Planning a trip is equal parts fun, exciting, and exhausting.
There’s a never-ending list of things to do:
- Book flights
- Find accommodation
- Look for things to do
- Decide how many days to spend in each place
- Figure out public transportation
- Pay deposits
- Book airport transfers
- Relay all this information to everyone else coming with you the trip
It’s almost like a second job to plan out the perfect getaway!
Over the years, I’ve run through tons of trip planning methods, but I haven’t found one that can hold a candle to Google Maps (and good old spreadsheets, but I’ll save that for a separate post).
It’s ridiculously easy to plan a trip with Google Maps, and it will save you hours (both before and during your trip).
If you’re over feeling overwhelmed by putting together an itinerary, this is the guide for you. I’m walking you through exactly how I use a Google Map planner to set the groundwork for my trips, decide where to book a hotel, and map out the logistics of all the activities and sights I’d like to see along the way.
Whether you’re spending a weekend away or using your hard-earned PTO to take a mega vacation, here’s my step-by-step guide for Google Maps trip planning.
RELATED: Road Tripping Like a Pro – Planning Tips to Help You Stay Sane on Long Drives
Why You Should Plan a Trip With Google Maps
Wondering how a map tool can help you plan an entire vacation? Here are five reasons why I think Google Maps is an underrated MVP, whether you’re like me and genuinely enjoy the puzzle of trip planning, or not!
The Google Maps Trip Planning is a Visual Brain Dump
What I love most about Google Maps trip planning is I can SEE everything in one place. After hours scrolling through Pinterest, Instagram, and countless guides around the web, I always come up with an extensive list of things I would love to do wherever it is I’m going.
Then, with Maps, I can take all that hard work and dump it into one centralized place. With a tap or swipe of my finger, I can quickly see a list of all the restaurants I want to visit and how far specific attractions are from one another, and go from there.
Having all my places of interest laid out gives me a crystal-clear idea of where everything is and helps familiarize myself with a new destination (or a road trip route).
Do you have a bunch of attractions clustered in one area, like in a specific neighborhood or on the coast near the beach? That’s your first clue on where to look for hotels if you don’t already know where you’d like to stay!
See How Many Days You Need to Spend in Each Destination
Do you struggle with figuring out how many days to spend in a country or each city? Google Maps trip planning can help with that, too.
With all your must-sees (and must-eats) on a map, you can see which areas have the most markers. You’ll want to spend more days in places with a high concentration of pins to give yourself enough time to see everything.
If you see that you have pins further away, you can do two things:
- Nix those from your Google itinerary if you don’t have time for detours.
- Sacrifice other things on your itinerary to make room for a day trip.
- Explore whether there are easy tours you can book to take you there without the added logistics of renting a car or navigating public transportation (unless that’s your jam!)
Get All The Information You Need in One Place
It happens to the best of us.
You’re exploring a new city, and you forgot to check the opening times for the museum you want to visit.
When everything you want to see is on Google Maps, you don’t need to waste time finding any of that information over and over again.
All you need to do is click on the listing, and you’ll instantaneously get:
- Hours of operation
- Phone number
Plus, you can see peak visitation times! This is super useful if you’re hoping to visit a popular attraction like the Tegalalang Rice Paddies in Bali and want to avoid the crowds.
P.S. Did you know if you tap on “Directions” and select the “Rideshare” icon, you’ll get a list of operators in the area with links to take you directly to the corresponding app for ride-hailing? Here’s to never putting in the wrong address into Uber again!
You Can Customize Your Google Maps Trip Planner
Maybe this is a minor thing for some people, but as a type-A personality, I love obsessing over customization details. From my office essentials to my Keep notes, everything is color-coded and carefully selected. And you might’ve guessed where this was going – on Google Maps, there’s actually a lot more customization capabilities than people realize!
You can make custom labels, icons, and color codes. It helps you get super organized and find things faster when you’re in a rush.
For instance, I might color-code free attractions versus the ones that cost money or require a reservation. Or, I might label the places I know I’d like to spend more time in for photography. The options are endless and entirely up to you.
It Saves You Time
Trip planning is TIME-CONSUMING. Did I say that already?
And it’s especially time-consuming if you have other people involved.
When you create a Google Map to plan a trip, you can effortlessly share it with your friends and family. From there, everyone can add their interests and preferences, and you save yourself from the pain of going back and forth with everyone as you narrow down your agenda.
It also makes you a much more organized and efficient traveler. By grouping areas with higher concentrations of pins, you can see more and save yourself from unnecessarily traveling back and forth from one end of the city to another.
Lastly, it makes you adaptable. Did an attraction close for maintenance? No problem. Whip out your Google Map, and you can make changes to your itinerary on the fly. Once again, saving you time and giving you more options in a pinch!
How to Use The Google Maps Travel Planner to Create an Itinerary
Creating a Google Map for your next trip is easy (and it can be really fun!). Let the planning commence!
Step 1: Make a New Google Map
The first step to create a trip in Google Maps is to visit the Google Maps home page. Click on the hamburger menu icon in the top left-hand corner.
Select “Your Places” from the dropdown menu.
Select “Maps” in the far right-hand corner menu. If you’ve created custom maps in the past, you’ll see the list here.
Click on “Create Map,” and it will redirect you to an untitled map. Add the name of your map and a description.
