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I love a good map. I’ve got maps hanging on my walls. I go to the bookstore to read maps. Whenever I navigate my way home using only a map, I feel like I must have some innate bushcraft skills. And if you’ve read my posts about traveling in Maine, you’re probably sick of me talking about the DeLorme Atlas by now.
But while reading paper maps will always inspire a sense of get-up-and-go adventure for me, I’m not totally opposed to using tech for planning my trips and navigating on the ground.
And one of my favorite techy solutions? A secret little trip planner called Google My Maps, buried inside of everyone’s favorite map tool.
Google My Maps lets you create shareable custom maps with multiple layers, plus location pins with icons and notes. It’s a great way to brainstorm travel plans or create a trip itinerary from a desktop. And since the map can be viewed in the Google Maps app, you can use it to navigate on the go.
To give you an example of what this post will show you how to do, here’s one of the custom Google Maps I’ve created for a trip.
Keep reading for an overview of how to use Google My Maps to plan a trip, plus a video tutorial of how to set it up—all updated for 2023. I’ll also share answers to commonly asked questions and some lesser known tips to help you get the most out of this tool.
A quick note: Creating a custom map in Google My Maps is distinct from Google Lists of saved places. Check out our Google My Maps vs Lists comparison to see all the differences and our full guide to using Google Maps Lists.
8 Top Google My Maps Features
(AKA Why It’s Awesome)
Google My Maps allows you to see your trip itinerary.
This is so helpful, especially if you’re a visual person or enjoy using maps. But even if you’re not, it’s still really useful to see where everything is in relation to each other as you plan your trip, vacation, or holiday because it helps you be realistic about your plans.
It connects with other Google apps.
Setting aside my (ahem, very rational) fear that they may take over the world soon, I love all things Google. My Maps stores a copy of the map in whatever Google Drive account you’re using. (Am I the only one who has six of these?) So if you like to create Google Docs or folders to store trip planning information, documents, photos, or itineraries, it’s nice to have your map easily accessible in the same folder.
You get additional location information since it’s part of Google Maps.
If a location is on Google, you can see their website, phone number, address, reviews, and website when you add it to your custom map. (Note that you can’t see this information when clicking on your saved pin from the Google Maps app, but you can from desktop.)
You can add your own extra notes and photos.
Customize your map even more by adding notes, photos, or videos. Use the notes during planning to add website, hours, or tips. If I hear about the location from a particular website, I usually add that link and what was noted in the article about the location (e.g., it’s a great sunset spot, which dish on the menu is recommended) so I can reference it later.
You can view your route by creating a layer with directions.
When I traveled to Burlington, Vermont, I wanted to see the length of the bike trail on the map, so I used the directions feature to show the whole route. (Check out the Burlington travel guide for an example of the travel map I created that includes the bike path route.) And while I haven’t done this yet, you could also use Google My Maps to plan a road trip itinerary for a longer adventure.
Caveat: As I’ll discuss later, you can’t use directions layers to get turn-by-turn directions (but I mention an alternative below). For this reason, I only use these layers to visualize my route.
It’s highly customizable.
Don’t mind me while I swoon over the color coding and organization options over here. Use custom icons, layers, and colors so it’s easy to see what things are at a glance. For example, you can give different locations individual styles: a coffee cup icon for cafes, a bed icon for hotels, and a swimming icon for beaches. You can also use layers in many different ways, such as one layer for each day of your trip or one layer for each category (like dining, lodging, and things to do).
In-depth planning on your computer. Easy, on-the-go access from your phone.
While you can’t edit the maps from the Google Maps app on iPhone or Android, you (and anyone you’ve shared them with) can view them. You can click on icons and see your notes, as well as navigate to those locations.
Note that there used to be a dedicated My Maps app on Android, but this has been deprecated.
It’s easy to share it with a friend or with the world.
If you’re planning a trip with other people, it’s easy to share the map with others. And if it’s something you want to make available to everyone (like I do on my travel guide posts), just change the privacy setting and share the link or embed it on a website.
3 Ways to Use Google My Maps
Brainstorm and store ideas for future “maybe” trips.
I often come across a really interesting hotel, restaurant, or fun thing to do in destinations I want to travel to in the future, and I want to make sure I don’t forget about them. I have so many bookmarks in so many places (Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram), but Google My Maps is the place I’ve started storing ideas for future trips.
Plan your trip itinerary.
Want to use Google Maps for route planning? When you’re ready to plan an upcoming trip, plot it out visually by using Google My Maps to create your itinerary. If you like structured itineraries, you can easily create a detailed day-to-day plan.
Or, you can use a looser itinerary structure like we usually do by adding all the places you might like to go.
For example, on a day trip to NYC, we added tons of places to eat on the map (thank you, Tiktok). As we were walking around doing other activities and started to get hungry, we were able to easily see which saved restaurants were closest to us.
Navigate on the go.
Whether you’re using your map loosely for ideas or for a structured itinerary, you can pull it up on your phone anytime and get directions to your next location.
