If you have ever printed directions from Google Maps, you are going to thank today’s complete update of Google Maps for saving you from the dorky Luddite’s fate. In fact, if you’ve ever planned a trip online, you’re going to love this complete revamp of this powerful online planning tool. Google did a refresh of the mobile version of Google Maps early in 2013, but today, if you use it from a Web browser, you will find it cleaner, prettier, more organized, better informed, and more integrated with your phone. Some fifteen percent of heavy users of the service have been getting access to some of the new tools for a few weeks. But, if you aren’t one of those, you should check it out before you go anywhere. Here’s why.
As of today, if you use Google Maps from a Web browser, you will find it cleaner, prettier, more organized, better informed, and more integrated with your phone.
Plane? Train? Drive?Thinking of heading to the Big Apple for the weekend? But what’s the best way to go? Is it too expensive to fly? Would it be more onerous to drive? Now when you ask Google Maps for directions, it will weigh all these options for you. If a flight is available to your destination, it will do a quick calculation—based on actual flights—and include the time and cost of that option in your directions. Deciding on a mode of transportation no longer requires a visit to Kayak or Travelocity (although you still might want to hit your favorite travel site to book the flight). The decision, at least, is now a matter of a quick glance. Love it.
Get What You NeedOnce you get to New York, you’ll want to have some fun. Search for a museum from Google Maps, and the map display will grok what you are thinking. Suddenly the most interesting tourist destinations are more visible than the bazillions of other scraps of information on that busy map. Search for Italian restaurants, and now those are more focused. Google Maps doesn’t eliminate the other information; it just brings to the fore what it knows you want to know.
Plans Already IncludedDid you book a hotel or make a restaurant reservation online? How about a flight? Those will show up in your map, too, while you are searching for fun things to do. So you can eyeball how far the museum is from your hotel and how hard it will be to get to that restaurant from where you plan to be.
Transit HelpNot sure how to get from the hotel to your lunch meeting? Ask Google Maps for directions. It will display various driving options and, where public transit is an option, the subway. Choose the bus icon, and click “List all times and options.” It will show you a grid of your options so you can see how far you’ll have to walk (so you can pack the right shoes!), what train to take, and when you need to leave to get where you’re going on time.
What’s Going On?Thinking about hitting a blues club? Taking in a play? Want to make sure there’s a ballet worth seeing while you’re there? Check out a venue from Google Maps, and click “Upcoming Events” to see what acts will be playing there in the coming weeks. No more opening six browser windows just to plan a simple evening out.
Google Earth is now integrated into maps. (No, it wasn’t before. They were completely separate.) So when you zoom in, you get a real feel for where you are going.
Better VisualsIt used to be a bit of a pain to get to street view from Google Maps. Not anymore. Bring up a museum, restaurant, or nightclub, and you’ll get a panel that shows you everything you might want to know about that destination. Not just how to get to it but the street view of it and user uploaded images of the place. Some venues even have an interior map so you can do a virtual tour from your browser. (These look awesome.) And Google Earth is now integrated into maps. (No, it wasn’t before. They were completely separate.) So when you zoom in, you get a real feel for where you are going.
Real-Time TrafficSince Google bought Waze—the app that uses the army of smartphones traveling on the roads to track slow traffic, accidents, and other road events in real time—Waze data is being fed right into your Google Maps directions. (This has been working in the mobile apps for a while.) So, if you ask it to plot a route from where you are to where you want to go, it will show you construction sites, closed exit ramps, accidents, and other events that will have an impact on your journey. Click on these—represented as smashed cars, working guys, or exclamation point icons—to find out what’s going on. The directions panel will even let you choose if you want to look at real-time traffic or traffic that’s typical at a particular time of day. From your smartphone, the app might simply route you quietly around nasty events. So don’t be too surprised if it takes you a different way to smooth your commute.
Share Your PlansPlanning to take a trip with a special someone? Don’t waste your alone time talking about routes and timing. Click “My Custom Maps” to create a map you can customize and share—with just your paramour or everyone in your travel plans. This is a super powerful tool and I can’t possibly explain it all here. So, after clicking “My Custom Maps,” and “Create,” select the gear icon in the top right hand corner. Then go to "Take a Tour" to take a walk-through introduction to creating a map.
Map to GoDid you spend your lunch break planning your mini break? And how did you plan to take that plan on the road? No worries. Just click "Save" from the directions panel, and all your research and routes will be saved to your smart phone. (As long as you sign in from your phone with the same Google e-mail address you use for Google Maps online.)
Maybe the last time you traveled, you showed up with a manila folder full of printouts from the Web. But it’s time to let go of the Nineties. Here’s why: It’s so much easier now.