Embarking on a road trip is an exciting adventure, and with the power of technology, the planning process has never been easier. One tool that has become an indispensable companion for travellers is Google Maps. Gone are the days of flipping through street directories and fumbling paper maps to navigate unfamiliar roads. Google Maps offers a plethora of features that can make your road trip planning a breeze. Let’s delve into the various ways you can plan a road trip with Google Maps, allowing you to focus on the joy of the open road and the thrill of exploration.
Table of contents
- Google Maps versus Google My Maps
- Key features of Google Maps for road trip planning
- How to create a road trip itinerary using Google Maps
- Tips for optimizing your road trip route with Google Maps
Google Maps versus Google My Maps
If you’ve used Google to plan a road trip in the past, you may have tried your hand at using Google My Maps. This powerful add-on to traditional Google Maps can be extremely useful allowing you to plot, save and share a route. However, it practical use on the road is to this day, clunky and disjointed.
Thankfully, over time, Google has added some of the most useful My Maps features for road trip planning, into its regular Maps app. So now you can plan and execute a road trip easily in Google Maps.
Key features of Google Maps for road trip planning
Let’s take a closer look at some of the key features that make Google Maps the ultimate free tool for planning your next adventure.
Traffic information and real-time updates
One of the most valuable features of Google Maps is its ability to provide real-time traffic updates. By accessing data from millions of users, Google Maps can accurately predict traffic patterns and suggest alternative routes to avoid congestion. This feature is especially useful during peak travel times or when traveling through unfamiliar areas.
Gone are the days of fumbling with paper maps and trying to decipher complicated directions. With Google Maps, turn-by-turn navigation is just a tap away. The app provides clear and concise directions, complete with voice guidance, making it easy to follow along.
Google Maps will notify you of upcoming turns and lane changes, ensuring that you never miss a crucial exit or turnoff. This feature is not only convenient but also promotes safe driving by allowing you to keep your eyes on the road at all times.
While a reliable internet connection is essential for using most features of Google Maps, there may be instances when you find yourself in an area with limited or no connectivity. Fear not, because Google Maps has a solution for that too. By downloading offline maps, you can access them even when you’re offline. More on that later.
One of the best things about road trips is the opportunity to stumble upon hidden gems and unexpected discoveries. Google Maps makes this even easier with its “Explore nearby” feature. By simply tapping on the search bar, you can access a list of nearby attractions, restaurants, and more.
This feature is perfect for those spontaneous moments when you want to explore the area around you or find a place to grab a quick bite to eat. With Google Maps, the possibilities are endless, and you never know what hidden treasures you might uncover along the way.
How to create a road trip itinerary using Google Maps
Now that we’ve covered the benefits and key features of Google Maps for road trip planning, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of creating a road trip itinerary.
1. Start by setting your destination
The first step in creating a road trip itinerary in Google Maps is to set your destination and any known stops along the way. Having all your places pinned in advance lets you get an overview as to what might be the most efficient route and the kinds of distances you’ll be covering.
To pin places to your map, open Google Maps and search for the location you want to travel. Next, select the “Save” button with the little ribbon icon. This will open a List view. I like to create a list for each individual trip by selecting “New list”. Name your list and add the location you just searched.
Repeat this process until you have added all your destinations and stops on the map. They will appear as coloured pins, distinct from other items, so you can clearly see where they are located relative to one another.
HINT: When plotting National Parks or State Parks by this search-and-pin method, Google Maps usually puts a pin right in the middle of the park. This is not necessarily a place you want to go in the park or that is accessible by road, so you won’t be able to get navigable directions there. Instead, search for a visitors’ centre, trailhead or parking lot instead.
2. Search for nearby attractions
You can use Google Maps to search around each stop or destination for other places of interest. Do this by selecting a place and clicking “See nearby attractions”. Pin any of these that take your fancy to your list.
3. Plot and customise your route
Once you’ve plotted all your destinations and stops, you can select your first destination and tap on the “Directions” button to begin planning your route.
Google Maps provides several options when it comes to customizing your route. You can choose to avoid tolls or highways, select the shortest or fastest route, or even add multiple stops along the way. To access these options, tap on the three dots in the top right corner of the screen and select “Route options”. From there, you can tailor your route to suit your preferences and needs.
4. Add stops and attractions
A road trip isn’t just about getting from point A to point B; it’s about the journey and all the wonderful places you can discover along the way. So you might be wondering how to plan a road trip with multiple stops in Google Maps. This couldn’t be easier!
To add a stop on your route, simply tap a place on the map (one of your pins if your already plotted them out) and select “Add stop”. You can also re-jig the order of your stops by clicking the three dots and selecting “Edit stops”. Here you can add, remove and reorder your stops.