Not sure what you want to do today, or want to see what the closest restaurant from your list is for dinner? Pop into your custom map to jog your memory from the notes you made or to get directions to your next location.
How to Use Google My Maps to Plan a Trip
How to create a new custom map
Go to Google My Maps from your desktop browser. Check the Google icon in the top right corner to make sure you’re using the Google account you want to. Click “Create A New Map” and a window will open with a blank map. To give your map a name and description, click the map name (“Untitled Map”).
You can also change the color and style of the base map if desired. At the bottom of the layer panel on the left, click the arrow next to “Base Map.” You’ll get a window with nine options, including terrain, light political (a very light version of the standard Google Maps), satellite, and some different colored versions. Note that changing the base map style on desktop won’t change anything when viewing on mobile in Google Maps.
How to Add and Edit Layers
When you create a new map, the first layer will already be created, so you’ll probably want to rename it. To give your first layer a title, click directly on the title name like you did with the map name, or click the 3 dots next to “Untitled Layer” and then click “Rename Layer.” Clicking these 3 dots next to a layer title is also how you can delete a layer if you add one accidentally or change your mind. In this example, I’m changing my first layer to “dining” and will add all restaurants to this layer.
You can use layers any way you want to, or simply stick to one layer if you don’t need multiple. To add new layers, simply click “Add Layer” in the gray section below the map title and description.
To move a pin between layers, click the pin on the layer and hold down the mouse, and then drag it to the desired layer.
How to Add Location Pins
There are various ways to add location pins to a layer. First, make sure the correct layer is chosen by clicking anywhere in the white area on the layer. You’ll see which layer is selected by looking for the blue bar on the left of the layer.
- In the map search bar, type either a place name or an address. Click “Add to Map” to add a pin for this location. This is how I add most pins.
- If you don’t need an exact location or don’t have an address, you can click the pin marker button below the map search bar (“Add Marker”). It will turn your mouse into a T and you can click anywhere on the map to add a blank pin. You’ll immediately be prompted to add the pin title and description.
- If you’re dealing with very remote locations (or you just like geeky map stuff), you can also use latitude and longitude coordinates in the search bar.
To delete a pin, simply click on it and click the trash icon.
A few tips and best practices for adding pins:
- If the place you’re searching for does not have a listing on Google, you’ll have to use an address. One thing to note is that sometimes Google Maps listings aren’t correct or don’t take you to the right place, so you may want to double check the location if you’re not using a street address to add the pin (especially if it’s a small business without a website).
- I have also found that hiking trail heads are frequently on Google Maps, but they’re not always correct in terms of navigating there by car. I usually add them to my map to get a basic idea of where they are while planning, but I use a paper map or atlas to find them while traveling.
How to Customize Location Pins
To change the title and add notes to your listing, click on the pin on the map, and then click the pencil icon (“Edit”).
To change the color and icon of the pin, click the paint bucket icon (from the pin itself or directly in the layer). Click “More Icons” to view all the icon options. You can color code by type of activity, by layer, or any way that makes sense to you.
To add photos or videos to a pin, click on the pin on the map, and then click the camera icon (“Add Image or Video”). This is another way to make your map interactive, especially after you’ve visited a location and want to share it with others.
How to Add A Directions Layer
I find that directions layers are helpful for showing the route of a walking tour, bike path, or road trip you want to take, but I don’t find them useful for directions while traveling since I can simply use the maps app to navigate.
I use directions layers whenever I want to show an entire route on a map, rather than a specific location. Think of this as the 2023 version of mapping out a trip with AAA paper maps and a highlighter (if you’re old enough to remember).
Click the arrow icon underneath the search bar, which will create a new directions layer. On the legend, click “Driving” if you want to change this to walking or biking directions. Add a location name or address to Points A and B in the legend. If you find that the pins are not exactly where they should be, you can drag the points on the map.
Continue adding points by clicking “Add Destination” on the map. You can either type the information into the legend or hover your mouse to a spot on the map and double click it. (This is especially useful if you’re tracing a route on something like a bike path or hiking trail that won’t have an address.)
Rearrange the order by dragging the items around in the legend. Just like altering directions on Google Maps navigation, you can click on part of the route and drag it to a different road if you want to change part of the route after it is complete.
If you need to access the directions so you can see the distance of your route or the time it will take, click the three dots on the layer and click “Step-by-Step Directions.” Note that you can’t actually use this to get turn-by-turn directions in Google Maps.
How to Share A Google My Map
There are several options for sharing your Google Maps trip plan.
Open up your map, then click the share button in the gray bar above your layers. To allow others to view your map (which includes embedding on your website), click “change” under the section “Who has access.” For embedding, you will need to make this setting public.
Otherwise, if you want to allow others to edit your map, add their email address in the “invite people” section.
How to View Your Custom Map in Google Maps (iPhone or Android)
Open Google Maps and go to the Saved icon at the bottom. Scroll to the bottom of this screen and click “Maps.” Choose the My Map you want to view. The layers with your custom icons will now be visible on your Google Map. You can click on any pin to view your details (such as description or photos), as well as to navigate there.
