Last updated: 05:00 AM ET, Tue July 14 2015

Google Maps Makes Quick Work of Plotting Out a Vacation

Features & Advice | Tom Bastek | July 14, 2015

Google Maps Makes Quick Work of Plotting Out a Vacation

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

You have a trip planned to a major American City and you are deciding on where to stay. You would like to balance the distance from downtown and distance to the airport as well as get a good price. One of things that my father always said was, “Use the tools that you have around you.” In this case, Google Maps isn’t just your friend, it is your essential traveling companion.

Make the Map Yours

Anyone can go to Google Maps and plug in your destination city and see what is out there. Most hotel booking sites will even give you the map-view of the available hotels, but wouldn’t you like to get a little more specific? Here’s how: 

If you use the My Maps feature on Google maps, you will have a much better idea of where you are going. First you go in and search for all of the places that you want to see and put them as a point on the map. This will give you a rough radius that you probably want to stay in. As you can see in the map below, there is an added a layer for the daytime attractions for a trip to Chicago. 

You can then add layers for all the other things you would like to coordinate. Add a separate layer for nighttime entertainment and change the color of the pins to blue so you can distinguish them from the other pins. Create a layer for the restaurants and make them green. Notice the color of Lou Malnati’s Pizza. They have multiple locations and depending on where you are during the day, you may be close enough to hit one.

The fourth layer is the hotels that were applicable to the criteria we established (three stars, around $100-$150). There were 223 three-star hotels that fit, so whittling that down first by price and brand, they were added to the map as purple pins. Notice that the points cast a much wider net.

Factor in Transit

For some people, staying close to their activities is important. But if you are looking at saving a little money and getting out of the downtown area, obviously you have to consider the transportation costs to get back into the city. And transit data can be added right into your map. Most major cities around the country make their station and route data available in common formats. 

If you do a quick Google search for "Chicago transit authority data," you will find your way to this page. Just drag and drop into the window that Google gives you on the map under import layer and voila – transit routes to figure out how to get to where you need to be (the colored lines). I even went one step further and downloaded the commuter rail routes (the Black lines) because a few of our hotels were WAY out there. 

You don’t have to go this crazy to get good results. As options get crossed off, the potential final plan becomes clearer. Remember to eliminate data from the map that doesn’t need to be there (such as the hotels you decided NOT to stay at) so that you can take some of the clutter away. You can even take away train routes that you know are not going to be taken to eliminate even more clutter.

Now Put It To Work

Now with everything plotted out, add traffic, get directions, and everything else you would do normally with Google Maps, and navigating at your vacation spot becomes that much easier. Brilliant!

A Few Common Sense Reminders

• Always consider the time vs. money argument. Transit may be cheaper than a cab, but take you twice as long. 

• Ask about hotel airport shuttles.

• If you are leaving late in the day, consider a hotel on the way to the airport so that you can leave your bags with the front desk and get another day of exploring in and just pick them up on the way out.

• You can change, add and remove layers and points as you go on your map.  This will keep it less cluttered and also work as a checklist.

Hopefully these tips help you plan out your next vacation a little bit better. What tips do you have to share? Let me know in the comments below.


You may use your Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook information, including your name, photo & any other personal data you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on Click here to learn more.