How did we survive before Google? How did we travel before Google Maps? But most importantly – how do we make the most of these new tools?
Google Maps is a great tool, it helps you find your way around without having to carry a huge city map! The GPS feature means you no longer have to work out where you are before you work out where you’re going.
I use Google Maps constantly while travelling, in many ways – follow these tips to make the most of the app and spend more time enjoying your trip!
Note: When I speak about the Google Maps mobile app, I’m referring to the Andriod version. I’m not sure how different the iOS version is, however, I imagine the majority of these tips will still work on your Apple device. Let me know in the comments below what works and what doesn’t!
1. Download Offline Google Maps
Using the Google Maps mobile app can chew through your data at the best of times, and when travelling abroad you often don’t have any mobile data anyway. So how do you use the Google Maps app?
Download the map of the area you’ll be in, for use offline!
While connected to WiFi, go to the options section of your Google Maps App.
Select ‘Custom Area’ and then select the area to download.
Note that the larger the area, the more storage it will take up on your device.
The area you selected will download to your device, and you can now see all the details while offline! It will take up storage space on your device, so it’s a good idea to delete each area once you’ve moved on – however, it will expire and delete itself after a period of time anyway.
2. Save Places of Interest within a city
You have the option to save places in Google Maps – both on the desktop version and the mobile app. If you’re logged in, then it will sync between devices, so you can access them on both. Doing this marks the saved location with a yellow star, which you can still see while offline on the app (as long as it synced while you were online, and you’ve followed point 1).
This has several benefits – you remember places you want to go, whether cafes, restaurants, tourist sites – anything. And they’re marked on your map so while out and about you can open Google Maps and can see all the places you saved, and see how to get there.
3. Save booked Accommodation
Have you ever arrived in a new city, and not been able to work out how to get to the accommodation you booked? Perhaps you know it’s only a short walk from the bus/train station you’ve arrived at – but you just don’t know how to find it. Perhaps you’re in a taxi and you have no idea whether they’re taking you the quick way or the expensive scenic route.
As with point 2, save your accommodation on Google Maps (with the area downloaded like point 1), and you’ll always be able to find it! Yay!
4. Save Places of Interest – while planning
This is using the same feature as mentioned above, but in a different way. Rather than having already arrived in a location, and looking for different things to see/do there, this is for planning your route through a country or region.
I was recently in Eastern Europe and knew there were many things I wanted to see in several countries. How did I decide what’s possible, what might not work out, and what route to take? Easy – while researching, I saved all the things I wanted to see to my Google Maps so they showed up with a star.
I could then look at the map and see a basic outline of the route I should take. When something was far off the rest of the route, I’d re-consider how much I really wanted to see it. It doesn’t mean I ruled it out completely – things that were important to me, I’d still go to. Things I wasn’t 100% sold on and were out of the way and difficult to get to, I cut out of my itinerary.
5. Read Reviews
Google Maps is a great place to find things in the local area – cafes, restaurants, places of interest and more! Not only that, but you can see what people rate them out of 5 stars, as well as read reviews.
Then instead of accidentally ending up in a cafe with reviews like ‘rude staff and bad coffee’ you’ll know there is one a 5 minute walk away that says ‘best coffee in Romania, good prices and reliable WiFi’
Once you’ve found somewhere you want to visit, save it following the above points – you can then find it when you’re ready!
6. Leave Reviews – and Earn Points
How do all those helpful reviews get onto Google Maps? By normal people like you and me of course!
Any platform like this is only as good as the reviews left by people who’ve been to these places. Just like platforms such as CouchSurfing & WorkAway rely on truthful reviews, so does Google Maps. So… Leave reviews! Not just of places you’ve eaten, but everywhere – the supermarket, museum, hairdresser – anywhere and everywhere. Is the place you went to not currently on Google Maps? Add it! Are the details incorrect? Update them! The internet is an amazing place – but only as amazing as we make it!
Google now rewards you for your contributions, by giving you points for each thing you contribute – this is their Local Guides program. I’m currently a level 4 Local Guide, which means I get a bunch of benefits such as access to online communities and best of all – some free Google Drive storage!
7. Screenshot directions
Even when you’ve downloaded the offline area for the city you’re in, you can’t use Google Map’s normal step by step directions for walking. A recent update means that this still works for driving, which is great! However, for walking you can still see the map and the GPS marker showing where you are – you just have to work out which streets to walk down yourself. It’s such a hard life!
One way around this is to look up the directions while you’re on the WiFi in your hostel before going out. You’ll see the directions marked on the map, as well as the written directions – screenshot these!
You can now refer to the screenshots while you’re walking around the city trying to take in the sites.
8. Your Timeline – where have you been?
Ever get back to your hostel at the end of a long day exploring a new city, and somebody asks; “Where did you go today?” … And you don’t really know the answer!? “Uh, I walked around… I saw some cool stuff, some buildings – I found a cool cafe, don’t know what it was called or where it is, though” … Awkward.
Enter Google Map’s ‘your timeline’ tool! You can go to any specific day, and it will show you where you went! It even will tell you if it thinks you were walking, on a train, driving etc. It’s not always 100% accurate, but you can correct it as well. It’s much more accurate if you have Maps open and GPS on all day, but obviously this will kill your battery very quickly, so generally isn’t something you’d do. At worst, it still shows you the basic path you took for the day and some places you stopped.
You can also use your timeline to help you do the reviews as mentioned above, as it shows where you’ve been and you select each place and write your review! Magics!
9. Use Desktop & Mobile App
If you are travelling without a laptop, you can do all of these things on your mobile – however, I find that using a bit of both works best! Why not use the desktop version with the larger screen for your planning and research in the evenings – plan your route, save locations for your next day of travelling… Then sync to your mobile for while you’re out and about tomorrow?
The key is moderation! Also, work out what things you prefer to do on your mobile versus on the desktop version. I like to do reviews on the desktop version each evening – then all of the places are fresh in my mind, and with all the typing it’s much easier to have a proper keyboard.
Do you use Google Maps while travelling? Do you have any additional tips?
Do you have any questions about these tips?
Please – let me know in the comments section below!