10 Google Maps tips and tricks you need to know

Maps can do way more than just replicate a layout of your city if you learn where all of its many features are located.

google maps android
Derek Walter

Become a Maps Master

Google Maps is way more than just a digital replica of a paper map. It’s a full-blown trip planner, travel aide, and recommendations engine for dining and finding new places to explore.

You can get way more out of Maps by tapping into the more advanced features. Sure, you can use it like a map, but it’s way more powerful if you learn how to save places offline, improve the information by adding details, taking advantage of navigation, and mastering other tricks.

These are our top tips that you’ll want to know about before your next adventure or trip across town.

offline maps

Offline Maps

Whether you're headed to an overaseas adventure in Europe or up to the mountains to escape civilization, you don't need to leave behind the convenience of Google Maps. It's now pretty simple to download an offline map for those areas in the middle of nowhere.

Just head to the Settings > Offline areas and hit the plus button and pan your way through the globe to find the area you want to be available when you don't have a data connection.

Google Maps can also do this automatically for your home areas so your searches will be faster for the areas you're routinely looking at. This obviously can eat up a bunch of space from your device storage, so be sure to consider how much you want to download.

google maps send to

Send directions to your phone

You probably use Google Maps on the desktop as well as your Android phone. If so, there's no need to start over when you switch from the PC to mobile.

Just use the Send to your phone tool, which is located in a venue's card. Your phone or tablet should appear under the list of available devices, assuming you signed into them with your Google account.

You can even send the location to your car if it supports Google Maps integration with the infotainment system (this is a different configuration than Android Auto). The Share button also copies the link or creates an embed code to save the map on your own site. Many wedding guests have been saved from getting lost thanks to wise grooms and brides who embed maps on their wedding site.

maps timeline

Keep your timeline

Google Maps can keep tabs on everywhere you go. Now that may sound pretty creepy, but it's very useful at trying to figure out which new store you visited last week or to prove to a nosey relative where you were the other day. 

If you use Google Photos, Maps will also show which pictures you took at that specific location. I've used this for finding a shot I took of a particular product at an electronics store. But if you want to eliminate your tracks, you can just head to Timeline settings and delete your history or turn the feature off. 

local guides

Be a Local Guide

Google's Local Guides program is an effort to boost the number of reviews and details about all the places you find in Google Maps. In exchange for posting photos, submitting new restaurants, suggesting edits, and answering questions about where you've been, you'll eventually get freebies like Drive storage space and invites to preview beta features. 

If you really decide to go for this, then enable push alerts to get reminded about adding reviews to places you've visited. If this is too oppressive you can opt out, but contributing to the community is one way to make Maps more useful for everybody else out there.

search along route

Search along your route

You're bound to get the munchies or need to fill up the car during your next road trip. Google Maps has you covered, as when you're using navigation mode you can search along the route via voice or the floating action button. It pulls up specific suggestions so your passenger can peform this search while driving (we have tips to keep your eyes on the road). You'll even get current gas prices so you can save a few dollars on your pit stop.

transit

Get transit information

If you live in a major city with some type of transit system, Google Maps is essential for finding out when the next train is going to arrive. You even get the color-coded lines present in BART, Washington's Metro, and other cities that use this scheme. 

When you go to plan a trip you can also use Google Maps to map out which trains to take, though just as with driving directions sometimes human intuition and local knowledge might be more accurate than what the algorithms suggest.

navigation

Master navigation

You don't always have to drive everywhere. When you're using the trip planning tool, Google Maps will find routes via transit, biking, or walking. You can also tell Maps to avoid highways, tolls, and ferries if you're trying to save a few bucks. 

As always, keep in mind that the specific route is more of a guide, so be prepared to change up your direction if there are unforeseen issues. But Google Maps is pretty good at adjusting on the fly, especially with real-time data coming in through the acquisition of Waze.

street view

Take to the street

Street View is still an innovation that puts Google Maps far above the rest of the competition. But it's not so obvious to launch on mobile. 

To do so, press and hold with your finger to a specific location on the map. Then, you'll see a pin drop. Touch the preview image of Street View that appears at the bottom left of the screen. Then you can pan and zoom on the screen to virtually make your way through the streets and check out the view. 

There's a hint in the form of the navigation icon at the top of the screen, which launches a blue line to show you just where your virtual camera view can travel.  You can then swipe along that route to see what has been captured by one of Google's cars or bicycles.

explore this area

Find local favorites

Google Maps has been morphing into more of a city guide the past couple of years with suggestions for places to visit and eat. Touch the Explore option from the slide-out menu and you'll be presented with lots of different choices for what's nearby.

The Where the local go section is pretty good at sticking to non-chain restaurants if you want to find something that has some local flavor. I've found it's helpful to touch the star icon on a few places that I discover in this menu and then compare which is closest if I don't feel like going that far. Press each item's card for more information like additional reviews, hours, and when that spot tends to be the busiest.

labels

Add labels

You don't have to let Google do all the organization for you. You can create labels for different venues that you find, which you can then re-visit later from Your places

You're also able to label your home and work address, which helps Maps and Google Now give you estimated travel times when planning a route. The strength of using labels is that it can better organize some places that you might want to visit later without relying on search to find them every single time. It's also better than just adding a star to everywhere you like, as it's quite easy to clutter up your map with lots of stars (trust me, I've done this). 

This method takes more work, but it will help build Maps out to be a more useful tool over time.