Custom Google Map: Travel Planning + Itinerary

It is pretty hard for me to imagine life before Google Maps. I’ve become so reliant upon it since I’ve had a smartphone. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t use it.

When traveling, I always made a general plan of where I wanted to go each day and print out a few paper maps (or reference my guidebook) that would hopefully help me get to my destination. Sometimes the maps weren’t detailed enough (missing street names), or didn't have the luxuries I'm used to these days (satellite and street view to the rescue). Most of the time I didn’t have too much difficulty getting from Point A to Point B, but on occasion, I would accidentally stumble upon a site that I had planned to see another day that I missed on my map.

One of the best ways to plan out a trip is to create a custom google map. I don't mean mapping out driving or walking directions from one place to another, but rather the entire trip. Didn’t know you could? Well you can!

By creating an individualized trip map, you can highlight all the important landmarks, attractions, restaurants, etc. that you would like to visit. Adding them to the map will provide you with greater spatial awareness and can help you plan out your itinerary. If you’ve mapped out all the landmarks you want to see, you can use the map to find accommodations nearby, or vice versa. It can also store additional information about every location beyond just the name and address, to help make your life a bit easier. By noting where everything is in the city, you can plan daily itineraries that don't have you back tracking or covering the same ground over and over again.

For this exercise we’re going to plan a trip to San Diego. We’ll be staying in two different hotels during our trip and plan to visit many of the big attractions in the area. Here is a step-by-step guide to creating your own personalized map.

1. Start by going to Google My Maps on your computer (sorry, phones aren't going to cut it this time).

Custom My Maps

2. Name your map. Click on the “Untitled map” text in the upper left corner. Add a description too.

Customize My MapEdit map title and description

3. Start by adding layers to your map. You may want to have hotels/accommodations on one layer, restaurants on another, and attractions and landmarks on another. You can select to see all layers at the same time, or can select which ones to show while hiding others. A great tip is to think the layers through properly before starting, but you can always rename them later and drag and drop locations into different layers as needed.

Plan your trip with google maps

4. Choose your base map. Do you prefer satellite image? If so, you can toggle between different options.

Trip planning google maps

5. Type in your destination into the search box. I chose San Diego. The map will then zoom into that area.

google maps itinerary

6. Type in a location in the top search bar. It will automatically pull the address so you don’t have to search for it elsewhere. When you find what you are looking for, select it. It will drop a pin at the location. From there, click on the lower left corner which says “add to map.” This will add it to your map list on the left side of your screen. By default, it will go to whatever your first layer is, so if you are done with one layer, un-check the box next to the layer title, and the layer will become hidden. If you only have one layer visible, all your searches will be added to the visible layer. I recommend starting with where you arrive at your destination. Are you flying in? Mark the location of the airport. Then type in any other confirmed stops like where you pick up your rental car, hotels, etc.

Trip planning using google maps

How to plan your trip with google maps

7. Customize the pin by changing the icon. You can click on the paint bucket icon next to every red pin to experiment with different colors, marker icons, and labels. You can search through an icon library to select the best fit for each location (ex: a bed icon for hotels, camera for photo ops, fork and knife for fine dining, etc.). This way when you are glancing at your map you can easily identify the type of destination.

Plan your trip with google maps

8. Add a description, photo, or video. Click on the pin you want to edit. Click on the grey pencil icon in order to edit these fields. For example, add an image of the restaurant and a quick description of the menu or best time to dine!

How to plan your vacation with google maps

How to plan your holiday with google maps

Add helpful hints, facts or trivia to a pin too! The Children’s Pool in San Diego is a private beach that was designed with children in mind, however it is most famous for the seals that have adopted it as their own private beach. For this exercise, I added a video that I found on YouTube of the beach so I can remember that this is the beach with seals in case I mistake it for another beach. Implementing a video can be helpful if you found a cool virtual tour, etc.

Plan your vacation with google mapsPlan your vacation using google maps

9. Style groups of data. You can experiment with this by clicking the paint roller icon under each layer’s title. I prefer the “individual style” that allows me to customize the pins as I choose, but you can order them alphabetically by name or description, etc.

How to plan your trip: google maps

10. Get directions. Need directions from Point A to Point B? Click on the icon at the top middle of your page that has the arrow pointing up and to the right. This will allow you to map out directions between two points.

How to plan your trip: google map

11. Bookmark your map. All your changes are autosaved into your google account, but be sure to click on the little star icon next to your map name. This will save it to your maps so you can pull it up easily while on the go.

How to plan your vacation: google maps

12. Share your map. If you are traveling with a group you can share it with friends and family too. You can send it via email, google+, Twitter, and Facebook. You can also add contributors if you’re working on it as a group.

Trip Planning: google maps

Other Helpful Tips:

  • If you’re feeling really proactive, create a map for each day’s itinerary so you can keep things as simple as possible.
  • If you have a large area you plan to visit (ex. Balboa Park) you can create a shape around the entire space. You can also color code it, alter the transparency and border width.

Holiday Planning: google mapsVacation Planning: google maps

  • Send the map to your friends and family so they can see where you are staying and where you may visit!
  • Planning a wedding weekend? Create a map of some of your favorite locations for visiting guests.
  • Save an offline copy of your map. If you are traveling abroad and may not have cell service, you won’t be able to take advantage of the map fully. You can save your map and use it offline, however this takes a bit of work. To start you will need to download an offline map app like Maps.ME. Next, you will want to export the file from Google My Maps. Click on the three dots next to “add layer” and “share.” Scroll and select “export to KML.” You will have a choice of selecting the whole map or individual layers. Once downloaded, you’ll want to email it to yourself and then open the email on your phone. Hold down the attachment and it will bring up a prompt to open it with different apps, select “Copy to Maps.ME.” You can then download the map details to see all your pins. Please note that you will lose icons and descriptions, but you can still get directions from your current location to another pin location.
  • Another option to download the map offline within Google Maps is to open the app in your phone and search for your destination city. From there you will want to zoom out enough that you can see the whole area which you will be traveling to. Click on the name of the destination at the bottom of your phone, then click on the three dots icon at the top right corner and select “download offline area.” This can take up a bit of space on your phone. When you head back to the main screen, click on the three bars icon in the upper left corner. From here, select “Your Places” and you’ll find your map saved as an offline map.

Your Turn...

Have you ever traveled using Google My Maps?

Did you have any technical problems using it abroad?

What are your tips for fellow travelers?

Let us know in the comments below...