How to Use Google Maps to Plan Your Trip

This is the 5th post in a Step-by-Step Guide to Planning Perfect Family Trip. Click here to start back at Step 1. 

You’ve made it through the toughest part of planning your trip.

You’ve sifted through mountains of information and created the perfect list of things to see and do. Congrats! You are well on your way to your next vacay. But now the question is…what to do with all this information?

Well, the hard work isn’t quite over yet. Because now we are going to work on arranging the information in a way that makes sense. Having a list of places is great, but how do you know which places to visit together or which restaurants to pick for which day?

The answer? With Google My Maps!

Tips for using Google Maps to plan the best trip itinerary + free printable family travel planner. #familytravel #traveltips // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Vacation Ideas | Where to Go | Kid-Friendly Trips | Family-Friendly Destinations | Free Printables | Packing List | Travel Budget | Vacation Checklist | Itinerary | Free Vacation Planner | Planning Tips

Surely you’ve used Google Maps before, so you’re probably thinking this is not such a revolutionary idea. You’re right, it’s not. ? But stick with me. We’re going to be taking a slightly different approach. And by the end of this step, you’ll have a much clearer picture of just what your next family trip will look like.

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Alright, let’s get started.

Instead of using regular old Google Maps, we’ll be using Google My Maps to organize all of our trip research. Maybe you’ve already used this feature, and if so, that’s great! For those who are unfamiliar with it, Google My Maps is very similar to the standard Google Maps site, except it allows you to create and save your own detailed map with custom markers.

For that reason, you’ll need to go to Google My Maps and sign in a Google (Gmail) account (take a few moments to set one up if you don’t already one). Once signed in, you should see a menu like this in the upper left corner:

Tips for using Google Maps to plan the best trip itinerary + free printable family travel planner. #familytravel #traveltips // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Vacation Ideas | Where to Go | Kid-Friendly Trips | Family-Friendly Destinations | Free Printables | Packing List | Travel Budget | Vacation Checklist | Itinerary | Free Vacation Planner | Planning Tips

Click on that little red button that says “+Create A New Map” and a new blank map will pop up. 

Now, I won’t go into too much detail about all the features of My Maps because, to be honest, I’m not an expert myself. I use it solely for the purpose of creating a map so I can lay out my timeline for each day of a trip. There’s absolutely nothing to be intimidated about, so let’s go through it step-by-step.

You can rename your map by clicking on the “Untitled Map” text. A dialog box will pop up that will ask you to enter the map title. I usually name these by city name and year. For the purposes of this demo, we’ll go with Charleston 2017. Then click save.

Tips for using Google Maps to plan the best trip itinerary + free printable family travel planner. #familytravel #traveltips // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Vacation Ideas | Where to Go | Kid-Friendly Trips | Family-Friendly Destinations | Free Printables | Packing List | Travel Budget | Vacation Checklist | Itinerary | Free Vacation Planner | Planning Tips

Next, you’ll want to add some “layers” to your map, which to me is really just what categories of places I want to add. You can rename a layer by clicking on it the same way you changed the map title. I like to “add layers” for 3 different categories:

  • Where to Stay
  • What to See & Do
  • Where to Eat

Tips for using Google Maps to plan the best trip itinerary + free printable family travel planner. #familytravel #traveltips // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Vacation Ideas | Where to Go | Kid-Friendly Trips | Family-Friendly Destinations | Free Printables | Packing List | Travel Budget | Vacation Checklist | Itinerary | Free Vacation Planner | Planning Tips

You could break these down further if you’d like (i.e. meals vs. sweet treats, private rentals vs. hotels etc.), but again, I like to keep things simple.

Why put things into layers at all? Well, it is nice to be able to “uncheck” the other layers if, for example, you only want to see restaurants on your map, or hotel options on your map. I also just like the way it looks all nice and neatly organized. ?

Once you have your layers set up, it’s time to start adding your ideas from your research notes onto your map. To do this, type what you want to add into the search bar, just as you would with regular Google Maps. 

