re already interested in visiting. It’s also helpful to add bookmarks as you’re researching your destinations so the highlights are already on your map when you arrive.
Planning an Itinerary With Google Maps
One of the hardest parts of putting together a trip is choosing a route and timeline. It’s one of the travel planning elements I help clients with most often. You can use Google Maps to show your different options in one place and get a picture of your trip! For the rest of this article, we’re going to say we have two weeks to spend on a trip and that will start in Berlin, Germany and end in Prague, Czechia.
Choose a starting point. There are few ways to choose where to start your trip -- find a cheap flight to a destination you’re excited about, use these questions to help you narrow down your bucket list, or choose based on what type of indie traveler you are and the experience you want to have.
Brainstorm routes. Look at the map and bookmark or make a list of places you’d like to visit along the way. You can make a loop if you want to start and end in the same place, or choose another destination to fly home from and choose stops along the way. You can also choose somewhere to base yourself and take day trips from there! I recommend planning at least 2-3 nights in each place, if you have multiple stops. Packing up and moving every single day gets old!
Step 1 to Plan a Trip with Google Maps: Create A Custom Map
Google Maps lets you create your own maps! Create a custom map (screenshots below) and then we'll start putting in the routes from your brainstorming session. You can change the name of your map and add a description if you’re going to be sharing it with others later.
Start by searching for your beginning destination and adding it to your map. Click on the “directions to here” icon to start building your first route.
Step 2 to Plan a Trip with Google Maps: Add Your Major Stops
Now you’re ready to finish building your first route! Continue adding places along with the driving directions. As you continue to add places and directions, you can drag them up or down to put them in any order you’d like. Google Maps will adjust the routes to match the order of destinations. Unfortunately, you can only choose driving directions and not public transportation but this will give you an idea of distance and travel time between stops.
Once your first route is built, create your next route using the same steps. Click on your starting point again and when you add driving directions, it will begin a new layer for you to create another route.
Once you’ve created the additional routes, you’ll see them all on the map at once. You can choose to turn a route on or off by clicking the checkmark next to the name of that layer. Rename the layer by clicking on the three dots at the end of the name.
You can see the step-by-step driving directions, distance, and driving time between destinations for each route. Click on the three dots at the end of the name and choose “step-by-step directions”. At the top, you’ll see the total distance and drive time for your route. Next to each major stop, you’ll see the information between the current stop and the next.
Once you’ve chosen a route for your trip, it’s time to create a customized map for each stop along the way!
Step 3 to Plan a Trip with Google Maps: Add Destination Info
One of the other great features that helps you plan a trip with Google Maps is the ability to color code and customize sights, restaurants, etc. Your original starting point will still be on the map, making it easy to get started. Start by deleting the city marker because you’ve already built your routes.
Now we’re going to add in the places we want to visit in our destination. Start by renaming the layer to match the destination so it's easy to see which city you’re viewing. Search for each attraction, restaurant, etc. in the search bar and add it to the layer. Adding similar places together will make them easier to customize as a group. We’ll start with museums so you can see what that looks like.
To customize the color and icon, hover over the place and click on the paint bucket you see at the end.
Choose the color and icon (click on “more icons” to see additional options) you want. If you choose an item from “more icons” you’ll see it there when you customize the next one, making it quick and easy to use it on similar places.
You can do as much or as little of this as you like. You can drag items up and down to put them in any order you want. Once you’ve finished adding places to your map, you’re ready to share and download! To share your map with others, simply click on the share option next to “Add Layer” and choose the settings you want.
Download the map onto your phone by going to your Google Maps App. Click on “Saved” (the little bookmark) and choose “Maps” at the bottom. This will pull up customized maps you’ve created. Choose the one you want to see and you’ll see your map in addition to the usual Google Maps.
Step 4 to Plan a Trip with Google Maps: Outline Your Itinerary
Now that you have your route selected and a personalized map of your destinations, it’s time to nail down your itinerary. Start by deciding your “must see'' places. These are the spots you’re not willing to leave the destination without visiting. This is the hard part, my friend! You’re not going to see it all so make peace with that now. It’s okay. You’ll either go back or go somewhere new, but there’s no way to see every single thing unless you’re going to spend weeks or months in a place.
Your custom map will help you decide how many days to plan for each stop. I recommend no more than two major attractions in a day. Yes, you can see more, but you will want some unplanned time to wander aimlessly, get a coffee in the cute little cafe you find in the morning, or have a picnic in the park. I promise, many of your most memorable moments will come from the things you didn’t plan. Leave room for the magic to find you instead of running from one thing to the next.
When you plan a trip with Google Maps you’ll have everything right at your fingertips. Once you finish at one of your “must see” spots, check your map to see what else is nearby. Walking from place to place is a great way to see more of your destination too!
Now that you know how to plan a trip with Google Maps, have fun with it! On the weekends, I love to get a cup of coffee and see what kind of amazing itineraries I can dream up with this tool. Yes, I’m a travel nerd through and through! 🙂
If you’ve enjoyed this article, sign up for emails so you’ll know when I publish new ones! While it does take some time and effort to put your own international trips together, there are some additional tips and resources that can make it easier. Below are some of the most popular articles to help with travel planning!
If you don’t have the time to plan every single bit of your trip or would like to get insight on your plans, check out these consulting services created specifically for indie travelers like you. Maybe you’d enjoy meeting like-minded people to talk travel with, learn from, and share stories with. Then the Indie Travel Collective may be the place for you! We have fun, help each other travel smarter and save money all at the same time!
Now get out there. The world is waiting for you!
Did you learn anything new about Google Maps in this article? What are some of your favorite tools for planning itineraries and mapping your travel routes?
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