To close a map, click on a pin and then click “View Map Legend.” There, you can click the Close icon.
From the Map Legend, you can also toggle layers on and off, and then backing out to the main map (don’t click Close—just the back arrow or back button).
How to Navigate with a Custom My Map (iPhone or Android)
To navigate to one of your pins, open your map, find the pin for where you want to go, click it, and then click “directions.” When you do this, you won’t see your custom map anymore but will be looking at the regular navigation of Google Maps.
You can’t use a My Maps “directions layer” for navigation. If you’re looking for that functionality, I recommend just creating a route in Google Maps and sending it to your phone (or sharing with others). See here for more details.
How to Import Locations from Google Sheets, CSV, or Excel
Importing locations to a My Maps layer can be helpful in a few scenarios:
- You have a significant amount of locations to add to your layer
- Your data is already in the form of a spreadsheet
- You want additional fields included besides the default Name and Description
- You want to create groupings of pins (for example, a list of 50 restaurants could have a column for “Cuisine,” which will give you the option to group and style the pins by cuisine)
The process is simple, and you can import a variety of file types, including CSV, Excel (XLSX), or directly from Google Sheets. There are also special file formats that import map data from other programs, but this section is focused on spreadsheet-type files that you create and format.
Create a spreadsheet with the desired column headers. At a minimum, you need place names and either addresses or latitude-longitude information.
If you want to group your pins by some type of categorization, you should include that as a column. Other columns you could include: website, phone number, description, or notes. While Google Sheets allows you to include photos in a cell, Google My Maps will not import photos in this way (it will include the column as a field, but will be blank).
Once your spreadsheet file is ready, click “Import” on a blank layer (if your map already has layers, you will need to add a new layer to see this option). If uploading a CSV or XLSX, do this from the Upload tab. If using a Google Sheet, click the Google Drive tab and choose your file.
Choose which column has location data (address or latitude-longitude) and click “Continue.” Choose the location name column next and click “Finish.”
To change the icons individually, click “Uniform Style” next to the paintbrush on your layer. Under “Group Places By,” choose “Individual Styles.”
To change styles by a category column (such as Cuisine), click the link next to the paintbrush and choose to group places by the desired column. You can then give each category its own color or icon.
You can manually add new pins to this layer, and they will include all the fields you imported from the spreadsheet columns.
You can also add more items to your spreadsheet, and import this new data. Click the three dots on your layer. Under “Reimport and Merge,” click “Add More Items” and choose your file. It will add the new rows to your layer.
How to Import a Route from Google Maps Timeline History (KML) or GPS Data From a Fitness App (GPX)
Google My Maps can import routes and locations you’ve already traveled to via special file types that are very easy to download from certain apps. This could be useful if you want to share a walking, biking, or driving route that you’ve taken without having to recreate it on a directions layer.
Note that this only works as well as the GPS satellites were able to track your location while you were traveling.
If there are a lot of clouds, dense forest, buildings, or anything else blocking the GPS signal, your tracked route will be much less precise. I’ve noticed that Google Maps sometimes has my route showing somewhere I couldn’t have walked or driven.
If you have your location history turned on in Google Maps, you can download a KML file from a trip, which will include the route traveled and location pins for any stops. Sometimes it misses a location name or adds a pin in the wrong place, but overall it’s pretty good.
Go to your Google Maps Timeline and locate the day you want to export. Click on it, and you should now see your route highlighted along with any stops you made. Now click the gear icon on the bottom of your map, and click “Export this day to KML.” Go to your My Map and on a new layer, click “Import.” Choose the KML file you just downloaded. You can now edit each portion as needed—changing the color and thickness of the route line, changing the location icons, as well as adjusting the route where desired.
If you have other apps that track your location, such as fitness apps, you may be able to download a GPX file that shows the route you took. The instructions for doing this will vary from app to app, but I was able to easily find it in Samsung Health by looking at the detail of a particular workout/walk and clicking the three dots to download a GPX. The import process to Google My Maps is the same as above.
With both methods, you can make adjustments to points/stops along the way or even add more pins. With the Google Maps KML file, you can also adjust your route by moving the small white dots.
Google My Maps Tutorial
Here’s a walk through video to show you how to use Google Maps to plan a trip, along with several of my own Google My Maps itinerary examples. Coming soon: a 2023 update!
Google My Maps Examples
Here are a few more examples of My Maps I’ve created for sharing recommendations, trip ideas, and actual vacation planning.
Google My Maps FAQs and Tips
As great as Google My Maps is for planning a trip, there are some limitations to using it. Lots of questions have also come up about more specific uses and ways to use its features. Thanks to all the readers who have asked or shared tips in the comments as I’m always looking to make this a more robust guide. I’ve organized the questions and tips here since it makes it easier than scrolling through the comments.
This post was originally published on July 27, 2017 and has been updated in May 2023.