Tips for using Google Maps to plan the best trip itinerary + free printable family travel planner. #familytravel #traveltips // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Vacation Ideas | Where to Go | Kid-Friendly Trips | Family-Friendly Destinations | Free Printables | Packing List | Travel Budget | Vacation Checklist | Itinerary | Free Vacation Planner | Planning Tips

You’ll find that just about every location you type in will pull up automatically, since Google Maps already has their information built into their system. This means less work for you trying to find out where all of these places are! Click on the item you want to add, and a dialog box with details for that place will pop up. Click the “Add to map” button, and it’s now on your own personal map!

Tips for using Google Maps to plan the best trip itinerary + free printable family travel planner. #familytravel #traveltips // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Vacation Ideas | Where to Go | Kid-Friendly Trips | Family-Friendly Destinations | Free Printables | Packing List | Travel Budget | Vacation Checklist | Itinerary | Free Vacation Planner | Planning Tips

Also, you’ll notice that My Maps will automatically add your new marker to the last layer you used. So for example, if you add a bunch of hotels, they’ll all go under the “where to stay” layer, since that’s the first one. But once you add your first “what to see & do” item, it’ll still place it under “where to stay”. At this point, you’ll have to manually drag and drop your last added item to the correct layer. After correcting this one, you can keep adding all the rest of your items for the same layer without having to tell them where to go. Then when you move on to “where to eat” items, you’ll have to do the same again for the first one.

This might not make sense now, but once you start adding markers to your map, you’ll see what I mean. In any case, it’s not a huge deal, since everything you add can be moved around by dragging and dropping at any time. But it will save you some time if you make sure everything’s going into the right layer in the first place.

So take a few minutes and, one by one, add a marker for each place on your list by typing it into the search bar and adding your pin to the correct layer.

And one final note, there will be some places that won’t have an exact address or location for, or can’t be located by Google Maps (a specific area of a neighborhood or an Airbnb that you don’t yet know the exact address of, for example). In this case, you’ll have to add your own custom marker to the map. Click the little marker icon under the search bar, and then click on your map in the approximate location of where it should be placed. A box will pop up that will let you name your marker so that it matches the rest of your map. Click save, and make sure it’s in the right layer just as you did with your other spots.

Tips for using Google Maps to plan the best trip itinerary + free printable family travel planner. #familytravel #traveltips // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Vacation Ideas | Where to Go | Kid-Friendly Trips | Family-Friendly Destinations | Free Printables | Packing List | Travel Budget | Vacation Checklist | Itinerary | Free Vacation Planner | Planning Tips

Once your done adding all your pretty little markers, you should have a map that looks something like this!

Tips for using Google Maps to plan the best trip itinerary + free printable family travel planner. #familytravel #traveltips // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Vacation Ideas | Where to Go | Kid-Friendly Trips | Family-Friendly Destinations | Free Printables | Packing List | Travel Budget | Vacation Checklist | Itinerary | Free Vacation Planner | Planning Tips

You might be thinking, “Whoa…that’s great, but…kind of looks like a mess!” I agree! We’re not done yet…

From here you’ll want to pretty things up a bit more by customizing the layers. This will make it easier to distinguish a restaurant from a place to sightsee. There are a few different ways to do this, so for simplicity’s sake, I’ll show you how I like to customize each one individually.

Tips for using Google Maps to plan the best trip itinerary + free printable family travel planner. #familytravel #traveltips // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Vacation Ideas | Where to Go | Kid-Friendly Trips | Family-Friendly Destinations | Free Printables | Packing List | Travel Budget | Vacation Checklist | Itinerary | Free Vacation Planner | Planning Tips

To add a custom icon, click on a entry from your left hand menu. When the box pops up for that location, you’ll see a little paint can icon (you’ll also see the same icon to the right of your entry when you hover over it — it’ll do the same thing). Click the icon.

