Google Maps can make your travels safer, easier, and more fun, but most people aren’t using some of the app’s most valuable features. Check yourself against this list, and see if you learn a few things!

Mark Your Lodging

As soon as you arrive at your lodging, drop a pin on your map, save it as a “starred place” and give it a name. Now you are free to explore your new neighborhood without worrying that you might get lost.

Any time you want to head back to your home base, just pull out your phone and make sure the blue dot (you) keeps moving toward the yellow star (your lodging). Bonus: you can show the yellow star to cab drivers who can’t find your address, too.

Here’s how:

  • Touch your blue dot and hold to drop a pin on the map
  • Click “Save” and save to “Starred Places”
  • Touch the words “dropped pin” (or the address if it’s displaying” to bring up this menu, and touch “label”
  • Give the location a name and now you can always find your way home!

NOTE: All screenshots are from Android; iPhone may vary slightly

Pro trip: Carry this powerbank that’s also a flashlight so you never have to worry about a dead phone battery or a dark street.

Download a Map

The second thing you should do as soon as you arrive is to download a local map, while you’re connected to wifi. Your phone will hold the map in its memory for a few months and then offer to delete it for you to save space. The downloaded map isn’t always searchable, but it will be helpful to you in navigating if you lose your signal.

Here’s how:

  • Touch the three bars to see the menu options
  • Select “offline maps”
  • Choose “Select your own map”
  • Zoom in or out to decide how much map to save. Click “download”

No data? No problem!

What if you don’t have phone service outside your home country? No worries. Your GPS doesn’t need it. Even in airplane mode, your blue dot will always show you where you are.

However, you won’t be able to search your map when you’re offline, so be sure to look up where you want to go and hit the “get directions” button while you’re still connected to wifi. And definitely download your local map, as shown above.

Find Anything

Need something while you’re traveling? Laundry service? A grocery store? Shoe repair? Google Maps is shockingly thorough. I once asked it to find laundry in a remote village in Indonesia, and it took me to a shanty warung on a dirt road where a woman happily accepted my bundle of dirty clothes.

Not every single location is listed, of course, and it might not always find the closest stores and services — but it will surprise you! Just type in whatever you want to find, using simple language like “Groceries” or “Laundry” or “phone repair” and see what happens.

Here’s how:

  • Search for whatever you need (laundry, phone repair, groceries)
  • Touch the location you want to bring up the directions option
  • Follow the step-by-step instructions to walk the blue dot toward the red pin

Find Transportation

Google Map’s public transportation feature works in major cities around the world that have standard bus schedules or metro systems. The schedules aren’t always up to date, but the routes tend to be accurate.

Just put in your destination, touch the bus icon, and have a look at your choices. Your blue dot will walk you step-by-step to the bus stop or metro station, show you where to get off, tell you when to change trains or buses, and walk you to your final destination.

If the route seems complicated, or you’re just not up to dealing with buses and subways, use the “taxi” button to connect directly to Uber (assuming you already have the app loaded & have an Uber account). Google Maps will transfer your destination address to Uber for you.

(Note: I also use Rome2Rio to check local transportation options, it can offer confirmation or alternative ideas).

Here’s how:

  • Enter your destination & starting point and then touch the bus icon
  • Selecting a bus or metro option will bring up step-by-step directions

Bonus tip: If you touch the “flagging down a taxi” icon instead of the bus icon (when available), Google Maps will give you an estimated taxi cost AND links to download the leading local taxi and/or ridesharing apps! Try it at home and see what happens.

If these features are new to you, you might want to experiment with using them at home until you feel comfortable, so when you get to your destination you will be ready to explore!

Author

Lauren Haas is a nomadic freelance writer. She has been traveling the world, living out of a backpack, since May of 2013. Lauren has written regularly for CBS Local, WebPsychology, Hipmunk, and Hotelplanner, and has also been published in The Culture-ist, Matador, and other online and print publications.

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