Google Maps, and its massive global database of information and photos, has become integral to the way we find directions, travel, work, and play. But despite widespread use of the product, Google Maps has many features and tools that are little-known, but potentially very useful, depending on your needs.
Starting off with the basics, if you simply want to find travel directions in Google Maps, just type your destination address, or a destination search term if you don’t know the address, into the blank search box (with the magnifying glass symbol) in the top left of the Google Maps screen. Google will suggest locations in its database, so you can select from the drop-down, or type in your complete query.
After you’ve identified your destination, Google will often present you with a drop-down box including more details about the location, including a street view image if available and any additional photos that may be in the database.
Also appearing in the drop-down will be reviews and user ratings, if available for a business or other public destination or company, plus user comments and quick facts.
If you want directions to the location you have found, simply click on the “Directions” arrow in the drop-down info-box. This is when you choose the starting point for your travel. If you are logged in to Google (always recommended for using Google Maps), Google may suggest starting points, including your home address, if you have entered that into your Google profile in the past. You may also set “Work” as a pre-loaded starting point for directions, which is very covenant if you travel on business a lot. Google will also suggest directions from other recent destinations. Conveniently, you may also simply click on the map to set your travel starting point.
At this time, you may also select your mode of travel. These include car, public transportation, walking (pedestrian mode), bicycle, and for longer trips, by air. Google has invested significant resources into making each of these different modes useful and relevant to users. For example, bike travel mode uses bike paths and bike lanes when they are available. The bike mode also uses secondary roads, and avoids divided highways. The public transportation mode is also quite reliable and includes stops and details of changeovers.
Tips and Tricks
With Google Maps, you can navigate to a set of GPS coordinates, and you may also determine your current coordinates, or find the coordinates of any point on the map. To get coordinates, simply right click on any point on the map, then click on “What’s here” in the drop-down menu to get exact GPS coordinates of the location.
Measuring Straight-Line Distance
Another little-known feature of Google Maps is the ability to precisely measure a straight-line distance between two points. Simply enter your starting location, then right-click on the end-point of your measurement, then select “Distance to here” from the drop-down menu. A straight line with mile (or kilometers if you choose) markers appears on the map and provides the total. You may even left-click on additional points on the map to get additional distances for the legs of a journey.
You don’t need to be within reach of a WiFi or even a cellular signal to use Google Maps on your smartphone or tablet. When you are logged into Google Maps, find a location of any type, then tap the info-box for the location at the bottom of the screen. Taps the “Save” star to store the map and its associated information in your saved maps file to access off-line.