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How To Plan A Trip Using Google Maps (+ BONUS Tips)

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Regardless of where we’re going, our travel planning process looks the same pretty much every single time. And it all starts with a custom map using Google My Maps. 

Read on to discover a complete video and written tutorial to show you how to plan your trips using Google Maps. Along the way, we’ll also share some bonus travel planning tips with you based on our 10+ years of travelling together as a couple.

Video Tutorial

Learn how to plan a trip using Google Maps by joining me as I start planning our next trip to Madeira in this walkthrough video. You’ll also find some written instructions below the video:

Psst! Do you like the trip planner we showed you at the end of the video? You can grab a copy of it right now via this link! Don’t worry! We’ve also created some training videos and tutorials to show you how to use it, which you’ll get access to if you decide to buy our trip planner.

Written Instructions & Screenshots

If you learn better through reading, please find some written instructions and step-by-step screenshots below to help you plan your trip.

Step 1. Open Google My Maps and create a new map.

Google My Maps is slightly different from the standard Google Maps feature that we’re used to using for, say, driving directions. Instead, the Google My Maps feature allows you to create your very own tailored map that’s just for you. Navigate to Google My Maps and click “Create new map”.

Step 2. Search for your first place and add it to your map.

First things first, you’ll want to give your map a title like 7 day Madeira itinerary or 4 days in San Francisco.

I like to add my top must-sees to the map first. Then, as you plan your itinerary, you can drag and drop them into your chosen days. 

Start by searching for your first place. Once that pops up, click “Add to map”.

How to add places to your custom Google Map

You can also change the symbol and colour of it to help it stand out. I usually change the colour of it because the default is a dark blue colour that’s far too similar to other markers already on the map, such as bus stops and grocery stores. 

Bright yellow or purple are often a good shout. I also give it a star symbol at this point so that it stands out on the map better. 

How to colour code places on your Google Map

Step 3. Create your first layer and add some more of your must-sees.

When you first add something to the map, you might notice it goes into an “Untitled layer”. Let’s rename that to “Must-Sees” or something similar by clicking on the title of the layer and renaming it.

Now, all your must-sees will appear as a list within this layer. Continue adding your other must-sees to the map.

Step 4. Add new layers to start creating your itinerary.

Once you have all your must-sees in a handy list, it’s time to start building your itinerary. Click “Add layer” and call this “Day 1”. Add another layer and call that “Day 2”. 

Continue until you’ve added all your days. 

Creating your itinerary in Google Maps

TOP TIP: You can’t add more than ten layers to a Google Map. If your trip is for two weeks or longer, you’ll need to set up the layers to cover several days each. For example, “Days 1-2”, “Days 3-4”, “Days 5-6” and so on.

Now it’s a case of dragging and dropping your must-sees into their relevant days. You’ll need to be patient with it because this step is sometimes a bit slow and clunky.

You might also want to change the colours to correspond to different days so it’s easier to see things at a glance. Especially how close things are to each other and whether it’s physically possible for you to do everything you’ve selected in one day. You might have to play around with things a little until you’re happy with your itinerary. 

Step 5. Print your custom map or share it around.

Once you’re happy with your itinerary and map, you can share it with the person you’re travelling with. You can even print it out if you want to.

IMPORTANT: To access your map during your trip, you’ll need to go to the link you’ve created for the map. Unfortunately, the data doesn’t transfer to the default Google Maps view. But you can easily navigate between the two by selecting the “Menu” button in Google Maps followed by “Saved”. Click the “Maps” tab underneath this and you’ll see the custom maps you’ve created.

Bonus Tips For Planning Your Itinerary

1. Aim for a maximum of 2-3 main activities per day.

When it comes to planning itineraries, focus on a maximum of 2-3 main activities per day. The reason for this is that you don’t necessarily know how long things are going to take you to do. By planning a small number of things for each day, you’ll have more flexibility to add other things later if you have the time.

2. Take particular note of where places are in relation to each other.

The reason we like to use Google Maps when planning itineraries is because of the visual side of it. You can quickly and easily see where things are in relation to each other and whether it’s feasibly possible for you to do the activities in the order you’ve planned them. You can double-check walking and driving distances by using the next feature mentioned below.

3. Don’t forget to add walking and driving directions to your map.

If you click the “Directions” button, another layer will be added to your map. You can then select whether you need walking, driving or cycling directions either between different places you’ve added to your map or between other places you’ve not yet added.

If you click the three dots next to this layer, you can double-check the journey times and distances between those points. With this, your custom map becomes your own personal road trip planner or walking tour guide! You can also toggle the directions on and off to show or hide them from view.

How to add walking directions to your Google Map

4. Make use of the colour coding and symbols features.

We’ve talked about colour-coding the different points on your map according to what day of your itinerary they belong to. But you might want to instead colour code things based on what type of place they are. Green for parks or purple for museums, for example. You can also use various symbols to quickly see things at a glance, such as a plane symbol for an airport or a knife and fork symbol for restaurants.

5. Add notes to the points on your map to serve as helpful reminders.

If you click the “Edit” pencil icon on any place you’ve added to your map, you can rename them or add notes. One good use case for this would be to add flight departure and arrival times to any airports you’ve added to the map.

How to use Google Maps to make notes about your itinerary

6. Use your map to find restaurants and cafes near where you’ll be.

Zoom in on the map wherever you’ve added some points of interest and you’ll probably find nearby amenities like restaurants and cafes. Why not add a few of these to your map so you can quickly find them when you’re actually sightseeing?

Discover more travel planning tips in our complete guide >>

Next Steps

Once you’ve finished building your own custom map and itinerary in Google Maps, you have a couple of options.

You could use this map on the go or print it out to serve as a reminder of your itinerary. The downside to this is you’d still need a separate place to keep all your booking confirmations, important documents, expense sheets, packing lists and other essential travel info. 

This might mean having to flip between different tabs in your Internet browser to find the various information you need. Thankfully, there is another way! 

Introducing The Wanderer’s Trip Planner

The Wanderer's Trip Planner

We’ve recently created our very own trip planner, which serves as a central system for your itinerary, expenses, packing list, trip checklist, booking confirmations and more. It even comes with a free mobile app, so you can easily see all this info while on the go!

While it doesn’t have a map feature, you could include a link to your custom map within the “Useful Links” tab of our trip planner. Pretty cool, eh?

Learn more about our custom trip planner >>

We’ve also designed a Madeira travel planner >> (with more destination-specific ones on the way soon!)

Read More About Travel Planning

If you enjoyed our tips on how to use Google Maps for planning your trips, then you might also enjoy some of our other blog posts, such as:

Alternatively, why not “steal” one of our tried and tested itineraries? We have lots of them on the blog for all kinds of different destinations we’ve enjoyed travelling to.

We can also create a custom itinerary just for you. Check out our travel planning services to find out more >>

I hope our tutorial video and tips on how to plan a trip using Google Maps come in handy. We’ve saved so much time over the years planning our trips this way.

Did you enjoy this tutorial? Why not pin or bookmark it now so that you can refer back to it later?

How To Plan A Trip Using Google Maps (+ BONUS Travel Planning Tips)
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Justine Jenkins

Justine is one half of the married couple behind the Wanderers of the World travel blog. She lives in Bristol, UK and has travelled extensively within Europe and beyond since 2013. After her trips, she shares detailed travel itineraries, helpful travel guides and inspiring blog posts about the places she's been to. When she's not travelling overseas, you'll find her joining her husband, Scott on various day trips, weekend getaways and walks within the UK, which she also writes about on Wanderers of the World. Aside from travelling and writing, she also loves reading, crafting and learning about nature.

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