Five Ways to Use Google Maps That Aren’t GPS

November 14, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Google Maps was a major disruption to not only the printed maps and atlas industry, but it turned the standalone GPS market on its head too. As soon as I could mount my mobile phone in my car, I started using Google Maps as my GPS to find my way around town.

(This was unfortunate, as I had just bought a GPS unit a month earlier for $200. . .)

Of course, once I discovered Waze and its real-time traffic updates and speed trap notifications, I switched from Google Maps. But there are still a lot of things I use Google Maps for, on my phone or my laptop, in town or when I travel.

I wanted to share five ways you can use Google Maps beyond just being a GPS. You can start practicing on it now before your next road trip, so everything is easy to understand and use.

1. Plan routes before you leave

Whenever I’m driving to a new location, especially out of town, I use Google Maps on my laptop to plot out my route. There are usually a few routes to choose from, and I’m always looking for problems like construction and potential traffic jams found when traveling through a big city during rush hour.

I can select the time I’ll leave or want to arrive, and Google Maps will show me the expected issues I might encounter. A lot of this data is taken from Waze, which Google owns, so it can show you historic traffic patterns based on years of data. So it can tell you where certain traffic jams can be found and at what particular time, and help you plan accordingly.

2. Find a new restaurant

When I’m in a new city, I always want to try new dishes and restaurants, rather than relying on the same old stuff I can get at home. I’ll do a quick search in the Maps search bar, just like a regular Google search, for a particular cuisine. I can click on the different results, and read the reviews and ratings to make my choice.

I can also use Maps to plan out my hotel and dining. If I’m trying to choose a hotel location, I’ll look at a few different options on Maps and then click Nearby, and do a search for restaurants. If there’s nothing close to the hotel I’m considering, I try another one.

Or when you open Maps on your phone, there are four buttons you can tap for quick searches: Restaurants, Coffee, Bars, and Hotels. Maps will search for different nearby options, and will even show you star ratings, hours of business, and customer testimonials. Some restaurants even have their menus plugged into Maps, so you can scope out a restaurant’s offerings before you go.

3. Find a business address or phone number

Back in the ’90s, I knew people who would always keep a copy of the Yellow Pages in their car. That way, if they ever had to find a business, they could pull to the side of the road, find it, locate it on their paper map, and then drive to that location.

Now, you can use Google Maps like the Yellow Pages, and find a particular business just by voice search. Tap the Navigate button, and you can drive right there, using Google Maps as your guide. (I wish it would switch over to Waze for me, but that’s just me being picky.)

You can even call the business right from their listing. Tap the Call button, and you can be connected right to the place through your own cell phone.

4. Bookmark & share your favorite locations

Screenshot of Erik Deckers' Orlando indie coffee shops on Google MapsI’m a big fan of independent coffee shops and am always looking for new shops to visit. To help keep track of the different coffee shops around Central Florida, I created the Orlando Indie Coffee Shops map on Google Maps.

This is all part of the Save feature on Google Maps, where you can save different businesses and locations on a private, public, or shared map. You can create a private map to plot out your next trip, you can create a public map of favorite restaurants, and you can create a shared map, which is a semi-private map that only people with the link can see. (So you can share your itinerary with family and friends.)

If you want to get more involved in your community’s food scene, make special maps of your favorite cuisine and share the map with your friends on social media to help spread the love. This can also help you if you want to be a Google Local Guide.

5. Become a Google Local Guide

Those reviews, ratings, and photos aren’t just gathered from other online sources. People leave those reviews, ratings, and photos themselves when they visit a new place. Google Local Guides lets you contribute to the crowdsourcing of your community’s different businesses.

You can earn points based on the number of reviews and even photos you upload. The more points you accumulate, the higher your Local Guide level. As you progress, Google will provide little gifts and perks along the way. Once I got a six-month subscription to the Washington Post, and another time, it was a pair of quirky dress socks. The last two offers just came in yesterday: six month’s free use of the Google One membership program, and an $8 coupon on Slice, the pizza finding-and-ordering app.

Google Maps has a lot more features than just being a mobile map service. It’s Yelp, the Yellow Pages, and even a crowdsourcing service all in one. Start using it in your own hometown, get used to using it, and then try to use these different features on your next trip.

How do you use Google Maps when you travel? What are some hidden features I might have missed? Share your tips and stories on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Erik Deckers (Used with permission)

How Waze and Google Maps Work on Your Phone

August 31, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

It was May 2016, and I was on my way to Indianapolis, driving from Orlando. As I was nearing Atlanta, my phone beeped frantically. It was my GPS app, Waze, telling me to exit in a half mile.

I had learned from experience to always follow Waze, so I got over and exited onto some county highway just in time. As I exited, I saw cars stopping on the highway, backing up almost to the exit, the line stretching up as far as I could see

I followed the new directions, driving along county roads east of Atlanta. It took 30 minutes, and Waze finally deposited me back onto the highway, 10 miles north of where I had exited, back into the traffic jam I had left. I was back in the same line of traffic, but only for one mile, and I was only stuck in it for 20 minutes.
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