Tag Archives: maps

Travel Tip: Making a Custom Map

2 Feb

Every time I’m mid-planning for a big trip, I reach a point where, after my head has been buried in a Fodor’s guide and my subsequent notes for hours, I suddenly look up, remember to inhale, and mutter, “How am I ever going to remember all this??”

Because despite my best attempts, other than a couple of main sights to see and food to eat, I feel like I forget most of what I’m planning, or I don’t know where things are in relation to each other. I write everything down, but I don’t want to spend vacation time poring over notes. Perhaps I’m missing the best restaurant in the city because I didn’t realize it was between the museum in the morning and the tour in the afternoon! It’s SO STRESSFUL.

I always put sticky flags all over the guide books, but then I’m stuck carrying the heavy travel book (along with all of the other crap I end up carrying for myself and everyone else). And I can’t easily flip to exactly the page of restaurants that I want. Besides, restaurants are usually arranged in the books by price and general area, not Exactly Where Allie Is At This Moment sections. (But Fodor’s, seriously, that would be really helpful.)

Elad and I found a site one time that aimed to help you plan your route when traveling, and it was so close to being helpful. It ended up being extraordinarily cumbersome and difficult to work with, and caused us more headaches than it was worth.

So as I’ve been planning our upcoming trip to Spain, I’ve been shaking my fist at the Internet for want of the exactly perfect travel planning app/website that does everything I want. But today I realized… I haven’t exactly searched for one. Oops. So I searched for the phrase “map lets you mark points of interest”. Not one of my finest search queries, but it got the job done. Because I discovered… Google’s My Maps.

madrid-map

It’s beautiful!

(I know I’m late to the game on this. In fact, I used a custom Google map for years when working at Chicago-Kent because an excellent librarian made a custom of nearby restaurants. But it never occurred to me to make one myself – until today!)

The essence of the site is that you can create pins on a Google map pointing to places of interest. You can color-code them, you can give them different symbols, you can add notes and photos to them, and you can make them in layers to be turned on or off at will.

This was EXACTLY what I was looking for. Instead of getting stressed about trying to remember which tapas restaurants are recommended near which museums, I have it all laid out for me. Everything I’m interested in is highlighted, it’s on a trustworthy map, it’s color-coded, it’s got my notes, and it’s PERFECT.

To give you an idea of what I mean, check out my map for Madrid. (And if you have suggestions for my trip, let me know!)

I decided to have different layers for activities, my hotel, and restaurants – so if we want to see just one or two of the sets of pins at a time, it’s easy to turn off the others. I color-coded them by type (red for restaurants, blue for activities) and by priority (the darker color means we HAVE to go, the lighter color means it’s on the list). I added notes, and now that I’ve played with the photos function, I’m considering taking photos of the relevant pages from my travel guide to attach to more complex pins.

If you’d like an excellent step-by-step tutorial, you should check out this one. You can skip the “how to access it” part at the end, though. You can share the link (to edit or to view) just like you would with any Google Drive document, and send it to yourself to have on your phone.

For the organized traveler who likes to plan ahead, I cannot recommend this strategy enough. The only potential downside I see is making sure we have data when we’re out and about. But even that can be sidestepped through screenshots, regular wifi access throughout the day, and planning at the hotel in the mornings or evenings.

I’m so excited to use this! Any other amazing travel apps/sites I need to know about? Tell me in the comments!