Plan A Road Trip With Google Maps
Last Updated: July 25, 2019

Planning A Road Trip With Google Maps (A Detailed Guide)

If you like researching foreign cities and creating travel itineraries, this guide is perfect for you! Especially if you’re going on a road trip, and you need an itinerary that you can share with your friends.

You can do it all in Google Maps. You can create your own custom Google Maps itinerary, and pin down all the museums, monuments, cafes and other places you want to visit. You can even write little notes next to each place, and change the colors and icons of each pin.

Sounds like fun? Read the rest of our guide to become an expert on creating Google Maps travel itineraries!

Why You Should Use Google Maps For Your Travel Itinerary

Let’s get one thing clear – this is only going to work if you like planning, organizing and maps. If you enjoy making travel itineraries for you and your friends, this guide will take your skills to the next level.

But if it’s not your thing, don’t bother. Instead, why don’t you send this post to your friend who is the designated trip planner and help them learn something new.

Cross Platform Access

One thing that doesn’t get enough credit in our day and age is cross platform access. You can view your Google Maps on any device on any platform – Windows, OSX, Android, iOS. So, you can work on your map on your Windows computer, and then use it on your iPhone later.

You can also edit the maps on your phone or tablet, but you can’t do it in the app. To edit the maps on mobile, you need to go the My Maps page in a web browser. On Android, you can also download the app ’Maps Go’. But this app also runs in Chrome, and it’s not the smoothest to use.

Easy To Share

It’s really easy to share these maps with your friends, which is perfect if you’re planning a group trip. Everyone can have access to the same map on their phone, and your friends can even edit the maps if you give them permission to do so.

And you can share these maps with the world if you want to. Just set their privacy to ‘public’, and anyone can view them with the link. If you have a blog, you can also easily embed the map into your post, like this one.

 

Your Itinerary In The Palm Of Your Hand

You can create as many maps and add as many places to them as you want. And you can have all of them in the palm of your hand. By that I mean in your smartphone. Forgot the name of that bistro where you were supposed to go grab lunch? Just check the map on your phone.

Be As Organized As You Want

You can add different layers to these maps and change the icons and colors of pins. This gives you complete control of what your custom map looks like, which is awesome. You can make every pin a different color or use a cat icon for every place you want to visit. The maps are highly customizable, which really lets you make them your own.

Cons Of Using Google Maps

Only Available Online

You can’t download your own maps like you can download regular maps, and that’s one big downside. The maps you create can be viewed only when you’re online, but there are a couple of ways to trick the app.

You can open up you map while you’re online, and view it later when you’re not. If you have a newer phone, the map will run in the background, and you should be able to view it even without any Internet connection. However, you won’t be able to see any details about the pins on your map.

They Have Limitations

The possibilities with Google Maps aren’t endless. You can only add 10 layers per map, which means that you will usually need to create more than one map.

When you’re viewing the map you created, the information you see is very limited. When you tap on an icon, the usual Google Maps card doesn’t show up. Instead, you can only see the name and description you typed. And that is pretty ridiculous, considering that you can see the regular info (reviews, photos, website etc.) for every place you did not pin on the map.

Maps LimitationsThere is one trick to bypass this – if you select an icon, tap on the ‘view map legend’ and hide the layer that icon is in, you will be able to see info about the place. I seriously think this is an oversight by Google, and hopefully something they fix in the next update.

You Can’t Use It For Navigation

Although you can add driving and walking routes to your maps, you can’t really use those routes for navigation.

When you open up your custom map plan on your phone, you will be able to see the path that you added. But you can’t get any more information about it, and you can’t use it for directions.

There is one thing you can do – open up the regular map in the app, and ask for directions.  

Planning Out The Itinerary With Google Maps

Before you start pinning places on a map and creating layers, you should figure out which places you actually want to visit. And Google Maps can help you with that. Here’s how I plan my trips using maps.

So, first I find the city where I’m going to. Then, I’ll type in something like ‘best restaurants in [city_name]’ or ‘best hotels’. The places that will pop up on the map are the highest-rated places in the area. And then it’s time to go through the reviews.

You might think it’s useless – why go through reviews if a restaurant has 4.6 stars? Because stuff happens, and you should always look at the most recent reviews. Maybe the owner or the cook were changed, and the last 10 reviews are all bad. That will not impact the overall score of the restaurant too much, but it does mean that you should avoid the place.

