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How to Plan a Road Trip with Google Maps | A Step-by-Step Illustrated Guide

Learn how to create a custom Google Map to plan your next road trip with these instructions.

By Jason Barnette | Travel writer and photographer with 15+ years of road tripping experience

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my Affiliate Disclosure here.

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My road trip planning always begins with Google Maps. In less than half an hour, I can create a new map, add a driving route, and fill layers with markers. Once completed, I sit back with a fully visualized road trip in front of me.

All of this is made possible with Google My Maps – a component of Google Maps that allows users to create customized maps. After years of road tripping, I have built an archive of over a hundred custom maps. It’s great for planning a road trip – and remembering my favorite moments years later.

Follow this step-by-step illustrated guide to learn how you can create custom maps, load them in Google Maps, and create the perfect road trip itinerary.

Google Maps vs Google My Maps

Google Maps has become one of the most popular navigation apps available on mobile devices and online. Users can get turn-by-turn voice navigation, search for points of interest, and save them to lists. However, that’s where the usability ends. It’s not the ideal way for planning a road trip.

Google My Maps is a tool for creating a custom map with layers, stylized markers, and routes.


READ MORE: 10 Ways to Save Money on Gas on Your Next Road Trip

This helps visualize a road trip, place destinations in the correct order, and make sense of the grand scale of the road trip. After creating a customized map, users can open it in Google Maps on any mobile device, plug into a compatible vehicle, and let the road trip adventure begin.

Here are three primary differences between Google Maps and Google My Maps:

  • Google Maps cannot be shared with friends and family, but Google My Maps can be shared
  • Google Maps cannot stylize the markers, but Google My Maps can style colors and icons
  • Google Maps has an app for mobile devices, but Google My Maps can only be used in a web browser

Google Maps lists is a great way to build your road trip wish list, and Google My Maps is a great way to build your road trip itinerary. Used together, these are powerful tools for planning every moment of your road trip adventure.


Google My Map Example

“Wish, however, that you had added a road map that I could use on my GPS,” Karen commented on Road Trip: Exploring the Tennessee Mountains From Knoxville to Chattanooga. She wasn’t the first person to request a map to download to mobile devices and take on the road with them.

I listened.

One of the benefits of using Google My Maps is the ability to share the map with friends, family, and fellow road trippers. But after posting a story about a road trip, I would delete the Google My Map. Eek! I wish I hadn’t done that.


I am in the process of recreating all the road trip itineraries I’ve posted in Google My Maps. In the future, when you see a road trip itinerary, “things to do” post about a destination, or roundup of coffee shops, breweries, and restaurants, you will see a link to a custom Google My Map. You can download the map to your Google account and take it with you!

For now, here is an example to help you with this tutorial: Road Trip to the Southern Sixers at Google My Maps.


Step No. 01

Create a Custom Map

To begin creating a custom map, visit the Google My Maps website. You’ll need a Google account if you don’t already have one – there are lots of travel benefits to having an account.

Google My Maps requires a web browser – Google recommends Safari, Firefox, or Chrome. It’s possible to create these custom maps a browser on a tablet, but the ideal situation would be desktop or laptop computer.


1. Create a New Map

Click the “Create a New Map” button.

2. Give the Map a Name

Initially, the map will be named “Untitled map.” Not exactly memorable or descriptive. Click on the map’s name to change it and make is something you can easily identify later.


Step No. 02

Edit the First Layer

By default, an “Untitled Layer” is already present in any new map. This is the starting point for creating a custom map.

1. Rename the Layer

Click the title of the layer and change it to “Destinations.” This will always be the first layer when creating a road trip map. In this instance, destinations are cities, towns, or parks used for creating the route of your road trip. You will create additional layers later for attractions, restaurants, and hotels.


2. Add Markers to the Layer

The next step is to lay out the road trip route. You may not yet know the exact route you want to drive, but you’ll likely know the destinations you want to visit.


Always begin by adding your home address as the first marker. You will need this when creating the driving route.

Using the search bar, search for the name of the destination. It can be a city or town, state or national park, or any type of business listed in Google Maps. Add each destination to the layer, and then drag the markers into the order you wish to visit them.

Layers can have an unlimited number of markers. But keep this first layer to strictly the destinations you want to visit.


Step No. 03

Create a Route Between Destinations

The hardest part of planning a road trip is determining the route to drive. Sometimes, it’s easy if there is only one way to get from one destination to another. Fortunately, creating a route with a Google Map presents options.


1. Create a Driving Route

In the Map Tools area, click on the icon to “Add Directions.” Clicking this tool will create a new, untitled layer. The default directions are for driving, however it’s possible to change the transportation mode to bicycling or hiking.

