In the days before the convenience of making my own electronic maps, I would just pick up a paper map at the airport or city welcome center and then scribble on the sites I wanted to see. But in this paperless era, I've since switched to an easier, cooler way of mapping. Don't get me wrong, I still love paper maps and still grab one when I can (because phones eventually run out of battery) but because I love planning trips so much (seriously, it's like a fun hobby), I love making my maps ahead of time.
So, whenever I am planning a trip, as I'm researching cool sites and yummy eateries, I pin them on a map. I used to use the pinning features on Google Maps but recently, they switched over to a feature called My Maps. For a while, I hated it because there were a lot of kinks and flaws and Google gave the option to switch back over to the old user interface. However, it seems like they've responded pretty positively to all of the feedback and I'm actually really into it now.
Google has provided a bunch of categories to choose from and for the most part, I like these icons and think they're cute.
On the toolbar, there is a 'share' button. You can invite people to view your map and you can also invite people to help edit your map. Collaborative mapping is great. You can also embed your map onto a website. I have a few issues with the embedding tool: I wish you could "freeze frame" exactly what you wanted to embed and have the ability to share select layers only, but you kind of just have to share the whole friggin' thing. The old maps interface had these features and that's mostly why I miss them.
My Maps is also totally accessible on your phone. If you have an Android, you can download an app. If you have an iPhone, you can access the map through your web browser. It's annoying if you don't have data (like if you're abroad without a phone plan), but you can always screenshot what you need or run to a nearby Starbucks to snag some free wifi.
- LAYERS. Layers help if you have a really crowded map and you want to separate the pins by category. For example, you can have a layer for sightseeing, a layer for eateries, a layer for metro stations, etc. Layers also make it much easier to browse through the pins list if you're looking for something specific and you check and uncheck layers to show and hide them. I'm really hoping that in the future, Google will allow for nested layers so you can have a map for US travels with a layer for a specific state and then within that state layer, a layer for a specific city, and then layers within the city layer for food, sightseeing, etc.
- CUSTOM ICONS. As easy as it would be to just be a lazybones and go with the default icons, changing the icons makes the map visually pleasing but also more practical. If you're standing in a neighborhood and looking for a nearby dining option on your map, it's a lot easier to pick out a little fork-and-knife icon than it is to weed through a dozen pins that look the same.
- IMPORTING OTHER MAPS. If someone has already done the work for you, then why not take advantage of that? The beauty of My Maps is that you can import maps. So, if someone has already plotted out a city bike share, metro station stops, or even every Starbucks location, then download the map and import it into yours. It'll go into its own layer (which is super convenient) and it'll take seconds instead of hours. I used this feature when I was planning my trip to Cinque Terre. I found that someone had already created a map of the hiking trails between the cities so I downloaded it and added it right onto my map.
- DRAG & DROP. This is a feature that wasn't available when this tool was first released but I'm so glad it works now. When I'm creating my map, I add items in rather haphazardly and then once I've got a collection of pins, I like to start organizing them. This tool is great for when you're on the go and looking at your map from a mobile phone. You can easily peruse the list of pins (which maybe you've organized alphabetically or by neighborhood).
- ADDING NOTES & PHOTOS. This is an especially great feature if you're visiting a really dense city (dense in terms of the amount of cool things to see and do) and you've pinned a lot of stuff. You can add notes regarding opening and closing times of museums, you can add a photo of the restaurant facade if it's a place that's kind of hard to find, you can jot down if you've made a reservation, admission ticket prices, etc. It's so useful and it's a great tool to help you keep track of what you're doing.
- DRAWING PATHS. If you're like me and you're not a huge fan of doing tours, this is a really helpful feature. If you find a self-guided walking tour that you like, you can plot out the route on your own map. And of course, you can add pins along the path of places you need to stop and peruse.
- SHARING. My favorite feature is the sharing feature. You can invite other people to look at and help you edit your maps. My friend H and I always do this for trips we're taking together and it's a lot of fun. It's especially fun when you're both editing it at the same time and you refresh the map and see all of the places the other person has pinned.
- ON THE GO. My Maps is easily accessible on mobile phones and I think it looks a lot cooler to be scrolling around on a phone than it does to unfold a giant paper map in the middle of a touristy area but hey, that's just me.
I hope this post was helpful. I'm off to play with the map H and I have for NOLA and my Grand Cayman map!