This is our ultimate guide on how to use Google My Maps to Plan a Road Trip.
Although a road trip is beyond exciting, sitting down and planning it gets pretty tedious.
A few years ago, my best friend and I embarked on a road trip across the country. And wow, the logistics were more complex than I thought. We had to meet numerous times just to plan our itinerary.
I wish we’d known about Google My Maps. It would’ve saved loads of time, screenshots, and way too many printouts.
That’s why we’ve put together this guide on using Google My Maps to plan your next road trip. Hopefully it’ll help you save time. Maybe it’ll even inspire you too!
How to use Google My Maps to Plan a Road Trip in 4 Simple Steps:
- Log into Google Drive, navigate to Google My Maps; “Rename the Untitled Map“
- Add Location Pins by Searching and clicking; “Add to Map”
- Add Layers to keep your many pins organized; “Add New Layer”
- Add Driving Directions by clicking Pin B and clicking “Get Directions to Here”, then clicking Pin A
For trips longer than 10 destinations (long excursions with many destinations), consider creating the entire route in Google My Maps, then using Google Maps to get driving directions to up to 10 pins at a time.
Now let’s jump into more details.
Why Google My Maps Is Great for Road Trip Planning
If you’d rather jump right into learning how to use Google My Maps, feel free to skip to the next section.
But for those of you wondering what the fuss is all about, let’s talk about what makes Google My Maps such an awesome tool for trip planning.
Great for Visual Learners
The location pins let you get a sense of how far apart your destinations are. Actually seeing what 112 miles looks like on a map is a lot different than just reading the number.
The below image shows an example of the location pins in action. This is actually a map of my cross-country roadtrip, which we’ll be building together later in this guide.
If you’re already envisioning drowning in hundreds of blue (and indistinguishable) pins, don’t fret. Google My Maps lets you customize the colors of all your location pins.
In the first example, you’ll notice I set my starting and ending pins to be green and red.
You don’t have to limit yourself to 2 pins though. You might choose to make all your restaurant pins red. Or maybe you’ll color-code the pins by day. The possibilities are endless!
Here, feel free to change the title or add a description for any location pin.
You can even add handy reference notes and photos.
Great for Brainstorming
Because you’re utilizing Google’s massive database, you have access to all that information, right in Google My Maps.
In the previous images, we’ve been hovering over Scranton. So, typing in “food near scranton pa” loads a handful of Scranton restaurants into your map and sidebar.
All of this is great because you don’t need to run separate Google searches for food – or anything.
The only reason you’d run a separate search is when you’re ready to get more in-depth. For example, “Best Restaurants in Scranton for Italian Food.”
Easy to Share Between People and Devices
You can share your map with your traveling buddies through a Google link. Or, opt to share it through Google Drive instead.
Not only that, but you can also give your friends editing access. This way, they can add their top destination picks too.
Finally, it’s easy to hop between computer and phone. In just three taps, you can instantly load all your pins, notes, and customization for easy viewing on the go.
1) Create a New Map
Log into Google Drive, then under “My Drive,” select “More.” This will open another dropdown menu. From there, click “Google My Maps.”
This is what you’ll see: a blank map, ready to be populated with all sorts of goodies.
Click on the “Untitled map” to change the name to whatever you’d like. For this demo, we’ll be recreating the Cross Country Road Trip map that I showed you earlier.
So that’s what we’ll go ahead and name this map.
Notice how you can also give your map any description you’d like.
2) Add location pins
So what are location pins? These handy dandy things are points on the map that mark a location, restaurant, hiking spot…you name it!
Plus, you can drop them literally anywhere. No, really – you even have the option of dropping a pin based on longitude/latitude coordinates.
Most of you won’t need to get that nitty gritty. This is largely because adding a pin is as simple as typing it into the search bar.
Let’s see how it works, shall we?
So, for the Cross Country Road Trip map, I want to add Scranton, PA as my starting point. Of course, if you’re following along, feel free to set your starting point to whatever you’d like.
All you do is go up to the search bar and type in “Scranton, PA” and Google does the rest.
Notice how it drops a bright green pin on Scranton. Now, Scranton’s location pin hasn’t actually been added to your map yet.
You have to do that yourself. Just click the “Add to map” button and you’re all set.
Great! Your pin has been added. See how it shows up on the map as a blue marker. And also note that it’s in your sidebar now as well.
Here’s where things get really fun for those color-coordinator nuts among us!
To customize a location pin, click on the pin. This opens a box with all sorts of color swatches. Feel free to make your pin whatever color you’d like.
For the purposes of this example, I’m going to go ahead and make my Scranton pin green to signify the starting point of the journey.
Don’t forget that within that customization box is a range of cool icons. If you click “More icons” you have even more to choose from! An almost dizzying amount, as a matter of fact.
I’ll set my Scranton pin to be a home icon, but you can choose any you’d like. As you can see, there’s an icon for any type of destination or activity.
3) Adding Layers
Layers are a useful feature for keeping your pins organized for different categories.
Sure, it doesn’t sound like a big deal now. But once you start racking up tons of pins, your main layer will quickly get messy!
You can add a layer to sort your pins by category. For example, one layer can contain pins of restaurants you want to try. Or another layer can be dedicated to hotels.
Some users like to sort their pins by day. In this case, you’d group all the hotels, restaurants, and activities for each day into a Day 1, Day 2, etc layer.