2. Enter the Start and End Points

Two empty boxes appear in the driving route. In Box A, begin typing the name of the first marker saved in the Destinations layer – most likely your home address, unless you’re on a multi-stop road trip. It will appear in a dropdown menu. Select the name of the destination to add it to Box A. Do the same with Box B, choosing the end point of your road trip.


An initial route will appear on the map. Like planning a route in Google Maps, this is Google’s default route based on traffic conditions, road closures, and speed limits. It’s just a suggestion. It’s possible to change this route depending on your personal preferences.  

If you want to create a loop, simply enter the start point again as the end point. Google Maps will automatically create a loop connecting all the destinations.


3. Add Additional Stops

If you want to add additional stops to the driving route, click “Add Destination” at the bottom of the layer. Another empty box will appear. Begin typing the name of a destination and select it from the dropdown list.

Driving layers can have a maximum of 10 stops. If you’re road trip is longer than ten stops, consider dividing the route into multiple layers. One option would be to create a driving layer for each day of the road trip. Another option is to divide the road trip into segments.


4. Customize the Route

Click on any point along the route. With the route highlighted – a faint white line surrounding the bright blue line – you can now edit the route. Click on any point along the route and drag it in a different direction. Let go, and the route automatically adjusts to your preference.

Customizing the route must be the last step in the process of creating a driving layer. If you add another stop to the layer, it will reset the custom route and you’ll have to start over again.

Customizing the route gives you the option to avoid interstate highways, take the scenic route along national scenic byways, or to select country roads for a long summer drive.

5. Rename the Driving Layer

When a route is created, Google My Maps automatically generates a name for the layer. However, you may want to rename this layer something easier to remember. “Route” is always a good option.


6. Route Information

One of the neatest features of Google My Maps is the step-by-step directions with driving, biking, or hiking routes. Click the three dots beside the layer name and select “Step-by-Step Directions” in the dropdown menu. At the very top of the directions, you’ll find the total miles and suggested drive time for the route. This can be valuable information for budgeting gas and planning how long to drive each day of your road trip.

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Step No. 04

Add Additional Layers and Markers

With the route finished, now comes the fun part. Adding the markers! Layers and markers are a good way to visualize your road trip adventure, adding places you don’t want to miss and roadside attractions you need to visit.


1. Create a New Layer

Click “Add Layer” to add a new layer to the custom map. Custom maps can have a maximum of 10 layers, including driving layers. Make use of this limit to organize your road trip information.

What kind of information would you want to save into layers?

Hotels, campgrounds, bed and breakfasts, and Airbnb rooms. It can help to save the place where you’ll spend each night of your road trip into a “Lodging” layer.


Restaurants, coffee shops, and dessert cafes. Everybody needs to eat. Creating a “Restaurants” layer can help you remember all those places your friends told you to visit.

Points of interest. Friends inevitably bombard you with tips on places you shouldn’t miss. The best way to keep up with that information is to drop a marker onto the map in a “POI” layer.

Layers can be organized by theme, date, location, or any way you could possibly think to organize the content. The purpose of layers is to organize the markers to make them easier to show or hide on the map while traveling.


2. Add Markers

There are three ways to add markers to any layer. The first is visually as you scroll through the map. Like Google Maps, Google My Maps allows users to click on business names to see more information.


The popup box includes a wealth of information. Typically, each marker will include “Details from Google Maps” like the street address, website, and phone number. Clicking the website will open it in a new tab or window in your browser.

At the bottom of the popup box, click “Add to Map” to add the marker to the current layer.

A second way to add markers is with the search box. After entering a search, lime green markers appear on the map and a list appears at the top of the layers. Clicking on the markers or names in the list will display the popup box and the option to add it to the current layer.


The final way to add a marker to the map is to create a custom marker. In the Map Tools menu, click “Add Marker.” The cursor changes to a crosshair. Wherever you click on the map, a new marker will be created.

A popup appears asking for information about the new marker. Enter a name for the marker in the top box. You can add a description in the second box, if needed. Click “Save” to add the marker to the layer.


Step No. 05

Stylize the Markers

After adding a route and dozens – perhaps hundreds – of markers, the data can be overwhelming to view on a single map. This is where Google My Maps differs the most from Google Maps: the ability to stylize the markers.

There are three ways to stylize markers in a custom map: Individual Styles, Uniform Styles, and Sequence of Numbers.

1. Individual Styles

By default, Individual Styles is selected. With this option, you can change the color and icon for each marker individually. This is helpful if you want to color code markers or create groups of icons within a single layer.