I also like to go through the photos. It gives you a good idea of what kind of a place you’re checking out, how you should be dressed and you can see what’s on the menu. Maybe you will spot a dish that you must try, and one specific restaurant will be at the top of your list.

Another thing I usually do is compare the places Google lists with the places on Trip Advisor. If a place has great reviews on both of them, then I usually add it to my map. But if it’s highly rated only on one of them, I go through the reviews to see what the downsides are, and then I decide if I should add it to the map.

Getting Started With Google Maps

First thing’s first – go to Google Maps and log in. If by some miracle you’ve managed to make it this far without having a Google account, it’s time to make one. Click on the ‘Create a New Map’ button in the top left part of the screen, and you can get started.

Creating A Map

From there, there are two ways you can approach making the map. You can either put everything you want on this one map, or you can make a different map for every day of your trip. It’s up to you – I prefer to have several maps, because it’s a bit easier to navigate them when you’re on your phone.

But I will give you some advice on both strategies.

Creating Layers

You can add a maximum of 10 layers to any Google map you make. It’s up to you how you want to organize your layers. You can do a different layer for each day, or cafes in one layer, shopping malls in the second one, clubs in the third one etc.

Adding a layer is pretty easy – in the top left corner of the screen, just below the name of your Map, you have the ‘Add a Layer’ option.

Add A Layer

That’s what you want to click, if you just want to add pins to your map – cafes, fast foods, hotels, night clubs, museums and whatnot.

Make sure to name all of your layers. It might seem redundant, but if you add 10 of them, your map will get really busy. And then when you’re viewing it, you will probably want to turn off some layers – that’s not as easy to do when all of them are named ‘Untitled Layer’ and you have no idea which one you’re hiding.

Edit Layer Name

To rename a layer, click once on the layer card to select it, and then click on its name. An ‘Edit layer name’ card will pop up, and you can type in whatever you want.  You can also rename it by clicking on those three dots to the right of its name – the same card appears.

Adding Routes And Directions

If you want to add a route or directions, click on the little icon that looks like your standard share icon, just below the search bar. That allows you to add a driving route, a walking route or a cycling route.

Add A Route

Say you’re staying in Lisbon and you want to get from the Fado Museum to the Lisbon Cathedral. You can select “add walking route” and then you’re automatically in draw mode. This mode allows you to just select two points on the map, and Google automatically find a route for you.

Or you can just press the ESC button on your keyboard, and then you can type in your starting point and destination.

Add A Path

The same goes if you want to add a driving or a cycling route – just select one of the two when you’re adding a new layer. However, you can’t add pins of places to layers with directions, and you can’t have more than one route on one layer. Which means that you can add 10 routes max to one map – and that’s why I prefer to have several maps.

Choosing Which Layers You Want To View

When you’re viewing a map with several layers, every pin and route you added in each of them is visible. If you want to view just one layer, you need to turn it off. On a computer, you can just uncheck the box next to the name of the layer, and it won’t show up on the map.

Deselected Layer

On your phone, you need to open up the Google Maps app, go to the settings menu (left of the search bar), and then Your Places –> Maps. The Maps menu is on the far right, and you might need to scroll a bit to get to it.

Selecting Layers

There you can see all of the maps you created. Select the map you want to edit, tap the “View Map Legend” at the very bottom, and then you can select which layers you (don’t) want to see.

Editing The Layers

To edit a layer, click on the three dots to the right of the layer’s name. There you have three options – you can rename the layer, delete it or view data table.

Edit A Layer

The first and second options are fairly straightforward – you can change the name of the layer or delete it if you’re not happy with it.

Edit Data Table

The third option allows you to mass edit the names and descriptions of your pins – useful if you want to add comments or notes to all of the places. You can also do this by clicking on individual pins on the map, if you don’t want to edit every single item.

Adding Pins

Adding pins is my favorite part. I like playing around with them and making my maps look colourful and quirky.

So you’ve added your Museums layer and now you want to actually pin some museums to the map. Use the search bar to type in the museum you have in mind, or find on the map and click on it. A card with important information about the place will pop up. Click on the ‘Add to map’ option in the bottom left corner of the card to add the pin to the map.