One word of warning: you can add 10 layers maximum. So if you’re planning on grouping by day but you have a trip longer than 10 days, well, you’re out of luck.
To add a layer, click the “Add layer” button in your sidebar.
Now you’ll see your next layer drop in beneath your original layer.
Once you’ve added your layers, it’s time to learn how to work with them.
Let’s say you want to move a pin to a different layer. To do that, just drag your pin to the new layer.
The only exception to this is if you’re trying to move a pin to a driving directions layer.
To turn a layer invisible, un-check the boxes next to each layer’s name. To make it visible again, repeat the process.
If you don’t need a layer anymore, click the 3 dots next to its name and click “Delete this layer.”
4) Adding Driving Directions
A little while back, I mentioned this thing called a driving directions layer. I also mentioned that Google My Maps’ driving directions aren’t the best.
But if you want to see that familiar blue line tracing your route, then you’re in luck.
In my map, I’ve added St. Ignace, MI as my 2nd destination after Scranton. So, you’ll click that 2nd pin first.
When the pin info box opens, click the “Get directions to here” icon.
Notice in your sidebar how “A” and “B” have been added. But “A” is still blank.
We recommend typing the name of your previous pin into this box. You can also click-drag your map to the pin, but we found that to be a less precise method.
Now your directions from pin A to pin B have appeared.
I’ve gone ahead and repeated this process for the other 9 destinations.
But hold up, what if you have more than 10 destinations? Unfortunately, Google My Maps limits you to 10 driving destinations, despite the fact that you can have thousands of pins.
Note on my map, where I’ve plotted out a lot of pins. But I ran out of space to drive home!
How to Hack the 10-Destination/Layer Limit
So right about now is a great time to discuss the limitations of Google My Maps.
As we just saw, all maps are given a 10 destination limit for driving directions.
Thankfully, there are ways to get around that.
Google My Maps and Google Maps have some integration. So the content you create in Google My Maps can actually be loaded into Google Maps.
And since we know that Google Maps is awesome for turn by turn directions, we can use that for navigation.
Simply open Google Maps on your phone (since you’ll be most likely on the road navigating) and tap “Saved” at the bottom of the app.
Then on the right, tap “Maps.”
All of the Google My Maps you’ve ever created or even looked at will load. Go ahead and tap the Cross Country Road Trip to bring it into Google Maps.
Ta-da! Now the entirety of your map – including dozens and dozens of pins – is right at your fingertips.
The reason why this is such a big deal is because you’ve got all your pins for every destination, attraction, and rest stop, pre-dropped into your map. You don’t have to waste time planning this on the go because you already did it.
To actually load turn-by-turn directions from one pin to the next, click the destination pin you want to navigate to. In my case, this will be St. Ignace again.
Then tap “Directions”
As you did before, type in the name of the 1st pin that you want directions from. We’ll go ahead and use Scranton again as our example.
All you need to do is click your first two sets of pins to get turn by turn driving directions.
So to summarize, this is the method we would suggest – from start to finish – to build a large-scale road trip. First, build it in Google My Maps. Next, load the map into Google Maps. Finally, harness its powerful navigation to get you on your way.
Google My Maps vs Google Maps
If all this back-and-forth between Google My Maps and Google Maps has got your head spinning, let’s back up a moment and examine the differences between both these programs.
Google My Maps
As we’ve seen, Google My Maps is amazing for planning long, complex routes. And I mean really complex – up to 10,000 pins, as a matter of fact.
Its ability to customize your map is unrivaled as well. From color-coding each and every pin to sorting the pins on custom layers, the possibilities are as endless as your road trip destinations.
But it’s not so amazing at turn-by-turn directions despite having directions as a feature. For this reason, we’d advise steering clear of those.
However, the driving directions are useful as a way to roughly estimate how many hours it’ll take to get from point A to point B.
This was a question my friend and I asked so many times while planning our own road trip. “How long does it take to get from here to here? Can we make it in one day before we have to stop at a hotel?”
Another problematic thing about Google My Maps is its 10 driving direction stops limit. This means you can only get directions (or time estimations) to 10 places out of let’s say 20 (or more!). Plus, this 10 limit carries over to the layers too.
On the positive side, this is where Google Maps can shine.
Unlike its cousin, Google Maps excels at turn-by-turn navigation. It’s a champ at getting you from Point A to Point B, no problem.You can even add multiple destinations, similar to Google My Maps.
But that said, Google Maps does come with some tradeoffs. The biggest one being that you don’t get those sweet customization options.
So we’d recommend Google Maps as a tool to use with Google My Maps.
Google My Maps is clearly an extraordinarily powerful tool for planning your next road trip’s itinerary in advance.
Not only is it great for saving literally thousands of locations and stops, but you can harness the power of Google’s search engines to find more destinations along the way.
And you get oh-so-many customization features to make Google My Maps a snap for visual learners. Now it’s effortless to take in your map at a glance.
That said, sure, there are some annoying quirks. For one, that 10 stop limit is crazy frustrating.
But thankfully, we showed you a way around that. Using Google Maps to load your Google My Maps takes away all the potential headaches.
When all’s said and done, we think the flexibility and customization of Google My Maps far outweighs any weaknesses.
We had a ton of fun researching this guide for you. It’s definitely made my feet itch to get on the road.
Hopefully, it’s done the same for you too! We wish you luck – and happy planning! – on your next road trip!
If you’d like more tips on trip planning, check out our library here!