Google Maps just may be our most used app and we’ve found tons of Google Maps hacks for travel that have made our lives much easier. It’s especially helpful for trip planning, but we also use these tips all the time when driving around nearby home, too.
I hope these Google Maps travel hacks are helpful to you, as well!
Download Offline Maps
This is probably the most basic but also most important Google Maps hack out there – downloading offline maps. Basically, this allows you to choose an area of a map to save offline on your device and then use for navigation even when you don’t have cell service. It’s pretty amazing!
We use it ALL the time when we’re traveling, especially in remote areas or in when traveling out of the country when we may not want to use (expensive) data and so have our phones on airplane mode. It’s also extremely helpful when hiking without service or in a National Park without clear signage or reception. We used it all the time at home in California, too, especially when driving along the coast where service was spotty.
It’s a brilliant travel hack that also contributes to safety. We do it before every single trip and always have the map updated for our home area (it saves for 30 days).
How To Do It: Go to Google Maps and punch in a general area. Scroll to the right on the bottom and click “download.” Zoom in or out on the area you’d like to save, and confirm. It’ll then download that map area offline and you can use your Google Maps as normal for that area, even if you don’t have reception. (Simple video tutorial HERE.)
Create A Google Maps List of Places
I love creating a list of places for where we’d like to go or activities to do when visiting a new location, and Google Maps makes it super easy to visualize where everything is located relative to each other. It makes it easy to group close activities together, or to figure out a decent place to eat on a whim based on where you currently are (or to remember places that can accommodate dietary restrictions). This makes it easy to label favorite spots, points of interest, accommodations, etc.
How To Do It: Open Google Maps and click on “Saved.” Create a new list and start populating places. You can also click on suggestions it auto populates for a specific city. (Simple video tutorial HERE.)
Save A Pin Drop
Did you know you can hold down your thumb anywhere on a map to save a pin drop? It took me way too long to figure out how to do this but it’s SO helpful for sharing a location with a friend, saving a parking location, saving a pretty viewpoint or other spot that doesn’t have a name on Google Maps, etc.
How To Do It: Hold down your thumb wherever you want to save the pin drop (if it’s where you are, zoom in and hold your thumb over the blue dot showing your location). A red location marker will appear. Click on either “Save” (if you want to save the location) or scroll over to “Share” (if you’d like to share it with someone else).
Share Trip Progress
I was a little mind blown when I realized I could easily share my trip progress with someone just using Google Maps, without having to manually update them. It’ll share with them until you arrive at your destination!
How To Do It: Once you’ve hit “Start” for your intended route, tap on the bottom of the screen to bring up the options menu. The top option should be “Share Trip Progress.” Once you click on that, you can choose with whom to share your route.
Search Along Route
Speaking of that options menu, just below the Share trip progress option is an option to search along your route. You can find things like restaurants, gas stations, ATMs, hotels, and more. Really helpful, especially if you’re in a new-to-you area!
How To Do It: After hitting “Start” for your route, tap the bottom of the screen for the options menu. You’ll see an option for “Search Along Route.” Click that, then choose a category you’d like, or type in something different (like the name of a specific store, like Trader Joe’s) to find one along the way (or close to along the way).
Plan A Road Trip Route
I don’t know that I could manage to ever again plan a road trip without Google Maps. It makes it so easy! I punch in our intended stops to see where everything is located relative to each other, then fiddle with different orders of stops to see which makes the most sense and takes the least amount of time. It also lets me see if there are any big cities or sites along the way that I missed.
How To Do It: Punch in your intended destinations as a multi-stop itinerary in Google Maps. Hold down on the dot to the left of the destination name to drag it up or down in the order.
Automatically Save Parking Location
As I mentioned above, you can pin your parking location, but did you know you can automatically save it, too?
How To Do It: Click on your profile photo in the top right corner, then on the Settings wheel. Tap “Navigation.” Scroll down and you’ll see an option to always automatically “Save parking location.”
Show Speed Limits
Are you at risk of speeding or is it difficult to tell the speedometer on your vehicle? Google Maps makes this easy to know, as well.
How To Do It: Click on your profile photo in the top right corner, then on the Settings wheel. Tap “Navigation.” Scroll down and you’ll see an option to “Show speed limits.”
Customize A Route Based on Money or Driving Preference
Wanna avoid paying a toll and take surface streets instead? Or hate driving on highways? Wanna make little earth-friendly changes in your life? It’s easy to customize your driving path in Google Maps.
How To Do It: Click on your profile photo in the top right corner, then on the Settings wheel. Tap “Navigation.” Scroll down and you’ll see an option to “Avoid tolls,” “Avoid highways,” “Avoid ferries,” and “Prefer fuel-efficient routes.”
Activity & Restaurant Help: Hours, Menus, Reservations, Reviews, & More
Not only can you look up the location of an activity or a restaurant, but many have menus uploaded in the photos, have an option to make a reservation, or show opening and closing times. It’s so convenient to have it all in one spot.
How To Do It: Type the restaurant name into the search bar. When It comes up with the name at the bottom, swipe it up to the top and scroll down. You’ll see different info options – opening times, pricing, website, ratings & reviews, and possibly reservation and menu options!
Set A Reminder To Leave On Time
Are you constantly running late or forgetting the time? Google Maps allows you to set a reminder to leave at the correct time based on how long it estimates the journey should take.
How To Do It: Type in your destination in the search bar and click “Directions.” It will come to a screen showing your different transportation options (walk, drive, bike, etc.). Tap on the one you prefer. Then tap the three dots in the top right corner. You’ll see an option to “Set depart or arrive time.”
Get Public Transit Information
This tool is absolutely invaluable when we’re traveling using public transit. Instead of fiddling with a bunch of paper maps for different transit lines, and getting confused by buses, trains, trams, and more, Google Maps makes it SO simple. There’s no worry about keeping a bunch of schedules in your head because it will automatically tell you which is the most efficient transit route and will direct you to the right spot to hop on. It’s also updated in real time with traffic data and for other delays or changes.
How To Do It: Type your destination into the search bar and click “Directions.” It will come to a screen with different transportation options. Click on the public transit option (it looks like a train). If there are multiple options, you can swipe up from the bottom to scroll to see them. Tap on the option you’d like and it will show you the map. You can follow your walking path to a transit pickup point by following the blue dot on the map.
Add Places From A Photo Thumbnail or Description on Maps
Say you find a place simply by browsing a map, or while looking for something else. Or maybe you noticed something nearby where you were so you found your location and the place you want to remember. You can easily add this to a list!
How To Do It: Browse the map near where you are or in a place you’re planning to visit. Look for photo icons that look appealing, or simply names that look interesting for places you’d like to visit. Tap on the name or icon. At the bottom, scroll over and tap “Save.” Add the place to an existing list or create a new list at the top.
This may actually be my very favorite Google Maps feature. It’s so fun looking back on all the places you’ve been!
How To Do It: On mobile, click your profile photo in the top right, then tap “Your timeline.” You can adjust the day or time and it’s so fun to see your progress. On desktop, click the three bars in the top left, and hit “Your timeline.” You can adjust based on the year, month, or day to see where you were in the world!