Add A Pin

That adds a very basic blue pin to your layer. Want to spice things up? Click on the pin you just created, and then click on the bucket icon (Style) to the right of the coordinates. You can now change the color and the icon of your pin. If you click on the ‘more icons’ option, you can really get crazy with your maps.

Style Pins

You can filter the icons by category, or you can type in what you’re looking for. I wanted an icon for a museum, so I typed ‘museum’ in the search bar. I chose the icon that I liked the most, and painted it purple.

Custom Icon

Editing Existing Pins

You can edit the pins by just clicking on them on the map, and selecting the Style option. That’s great if you’re adding things one by one, and doing different types of places on a single layer.

But if you’re doing a layer that’s just cafes, there is an easier way to mass edit the places. You can edit them from the menu on the left side of the screen – the style option is to the right of the name of each place.

Style On The Left

Editing Icons

The menu that appears when you click on the bucket icon is the same one that appears when you click on it directly on the pin – it’s just a bit smaller. You can now edit the color and the icon.

If you selected a custom icon, it should show up in the ‘other icons’ category at the bottom of the card. This is great if you don’t want to waste any time, because it is much quicker to edit multiple locations this way.

Changing the icon and the color of the pins is just one way of editing them. You can also add custom descriptions, your own photos, and you can even add directions to any pin you want. However, adding directions adds another layer to the map, so be aware of that.  

Working With Several Maps

I prefer creating several maps, because that means less restrictions. And I always create a map with only important places – our hotel, the airport, tourist office, police station etc. That way, in case of an emergency, you don’t have to mess with your phone and disable layers to find what you’re looking for.

Several Maps

If you like the idea of multiple maps, I think you will like my strategy.

First you want to categorize the places you want to visit. I usually do 4-5 categories Food & Drinks, Places to See (monuments, buildings, parks etc.), Public Transport (bus, train, tram & subway stops), Shopping, Culture (museums, art galleries etc.). And then I do layers in each of the maps.

So, for the Food & Drinks map, I would have lots of different layers – cafes, pubs, fancy restaurants, bars, chain restaurants, patisseries etc. Like here:

Food And Drink Layers

This strategy works better for me – I don’t like planning out specific days, because that almost never works out. And with these maps, I don’t have to search through 6 different maps to find that one café I think everyone will love. It’s right there on the ‘Food & Drinks’ map, in the ‘Cafes’ layer.

Maybe this approach will work for you, maybe it won’t. But it’s definitely worth trying out.

Letting Google Do Most Of The Work

So, type in whatever you are looking for – I was curious to see which restaurants in Lisbon I should visit during my stay there. So, I typed in ‘Lisbon restaurants’. Here you can see that Google automatically selected 10 of them, but it’s up to me to decide if they are worth actually adding to the map.

Google Search In Maps

This is useful if you don’t really have an idea of where you want to go eatGoogle shows you the best rated spots, and some basic info about them. You can see the websites of restaurants in these maps, which allows you to easily check them out and decide whether or not you actually want to go there.

You can also type in “things to do in Lisbon”, and Google will automatically show you the locations with most reviews and highest ratings. This is extremely helpful if you’re a lazy planner, or if you have no idea where to begin. You can do this for museums, parks, cafes, parking lots, churches – whatever interests you the most.

Adding Pins

Anyway, there are two ways to add these to the map/layer. If you want to add all of the location and fast, just click on the plus signs on in the left part of the map. From there you can easily edit any pin – just click on it, and the menu will pop up. Or you can add it place by place, like I showed you in a previous section.

Getting Directions On The Go

Forgot to add a route on your map? No problem. Open up the map on your phone and choose the place where you want to go on your map, and tap the Directions icon. The map will use your current location as a starting point (if you’re online), or you can add a different starting point if you like.

You can also type in the search bar ‘(point A) to (point B)’ and a path will appear in the map.

Use On the Go

From there, you can also choose which mode of transport you want to take. And that’s one thing I absolutely love about Google maps – they know the tram and bus stops in my home town better than I do. Not to mention that they tell you when you can expect the next bus to arrive to your station, and which bus exactly you should take to get to your destination. In addition to that, the app also tells you how far you have to walk to and from the bus station, which is pretty great.