2. Uniform Style

The second option is to create a Uniform Style. This collapses the list of markers and allows you to choose a custom color and icon for all the markers in that layer at once. The markers are still viewable if you want to see them, but not editable. Uniform Style is a great way of grouping all the markers in a layer by subject like restaurants, hotels, or museums.

3. Sequence of Numbers

The third option is to create a Sequence of Numbers. This is a great option for creating an itinerary for the markers in the layer. The markers are still visible in the list and draggable to reorder them, automatically updating the number sequence. Changing the color of any of the markers will automatically pass that color to all the markers in the sequence.


4. Style Options

After clicking the edit button for any marker, a popup menu shows a color palette and popular icons. Unfortunately, Google My Maps does not support custom colors. But with 30 colors to choose from, you’re certain to find something that will work for your road trip.

Clicking “More Icons” at the bottom of the popup menu opens the full list of 432 available icons. A search bar makes it easy to find what you need for the markers on your road trip map. Here are some common icons you may want to use:

  • Cycling
  • Picnic
  • Fishing
  • Swimming
  • Hiking
  • Viewpoint
  • Camping
  • Café
  • Shopping Cart
  • Parking
  • Photo
  • Hotel
  • Information

Step No. 06

Open the Custom Map in Google Maps

Every change made to a custom map in Google My Maps is automatically saved. Once you have finished customizing the map, it’s time to open it on your mobile device. If you created a new Google account, you will need to use that same login information with the mobile app.

1. Load a Custom Map on a Phone

Open the Google Maps app. Tap “Saved” on the bottom menu bar. Tap “Maps” underneath your lists. Here, you will see the custom map you created earlier. Tap on the map you want to open.

To begin using the map, tap “Go” in the bottom menu bar. You can now scroll through the custom map, zoom in and out, and tap on any of the markers you added earlier.


2. Load a Custom Map on a Tablet

Open the Google Maps app. On tablets, tap the three-line “hamburger” menu icon in the search bar and then tap “Your Places.” Tap “Maps” in the new menu along the top of the lists. You will now see the same list of custom maps you see in the phone menu. Tap on the map you want to open.

Once this map opens in Google Maps on a tablet, it is ready to use.

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Step No. 07

Navigation with a Custom Map

Although you can create driving directions with a custom map, you cannot use that route for turn-by-turn voice navigation.

So, what’s the point in doing all this work?

Long before Facebook was invented, in the era of Napster and Road Rules on MTV, pioneering road trippers used maps printed on paper. Using a custom map created in Google My Maps, loaded into Google Maps, would be a similar experience but in a digital format.

With the custom map loaded, users can zoom in and out to get more details of the route ahead. Like using Google Maps, your location is pinpointed with a blue circle – if you have location services enabled on your mobile device. Although it won’t be voice navigation, you will still be able to see where you need to make turns to follow the route you created earlier.


Quasi-Voice Navigation

It is possible to get turn-by-turn voice navigation, but it comes with a caveat. Tap on the next marker along the driving route, and then tap on the blue circle to get directions. Tap “Start” and turn-by-turn voice navigation starts.

However, you will notice the driving route may no longer match your customized route. That’s because this method creates a new “initial” route.

If you customized the driving route to use national scenic byways or avoid interstates, you lose that customization using this method. But, depending on how you customized your route, it may not matter anyway.

5 Responses

  1. If you’re using your custom map without turn by turn navigation, it is a small headache to keep the phone from auto-locking. The best I was able to find was that you’d have to make a change in developer mode and even then it would only stay open if the phone was charging, not all the time.

  2. Very helpful in creating the map and the layer with destintaions.
    Was able to see the map on the phone.
    When opening the map on the phone however there was no option to “go” so the map was useless.

    1. That’s strange. I just tested it again on my iPhone 14 with Google Maps. I loaded the custom map I had created for places to eat brunch in Columbia, South Carolina, I tapped one of the pins I dropped on the map to a restaurant, and I was given the option to tap “Start” and it began voice navigation. You didn’t see that option on your phone?

    2. MyMaps unfortunately is limited to ten stops on a trip route.
      So it’s rather useless for long road trips…

      1. This is true. But that’s why this is only for PLANNING a road trip, not executing it. Google My Maps helps you visualize the stops and choose the best route. After that, I think you should use a Garmin automotive GPS for navigation.

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Do you have a question about travel or road trips? Are you a CVB or DMO interested in working with me? I typically respond to emails within 24 hours. Quicker if you include a good riddle.
Do you have a question about travel or road trips? Are you a CVB or DMO interested in working with me? I typically respond to emails within 24 hours. Quicker if you include a good riddle.

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