Friday, September 28, 2012

Useful Travel Tools: Utilizing Custom Google Maps

Last time I covered how to use Google Maps’ Offline Maps feature to get maps whenever you needed them, especially when you are somewhere that you don’t have a reliable mobile data connection.  In this segment I’ll cover how to use another feature of Google Maps to put placeholders on your downloaded maps so that you know where you want to end up.
The first thing you’ll need is a Google account so that there is somewhere to save your personal map.  Once you have that, head to on a regular computer and type the place you want to add into the search bar.  This process may also work from a smart phone, but if you are adding a lot of places I would highly suggest using a regular computer.  If the desired place came up you can move on to the next step.  In my example I searched for Kinkaku-ji, which is also known as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion and is located in Kyoto. 

 The next step is to save it to your map.  This can be done whether you have a map started already or not and is accomplished by clicking the “Save to map” link either on the left side or in the bubble that pops up when you click on the placemarker.  I have highlighted these places below.

Once Save to map is clicked, a drop down box will appear.  Either select an existing map from the list or choose the option to create a new one.  If this is a new map the map will take the name of the first location you add to it.

Google maps will tell you if it was able to save the location to the map successfully.
To view the place markers you have added, click the “My places” button, then “Maps” below that.  From there, select your desired map from the list.
You are also able to change the default names and add descriptions to each place marker   This came in handy for our trip to Japan because sometimes Google Maps saved the place name in Japanese Kanji and I had no idea what the place was!  To edit a place, click the EDIT button, highlighted in red below.
This option also brings up the ability to rename the map (see below).  To edit a particular place marker  either find it on the map and click on the marker or click it in the list on the left (this is usually the easier and quicker option and I highlighted it in red).  A large bubble will pop up from the place marker that allows you to rename the place, add comments about the place (highlighted by the orange box), and also delete the place marker.  When you are done editing the place, click OK (highlighted by the yellow box).  To save your changes, either hit Save (grayed out in the screenshot below) or Done.  Once you have done this for all of your desired place markers your map is complete!
Now lets make use of these maps.  On your smart phone, make sure you have a data connection and open Google Maps.  Press the Layers button (lower right of the application) to bring up the following screen:
From there, choose My Maps and select the map you have just created online.
Once the place markers have loaded you will be taken to the area of the map where they are located and all of your place markers should be visible.  Once you have gotten to this point a data connection is no longer needed.  You are free to roam around and go wherever you need to and you will be able to see and select any place marker on your custom map.
The maps can be manipulated as normal, except now there are place markers in all of the areas that you want to go.  To view the location of a particular place marker  click the RESULTS LIST bar at the bottom.  To view your comments for a particular place marker, press the place marker and then press the name of the place in the popup bubble.
The following screen should appear along with any comments you made to your custom map.  I don’t think the Directions aspect will work if you aren't on a data connection and I’m not sure that the call function will work either (especially if your phone isn't compatible).

A word of caution with using the custom maps feature on your phone.  If you press the back button while in the Maps application or do anything else to clear the map your custom place marker map won’t be view able again until you get a data connection.  Unfortunately Google Maps is only able to get the place markers online so be just be careful when handling your phone and navigating.  Going to the home screen or running other apps is okay though and I think it is even okay if your phone restarts.  Even with this danger the ability to have everywhere you want to go available at your fingertips is amazing.

Hopefully my little guide to these features of your phone will save you some time and frustration.  I normally have a pretty good sense of direction, but Japan would have been much more challenging to navigate through without this technology.  I highly recommend it for your next trip to a new place!

My next travel tools post will be about My Tracks, which is an application that uses GPS to track your route.

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