Tip: You need to sign in to your Google account for this to work.
Step 2: Create Categories for Your Map
Next, you want to break down everything you want to do in “categories.” Some of the ones I use are:
- Coffee shops
- Fun photo spots / Photoshoot locations
- Activities (beaches, attractions, hiking trails, etc.)
- Hotels or campsites
Think about your interests and how you like to spend your trip. Are you all about feasting on the best vegan food from a city? Maybe you love shopping at markets and bringing home souvenirs. Whatever it is, use what you like to start planning your trip and creating categories around your top priorities.
Once you have your categories, you’ll create a layer for each one.
Click on the “Add Layer” button on the left-hand side of your screen.
Click on “Untitled Layer” to re-name the category and keep your map organized.
Step 3: Start Adding Your Trip Inspiration to Google Maps
Now it’s time to put all your research and endless scrolling to good use! Gather all your trip inspiration and start adding it to the map.
When I plan a trip with Google Maps, I go through all the blog posts I’ve saved as well as my “Saved” folder for a destination on Instagram. It makes the whole process so much easier and saves me from researching a place from scratch.
Here’s how it works for me:
Let’s say I want to go to Utah. I’ll go through a first-timers guide to Park City itinerary (shameless plug) and add all the places I want to visit onto the map. If I saw a friend recently visited a restaurant in Park City and saved her post on Instagram to refer to later, I might add that to my map as well.
How to Add a Place to Your Map
Step 1: Select the layer you want the pin to be added to.
Step 2: Type the place’s name into the search box and select the listing from the dropdown list.
Step 3: Click on the “Add to Map” button, and you’re done!
Tip: If you accidentally add a location to the wrong layer, you can drag and drop it to the correct one.
What happens if the place you want to visit isn’t on Google Maps? As long as you have the address, you can manually add it to your map.
Step 4: Customize Your Map
As I mentioned earlier, I love how you can customize the Google Maps trip planner. There are dozens of options to keep things organized, from changing pin colors, to adding icons, to including images.
- Click on the “paint bucket” icon at the bottom of a location marker’s pop-up window to customize a listing.
- To add notes, click on the “pencil” icon next to the paint bucket.
- To remove a place from your Google itinerary, click on the trash bucket icon in the same panel.
How to Use Color-Coding to Plan a Trip with Google Maps
Option 1. Color-code things by priority: Mark your must-visit locations in red. The ones you’d like to see can be yellow, and things you don’t mind visiting if there’s time can be green.
Option 2. Break down your category: Under your “Activities” layer, you can color-code all hiking trails green, museums blue, and monuments yellow. This really helps you find what you’re looking for so much faster when you’re on the go.
Step 5: Create Your Google Maps Itinerary
With all your points of interest now included on your map, you can zoom out and see where you have the highest concentration of pins.
This will help you decide which neighborhood is the best fit for your trip, which hotel makes the most sense (with budget and location in mind), which restaurants are the easiest to start booking reservations for, and which activities you should group together.
Then, you can start the process of elimination.
- Which activities don’t make sense to keep included, given the time you have available?
- How long is it going to take to get from place to place?
- How many days would you need to see everything?
- What are “must-do” activities, and what are good back-ups if your plans change?
As you start answering these questions, you’ll see your itinerary start to come to life.
Step 6: How to Plan a Road Trip on Google Maps
For road trips, plotting your route on Google Maps helps you plan everything from fuel stops to attractions to see along the way. You’ll have a good idea of how long to spend in each destination, where you might need to spend a night, and what you don’t want to miss in between.
Your custom map can also show you how far things are from one another.
Click on the location you want directions to and select the arrow icon next to the trash icon.
A new layer for directions will be added to your map.
Add in your starting point, and you’ll see a blue path connecting point A to point B.
Click the “Add Destination” button to add multiple stops on Google Maps.
Tip: Select the transport icon on the layer to change the directions from driving to walking.
Step 7: Access Your Google Maps Trip Planner on Your Phone
Whew! You’ve made it.
All your planning is done, and you officially created a Google Maps itinerary for your next trip.
Next, you want to make sure you can access it on your phone. To do that, download Google Maps onto your phone and log in with your Google account.
When you’re signed in, tap on the “Saved” tab at the bottom of the screen.
Tap on “Maps” and select the map you want to view.
What happens if you’re exploring the streets of Rome, you get lost, and you’ve run out of data? Google Maps to the rescue!
You can make all your maps available offline.
Here’s how to access Google My Maps offline:
- Download the Google Earth app
- Go to your custom map on your desktop and select “Export to KML/KMZ.”
- Leave all the boxes unchecked and download it to your desktop.
- Email the download to yourself and open it on your phone.
- Open the file with the Google Earth app.
Tip: Information like addresses, opening times, and directions aren’t populated. You’ll need to add these manually to the notes section of each listing to see it on the Google Earth app.
Ready, Steady, Start Planning a Trip with Google Maps!
Congrats! You can officially plan a trip with Google Maps.
All that’s left to do now is click the “Share” button to share your map with your friends and start booking your accommodation.
Have you tried Google Map trip planning before? Got any tips? Let me know in the comments.
Read This Next:
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- 5 Websites I Use to Book Cheap Flights
- 11 Actionable Tips to Travel More this Year, Even If You Work Full-Time
- Checklist: 11 Things To Do the Day Before You Go on Vacation