So, the options for transport are driving, public transport (bus, train, tram), walking and find a ride. The last one shows you the services of the country you are visiting and even displays the average price for that ride.

Ride Prices

This is also why you don’t actually need to add layers with directions to your map – you can’t really use them when you’re not online anyway. And you can get directions to any place in just a couple of seconds, which is extremely convenient. Especially if you’re anything like me and just have zero sense of direction.

Asking for directions this way also gives Google’s AI a chance to check the traffic info, and displays which streets are busier than usual. And that is something the existing route on your map can’t do – you can’t really edit it, or see the stops. You can only see the path, but no specifics about it.  

You Made A Mistake?

There’s several ways to correct mistakes you made while making your map. There’s the undo button just below the search bar, which undoes the last things you changed.

Undo Change

The maps are also responsive to CTRL+Z on both Mac and Windows computers.

If you want to delete a specific pin, you need to select it on the map. The card will pop up – click on the trash bin icon in the bottom right corner. That will successfully delete the unwanted pin.

Delete Pins

You can also (sort of) do this from the menu on the left. When you click on the style icon on the list, a pin of that place will appear on the map. And then just click the trash icon – useful if you’re not sure where on the map you will find the pin you’re trying to delete.

Deleting layers is also really simple. Click on those three dots next to the layers name, and select ‘Delete this layer’. But be careful – this is one change you can’t undo.

Sharing The Maps

Sharing your Google Map itinerary is as simple as creating it. Click on the ‘Share’ option below the name of your map.

Share The Map

You should be prompted with a menu then. From here, there are three ways you can share your Google Map itinerary. You decide who has access to the map, and just how much access they have. If you want your friends to be able to edit the map, give them permission to edit. To do this, you need to click on ‘Change…’, and then you will be prompted with a different menu

Sharing Settings

Map Access

So, how exactly do you share it? Just like any other Google document, you can either send a link to your friends (at the top of the card), or you can add them to the file. The latter option will notify them via email, and the map should appear in their own Google Map app immediately.

I find this to be a more convenient option, because somehow they always lose the link and I have to send it 15 different times. But they won’t lose the email.

You can also share the maps with the phone app. Find the map you want to share, open it up and select ‘view map legend’.

Sharing With App

From there you can share it easily with your friends, but you can’t change the amount of access they have. That’s something that you can do only in the desktop version

Commemorating Your Trip

The maps you create will still exist when you come back from your trip. They’re a great way of preserving memories – you can add photos to places you visited, and even add notes if you want to.

Adding Photos

Find the pin you want to add a photo to, and click on it. The card with the pin info should pop up – click on the camera icon in the bottom right corner. This allows you to add photos and even videos to the pin.

That’s an awesome trick to get your friends to actually share some photos with you. But, if you want them to be able to do this, you will need to give them permission to edit the map plan.

Using Google Maps App On The Go

If you just stumbled upon this guide today, and you don’t have the time to make a Google Maps itinerary plan, it’s okay! You can still use the app to help you make the most of your trip.

Travelling to Portugal? Be sure to check out our 10 Day Portugal Itinerary – now you don’t have to create your own map plan, because we did it for you!

I explained in detail how to get directions and routes when you need them urgently, so make sure to go back if you skipped that part. You can also use the maps to find interesting places to visit.

One of the easiest ways to get recommendations is to just type ‘things to do in [city_name]’ in the search bar within the app. You then get a list of the places with the highest ratings and with highest number of reviews.

Or you can always ask the AI what is close to you. Type ‘restaurants near me’ in the search bar, and the app will display all restaurants that are in your proximity. You can then check the ratings and review to see if one is to your liking.

And let’s not forget that the app pretty much stops you from getting lost. All you have to do is download an offline map of the city you’re travelling to, and you will be able to get around the city even without any internet connection. So, if you wander into an unfamiliar alley, your Google Maps might just stop you from getting lost.

Just note that you can’t download your Google Map itineraries for offline use. You can only do so with regular maps.

 

And that’s all for now. I truly hope you found this guide helpful – if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

Pin It For Later!

Want to learn how to use Google Maps to create custom travel itineraries? Come read our detailed guide, and you’ll become a pro!

About the Author Roger Timbrook

Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!

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