HINT: Google lets you add up to 10 stops on your route, including your starting point and destination. If you have a lot of stops, you might have to plot several routes, maybe one for each day of your trip.
4. Save your itinerary two ways
Before we continue, it is important to note that the following save functions may not be available to everyone. They have been reported by some Google Maps users and not others—I have the second method.
Once you’ve created your road trip itinerary, you can save it for future reference and share it with others. To save your itinerary, tap on the three dots in the top right corner of the screen and select “Save route”. This will allow you to access your itinerary later, even when you’re offline.
For those of us that still don’t have this feature, there is a way to pin your route and recall it, but it will only work for point-to-point travel and doesn’t work for a route with multiple stops. To use it, select your destination and tap on the “Directions” button. You will see a “Pin” button come up. Tap this to save the route on your screen. You can save more than one individual route. When you come back to Google Maps later, look for the “Go” button on the bottom of your screen to recall your saved route. If you’ve saved more than one, a list will pop up for you to select from.
5. Share your itinerary
To share your itinerary, tap on the share icon and select the desired sharing method. You can send it via email, text message, or even share it on social media. Sharing your itinerary is a great way to keep your friends and family in the loop and get them excited about your road trip. It can also be a safety feature if you are travelling alone, allowing you to share your planned route with a trusted friend or family member.
Tips for optimizing your road trip route with Google Maps
While Google Maps does an excellent job of providing accurate directions and route suggestions, there are a few tips and tricks you can use to optimize your road trip route even further. Here are some expert tips for getting the most out of Google Maps during your road trip.
1. Use satellite view to preview your route
Before hitting the road, take advantage of Google Maps’ Satellite or Terrain view to get a visual preview of your route. This will give you a better understanding of the elevation changes, road conditions, and any potential obstacles you might encounter along the way. Satellite view is especially useful when travelling through mountainous or remote areas. Change your map type by selecting the layers icon.
2. Check for road closures and construction
Road closures and construction can put a damper on your road trip plans, so it’s important to check for any potential disruptions before you set off. Google Maps provides real-time information about road closures and construction projects, allowing you to plan your route accordingly.
By accessing the “Traffic” layer in Google Maps, you can see any reported road closures or delays in your area. This feature is especially useful when traveling to popular tourist destinations or during peak travel times.
3. Take advantage of the “Avoid” feature
Sometimes, you might have specific preferences when it comes to the type of roads you want to travel on. Whether you want to avoid tolls, highways, or ferries, Google Maps has you covered. By accessing the “Options” menu, you can toggle on and off various options. Use “Avoid highways” if you prefer scenic routes or want to take the road less travelled.
4. Plan for pit stops and rest breaks
Long hours on the road can be tiring, so it’s important to plan for pit stops along your route. Google Maps can help you find gas stations, parks, grocery stores, and other amenities near your location. Simply tap on the search bar and type in what you’re looking for or use the shortcut buttons beneath the search bar. Note, you’ll have to exit the navigation/route before you can do this.
Google Maps will provide a list of nearby options, complete with user ratings and reviews. Planning for pit stops and rest breaks will not only ensure that you stay energized and refreshed but also allow you to explore new places and experiences.
5. Offline navigation with Google Maps during road trips
While a reliable internet connection is essential for using most features of Google Maps, there may be instances when you find yourself in an area with limited or no connectivity. Fear not, because Google Maps has a solution for that too. By downloading offline maps, you can access them even when you’re offline. Here’s how you can use Google Maps for offline navigation during your road trip.
Note: It is important to do this before you depart, while you still have reliable internet. Furthermore, some maps can be quite large and chew through your mobile data. Therefore, it is best to download your offline maps while you are on wifi.
6. Downloading a map for use offline
Open Google Maps and tap on the menu icon in the top right corner of the screen with your Google profile picture. From there, select “Offline maps” and then tap on the “+” button to create a new offline map. You can choose the area you want to save by zooming in or out on the map. Once you’ve selected the desired area, tap on “Download” to save the map to your device. Make sure you rename it to something that makes sense if you have several saved maps.
Once you’ve downloaded the offline maps, you can access them even when you’re offline. Simply open Google Maps and tap on the menu icon in the top left corner of the screen. From there, select “Offline maps” and then tap on the downloaded map to open it. You can now use Google Maps for navigation, search for attractions, and even get turn-by-turn directions, all without an internet connection.
NOTE: Public transport, bicycle and walking directions are unavailable offline.
See my full guide to planning the ultimate road trip for more helpful tips and tools. You can also find pre-planned road trip itineraries waiting for you here.
Peace, love & inspiring travels, Madam ZoZo