One of my favorite parts of a trip is the actual planning of where we’ll stay, eat and shop while we’re there. Going to a new city without any knowledge of the different areas can be really intimidating. It’s hard to decide on where to stay, and what restaurants and activities are easily accessible from each location. Is it a walking neighborhood or will you need to take public transportation? Is it safe to head out for an early morning run, or safer to wait until mid-day? Although I don’t like to structure an itinerary around a time schedule, I love having my bearings amid the different neighborhoods and a general idea of what is nearby – that’s where Google Maps comes in.
GET TO KNOW THE STAR
When you search for a place on your Google Maps App on your phone, or in your browser, there is the option to “star” that location. You can star everything from a particular restaurant to a whole neighborhood, and these places become visible as small stars when you’re browsing Maps on your phone at a later time.
I like to use the Google “stars” a few ways…
Before you go. After starring restaurants, hotels and attractions that you’re interested in, you’ve created a visual map of what areas would be best to stay in. When we were planning Seattle, 90% of the places I wanted to visit were between the downtown waterfront and Capitol Hill. So even though there were a couple of interesting craft breweries in Ballard and the Space Needle in Lower Queen Anne, I could see pretty quickly that it didn’t make sense to book a hotel out there. If you’re visiting an area where each day requires a drive, the clusters of stars are a huge help to determine where to spend each day of your trip.
While you’re there. While traveling with others, I’m always worried that we’ll find ourselves hungry with no idea where to duck into for a quick bite. The Maps app on your phone turns into a quick cheat sheet of what is around with starred places that you’ve already vetted. I also love starring places that we stumble upon during the trip to make sure I don’t forget them. Once you return home it’s easy to forget what the name of certain restaurant, park or street was – but if you virtually “bookmark” the spot while you’re traveling, Google Maps becomes a virtual catalog of your travels for future reference!
DO YOUR RESEARCH
For almost every destination, there are countless travel blogs and resources that have recommendations for what to do while visiting. Before heading to the airport, I spend a cumulative few hours sifting through articles and starring places on Google that I’m interested in as I go. Thrillist is my favorite for everything from “must-do” tourist attractions to the best boozy brunches for your Sunday morning. Rather than comb through Google search results for recommendations, Pinterest is a whole lot easier to browse. Try searching your destination city along with “recommendations,” “bucket list” and “travel.” Glitter Guide City Guides, The Everygirl City Guides, and of course We Are Travel Girls are all great websites to browse when planning your next trip! The content on these three sites is for female travelers, written by fellow women. There are a ton of great travel itineraries, hotel reviews, tips and tricks for travel planning.
Using Google Maps while you research also helps weed out places that are too far from where you’re staying. If you’re short on time, without a car, or with a big group of people, you can steer clear of destinations that aren’t worth the commute.
TAKE IT ONE STEP FURTHER
Although the Google Map stars have gotten me through countless trips, for travel that has required a little more planning I’ve created my own maps that allow for color coding, note taking and sharing with friends. When you’ve clicked over to Google.com/Maps, the menu will have a Your Places link which will take you to a map creation platform. While the map will still live within Google, it allows a lot more customization which is great for trips that require a bit more logistical planning.
For our road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway, the custom Maps option allowed me to save destinations based on what they were; a restaurant, a scenic photo opportunity, a museum, etc. Because we had to structure our days to make sure we got the driving done that we needed to, the icons and color coding made it a whole lot easier to figure out what were “must-stops” and what we could skip over if we were short on time. The custom map tool was also really useful for my first trip out to the Coachella Music Festival last year. Without knowing where the hotels, shuttle buses and dining options were in relationship to the festival, it was definitely overwhelming to plan where to stay.
Do you have any Google Map App hacks, or other travel planning tricks? Please share with our readers in the comments section below!
By We Are Travel Girls Contributor Rachel Gates
Connect with Rachel on Instagram