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Plan a Road Trip with Google Maps

arches national park

For someone who’s bad with directions, I’ve always relied on Google Maps to get places. I remember getting lost in my own neighborhood in San Francisco 2 weeks after moving there and Google Maps saved me big time. Embarrassing stories aside, at some point I also found myself relying more on Google Maps to plan trips. It made so much sense to me to have my destinations mapped out in the app that I also used to navigate to places. When it came time to plan our road trip across the U.S., I pulled up Google Maps and started doing all my trip planning there. Here’s a step by step guide on how to plan a road trip using Google Maps examples of what it looks like in the app.

Step 1: Search for a place you want to visit on your road trip!

plan road trip google maps

Step 2: Click “Save” and “+ New List” to save the destination to a new list

In this example I’m going to plan a road trip through the Southern part of the U.S. so I searched for Nashville and saved it as my first stop.

Step 3: Name your list

I named mine U.S. Road Trip (Tutorial) since I already have one named U.S. Road Trip.

free u.s. road trip planning tool

Now every time you search for “Nashville,” you’ll see that it’s been added to your U.S. Road Trip list!

One of the reasons I think planning a road trip in Google Maps works really well is because I’m a visual person and I looove seeing all my destinations laid out visually in front of me. Google Maps makes it so easy to do that.

Now, when you search your list “U.S. Road Trip” in the search bar, you’ll see your list pop up!

plan road trip google maps

By the way, if you’re not sure where to even begin planning your U.S. road trip – what destinations you want to hit or how to most efficiently plan a route – I’d do a Google search on the “best road trip routes usa.” There are a ton of resources out there on route planning.

US map showing the 11 cross-country road trips on roadtripusa.com

This is the guide I used to decide how to most effectively plan our route and it worked really well! We knew we wanted to get from California to New York, hit up Salt Lake City and Denver along the way, so we did a combination of the Lonelist Road and the Oregon Trail.

Step 4. Add all the main cities you want to visit

And I repeat, add the MAIN cities, and main cities only. There should be four or five of these tops! The reason this is important is because you’ll be planning your trip around these cities. If you plan to be on the road for one week for example, you are most likely only going to have time to stop at these cities and that’s it. If you plan to be on the road for a month, then you have room to add a few more stops.

Having these main cities locked in can also help you figure how much time you’ll realistically need to go to these places, book hotels in advance, and have a general sense of what your route will look like.

If you go back to the search bar and type in the name of your list and click into it, you’ll see all the main cities you’ve saved. By visualizing this route, I already know the trek from Albuquerque to Austin could be too out of the way, so maybe I have to adjust and go to Dallas instead. Again, this will depend on how many days you are planning your road trip for and the nice thing about having this in Maps is you can adjust accordingly!

Step 5. Add the other stops!

At this point you’re ready to add in other stops. This is the part of road trip planning in Google Maps where you can start to add in pit stops along the Southern Pacific route, more optional stops (i.e. really cool places that may require a slight detour).

Step 6. Create a map (more advanced)

plan road trip google maps

This step is a little more advanced but can be super helpful to learn if you want to take full advantage of Google Maps’ free trip planning tools. Go to Your Places -> Maps and click “Create Map ” at the bottom.

This will allow you to create “routes” rather than just save places.

Going back to what I was saying earlier about having to adjust your route, this is a really good planning tool to see how long it may take to get from point A to B while planning your road trip using Google Maps. You can also do fancy things like color code your saved bookmarks. For example, you can color code all the main stops as green and all the optional ones as red.

Below I’m previewing what my route from San Francisco to Sedona would look like and how long it would take:

plan road trip google maps
free road trip planning tool

Step 7. Reference your Google Maps when you hit the road

Later you can find your map by opening the hamburger at the top left, going to “Your Places,” and choosing the list you want to revisit.

plan road trip google maps
plan road trip google maps

Or you can search for your list name in the Search bar like you’d search any destination in Google Maps;

plan road trip google maps

Planning Your Road Trip with Google Maps

So what do you think? Would you plan your road trip using Google Maps? GMaps isn’t just great for a U.S. Road Trip, it can also be a tool for planning itineraries for a specific city or foreign country. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions at all about using Google Maps for U.S. road trip planning! Or trip planning in general!

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