Tips for using Google Maps to plan the best trip itinerary + free printable family travel planner. #familytravel #traveltips // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Vacation Ideas | Where to Go | Kid-Friendly Trips | Family-Friendly Destinations | Free Printables | Packing List | Travel Budget | Vacation Checklist | Itinerary | Free Vacation Planner | Planning Tips

From there, another box will pop up that will give you options to change the color and design. Choose which colors/icons you like and make sense to you. I decided to go with yellow hotel icons for places to stay, green camera icons for places to see, and red food icons for places to eat.

If you want, while you’re customizing things, you can also add a little note to your markers, which can be helpful down the road when putting together your itinerary. These would be similar to the notes you jotted down on the research notes sheet.

Tips for using Google Maps to plan the best trip itinerary + free printable family travel planner. #familytravel #traveltips // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Vacation Ideas | Where to Go | Kid-Friendly Trips | Family-Friendly Destinations | Free Printables | Packing List | Travel Budget | Vacation Checklist | Itinerary | Free Vacation Planner | Planning Tips

To do this, click one of your items, and then click the little pencil icon on the dialog box. Enter your notes as a “description” and click save!

Tips for using Google Maps to plan the best trip itinerary + free printable family travel planner. #familytravel #traveltips // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Vacation Ideas | Where to Go | Kid-Friendly Trips | Family-Friendly Destinations | Free Printables | Packing List | Travel Budget | Vacation Checklist | Itinerary | Free Vacation Planner | Planning Tips

And here’s our finished Charleston map!

Tips for using Google Maps to plan the best trip itinerary + free printable family travel planner. #familytravel #traveltips // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Vacation Ideas | Where to Go | Kid-Friendly Trips | Family-Friendly Destinations | Free Printables | Packing List | Travel Budget | Vacation Checklist | Itinerary | Free Vacation Planner | Planning Tips

So what’s the point of all this?

Since you’ve already done all the research, putting together a map like this should take no more than 15 to 20 minutes, tops. And once it’s all together, you’ll have a much better sense of where everything is located!

Think about when you’re putting your itinerary together. You don’t want to be traveling all over the city to see different places, you want to group activities close together on the same day. You don’t want to make a reservation at a restaurant across town when there’s another option across the street. And you can see that that one hotel option you picked is far too far away from everything else you have planned!

Tips for using Google Maps to plan the best trip itinerary + free printable family travel planner. #familytravel #traveltips // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Vacation Ideas | Where to Go | Kid-Friendly Trips | Family-Friendly Destinations | Free Printables | Packing List | Travel Budget | Vacation Checklist | Itinerary | Free Vacation Planner | Planning Tips

Aside from planning, looking at a map always helps me to familiarize myself with a city. I feel much more confident in where I’m going and where I chose for us to stay, because I’ve done the research and know how we’ll get around. You’ll go from feeling totally clueless about a city, to totally in control.

Alright, start studying your map, and think about where you want to stay so that you’ll be within easy reach of all the things you want to see. We’ll put it all together in the next step!

Read Next: How to Create the Perfect Itinerary for a Family Trip

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Check out the full step-by-step guide:

Step 1 // How to Set Goals & Expectations for Your Next Family Trip

Step 2 // How to Decide Where to Go on Your Next Family Trip

Step 3 // How to Start Saving NOW for Travel

Step 4 // How to Find Unique Things to Do on Your Next Family Trip

Step 5 // How to Use Google Maps to Plan Your Trip

Step 6 // How to Create the Perfect Itinerary for a Family Trip

Step 7 // How to Build a Travel Budget

Step 8 // 15+ Ways to Save Big When Booking Travel

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Tips for using Google Maps to plan the best trip itinerary + free printable family travel planner. #familytravel #traveltips // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Vacation Ideas | Where to Go | Kid-Friendly Trips | Family-Friendly Destinations | Free Printables | Packing List | Travel Budget | Vacation Checklist | Itinerary | Free Vacation Planner | Planning Tips

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