Over the years, this blog has connected me with lots of great folks. It’s fun to take an adventure, albeit virtually, with someone else. It’s a wide world filled with cultures, experiences, and opportunities. I’ve learned so much from my readers and my friends! Over the summer, we were able to visit family in the US, and I shared some of my tricks for “curating” new places with my mother-in-law. Since then, she has created a number of different lists that help her keep track of the places in her life.

When I returned to Spain, I realized that these tips might be helpful for anyone who wants to visit a new place, whether it’s around the corner or across the world. And it is probably an application you already have on your phone, your computer, or your tablet: Google Maps. Gentle readers, let’s explore some great features that you may not have used on this handy little application.

I have used Google Maps to develop exploration lists, collate the restaurants I have visited or want to visit, and discovered out-of-the-way museums and shops. Let’s talk about five features I use the most that are available for free on this app!

1. Use Google Maps like a map and GPS.

To be honest, I’m not the best map reader. Sure, I will get there eventually, but connecting the map on my phone screen to my current experience of reality is not my strong suit. However, determining my location and where I am trying to go are so much easier when the map is “live.” With the “Directions” button, I can choose my mode of transportation (walking, driving, and public transportation) and follow the path. I will admit that in strangely configured streets, I will still get a bit lost. I may not be the navigator of my group, but I am willing to walk a few extra steps if I eventually get to my destination.

But wait, there’s more! By zooming in and out, I can see the names of different neighborhoods, which is pretty important when learning a new city layout. In Valencia, the neighborhood “zones” are mental milestones for where to find restaurants, shops, and cafes. Telling a friend that we are meeting for lunch in the Abastos neighborhood helps others navigate to the right location, too.

2. Figure out public transportation.

Public transportation on buses, the metro, and trains is so much easier because the timetables are uploaded automatically into Google Maps. This has been a lifesaver when I have had doctors’ appointments across town and need to take the metro to get there. Sure, I could take a taxi if I’m in a rush, but the ability to plan using the live timetable is often a big advantage. You can even set when you want to depart or when you want to arrive and Google Maps will calculate the best times and paths. It’s also great to know if there are still trains running if we ate dinner out and don’t want to walk home.

3. Build lists for interesting places. 

Gentle reader, I must be honest and tell you that I can’t remember everything I want to share with others. With Google Maps, I found that I can easily create lists and save my favorite places in categories that make sense. I currently have a number of lists that represent different places where I might be:

  • Where I want to go (locally, like restaurants and museums)
  • Travel plans (how to get to some of the towns or cities I’d like to visit)
  • Food Valencia
  • Madrid
  • Points of Interest Valencia (places I can recommend for visitors to the city)
  • Minneapolis restaurants
  • Vacation – Alicante
  • Vacation – Amsterdam

Any time we go to a new city for a multi-day visit, I create a list and take notes of where we have visited. This is great for returning to restaurants or attractions, and takes some of the guesswork out of “what do you want to do today?” type questions. Just open a list and see what looks appealing. If you use Google Maps on more than one device, your lists will sync across devices, so you always have your information available.

4. Share a location.

I use the “share” button whenever I make plans with others. It’s so easy to search for the place (probably a restaurant!) and then click “Share” to send a link to the location through my I’m chat applications. If you are setting up an impromptu meeting, you can also send your location so others can join you. This is a great on-the-fly way to invite others to your location!

5. Download a city map.

This tip is perfect for when you don’t have strong internet connection for your phone, but still have a recently-produced cellphone. Many larger cities have a downloadable map option so your phone can have the map to the city ready to go when you are there in person. Even without internet service on, ambient WiFi will still provide your location on the map. For me, this has been remarkably helpful when visiting new cities. You’ll need full internet service to do more complex operations, but I’ve had good luck with downloaded maps.

I hope these reasons for using Google Maps are helpful!