For many a turned-around traveler, Google Maps is the go-to tool. It’s good not only for getting from point A to point B, but also for detours to point C–and maybe a little antiquing side-trip to point D.
But are you really using Google’s navigation helper to its full potential? Probably not. But with these power tips, you’ll learn to map faster, smarter, and just plain better.
It’s pretty magical to hold a device in your hand that can tell you exactly where you are and how to get where you’re going–right up until it isn’t. No Internet connection means no navigation, because even if you still have a GPS signal, that map data gets pulled into your phone as its needed from the Internet.
Fortunately, if you know in advance you’re going to be out in the country or someplace else where connectivity is iffy, Google Maps now offers an offline mode for storing map data on your phone.
To use it, fire up the app, tap inside the search field, type “ok maps,” then tap Search. Now you’ll have the option to pan and/or zoom the map to the area you want cached. (It’s always best to include some extra “buffer” area, so zoom out a little more than you might otherwise.) Then tap Save and provide a name for your offline map. Once it’s saved, you’ll no longer have to worry about whether you have an Internet connection–at least while you’re somewhere within that map area. (Your phone’s GPS should continue to update your location.)
Another great shortcut for mobile-app users is single-finger zooming–handy for those times when you’re holding the phone in one hand and, say, holding the steering wheel with the other. (Please don’t map and drive.) That makes the usual pinch-to-zoom option nearly impossible.
But do this instead: double-tap with your thumb, but keep it on the screen after the second tap. Then drag your thumb up to zoom out or down to zoom in.
Want to know how far you just jogged? Or maybe determine the distance from your city to the next one over–as the crow flies? Google Maps can calculate the distance between two or more points, which can also be handy if you don’t know the exact address of your location(s).
To do this, simply right-click the starting point on a map, then choose “Measure distance.” Now right-click another spot and choose “Distance to here.” Presto: Now you’ve got a line showing the precise distance between those points.
If you mouse over any point on that line, you can click and drag to create a middle point. Or, right-click somewhere else and again choose “Distance to here” to extend the line (and measurement) to that spot. When you’re done, right-click anywhere and choose “Clear measurement.”
Finally, turn Google Maps into your travel agent. Suppose, for example, you’re trying to decide if it makes more sense to fly or drive from Detroit to Chicago. Fire up Maps, then enter your starting point and destination as you would for driving directions.
Now look at the available routes. You may see a line with an airplane and airfare. If not, mouse up to the directions toolbar and put your cursor over the little “more” icon (the three dots). You should see an airplane icon, which you can click to reveal some average dates and airfares. Click “see results on Google Flights” to nail down the specifics of your trip.
Have you found any other awesome Google Maps tricks? Share them in the comments section below!