How To Use Google Maps To Simplify Travel Planning

Even if you love travel planning (like me), it can sometimes get overwhelming. Here are a few methods to help simplify the process!

Travel planning is literally my favorite thing ever, so I was super shocked by how difficult it was for me to begin planning our trip to Stockholm. (Also P.S. we’re going to Stockholm in 2 months!!!)

For the first time ever, I had no idea where to start and I couldn’t even begin to narrow down hotel options. I have no idea why, but it was a reality check – I mean, it just happens sometimes! And that’s completely okay because planning a trip is not only a lot of work but taking a trip costs a lot of money too! So of COURSE you want to make sure you plan everything right in order to make the most of your time and money.

So when you’re starting to feel hopeless and unproductive in your travel planning, just accept it! You simply need to reassess your methods! This list offers five different ways to organize and simplify your travel planning when you find yourself getting stuck and feeling overwhelmed by it all.

1. Use Google Maps to visualize your plans

Did you guys know that Google Maps has a feature where you can like, make your own map? It’s awesome, and extremely helpful, too! Essentially, you “drop pins” on the map to indicate places you want to go, which makes it really easy to plan your route and daily itineraries.

Name your map and your layers

First, name your map, especially if you’re working on multiple trips. It seems like a no-brainer, but having to click on “Untitled Map,” over and over again would make me feel extremely unorganized and anxious. Start off on the right foot by working on a map with a legit title. Then, you can create “layers,” and make sure you name your layers too! They aren’t totally necessary, but they’re convenient if you’d like to be able to look at your map according to certain categories. You can create a layer for restaurants, one for museums, etc.

An overview of the Google Map I created for our trip to Stockholm in 2019, with pins for restaurants and things to do

Adding pins to your map

Adding places to your map is really easy because Google is Google, and as you type in the search bar, suggestions will begin to pop up. So no, you won’t need to find an exact address for these things either.

Searching for a specific place on Google Maps is easy because suggestions pop up as you begin to type

Make your pins different colors and symbols for extreme organization

You can change the color and style of your pins for even more organization too. You can make your restaurants appear as a fork and knife icon and your hotel(s) a little house if you want to! At the very least, I would suggest making your different categories each a different color.

Adding descriptions helps keep track of details

Each pin has a place to write a little description, which I usually use to indicate the price of a certain activity. Because once I add everything I’m considering, I can see the location and price of each one and begin narrowing down if necessary.

By using the description on each Google Map pin, I can keep track of details like pricing

I can’t express the convenience of having everything laid out on a map, you guys. It makes planning so much easier because you can work in categories AND, the best part is that you can access it while you’re on your trip!

2. Close out of all tabs and start over

Sometimes it just gets to be too much, you know? When you’ve got too much open and too much going on at once, you’re destined for disaster. Not to mention the fact that having one thousand tabs open is not good for anybody. How can you possibly keep track?

Unless you’re in the middle of booking a specific thing or you just entered your credit card info, just close out of every tab. It seems counterproductive, (and maybe it is, in a way) but it will give you a fresh start. Which, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, is exactly what you need.

3. Ditch the computer - write out a plan on paper

Going off of the previous idea, just get away from the computer altogether. Typing can get messy and confusing sometimes, don’t you think? When you write on paper, you’re able to write literally however you want. Giant letters followed by teeny tiny letters, calligraphy, diagonal lists, arrows, etc. You get the idea. Now that can get messy in its own right, but I guess the point is that you have so much more freedom than typing on a computer. Some people work best that way!

So, take a break from the internet researching for a few minutes. Grab a journal or a blank piece of paper and start writing whatever you feel is most important. Maybe you want to create a chart where you can write down each day of your trip and fill it in with the day’s activities. (Am I the only one who never really got the hang of Excel?) Or maybe you already know what you’re doing and you need to make a list of everything that still needs to be booked. By allowing yourself this moment of respite from the screen, you can start fresh again and come up with a plan of action.

4. Use filters to narrow down your options

Using filters is helpful when you just CAN’T decide. Or when there are too many options, like booking hotels! I’m the most indecisive person on the planet, so I’m always in need of a little direction, and filters are the perfect solution. I tend to gravitate toward for hotels, and it has tons of filters to help you find the best options for you. You can narrow your search by price, amenities, accessibility, and so many other things.

Think about your priorities

We were going back and forth between soooo many different hotel options for Stockholm, to the point where we had about 10 tabs open. It just became too much, so I decided to close everything and start anew. This time, with filters. We selected a few different price points and some things that were really important to us. For example, I really wanted to have access to a sauna in the hotel. I mean, we’re going to SWEDEN, can you blame me?! So we put everything in and then, we ranked the results according to their distance from the city center. That's not necessarily important for every trip, but because we were staying in one city and relying on public transportation the whole time, I wanted to be as close as possible to the center.

Make a decision based on fewer options

We got it down from like, over 200 options to somewhere around 12. This allowed us to really take a deeper look into just a few hotels and determine our favorite from there. We ended up choosing the Scandic Continental, which is a hotel chain known for its sustainability initiatives (which is obviously very important to me!) and it’s located right across the street from Stockholm’s main train station. AND it’s got my sauna. Perfect!

But this method goes for more than just hotels, too. On sites like Viator, which offers day trips and multi-day tours, you can narrow down your options by price, length, and type of excursion. Trust me – even if you’re the most open-minded traveler there ever was, you can benefit from a few filters to determine your best options!

5. Cut out distractions

For some reason, I almost always have either Netflix or a YouTube video open as I am simultaneously working on the computer. Which is kind of silly because I know in my mind that I can’t really pay attention to both at the same time, but my heart likes to think I can. Sitting and working in complete silence creeps me out, but sometimes TV shows can be like, sensory overload.

Create the right atmosphere

So when I say cut out distractions, I do NOT mean subject yourself to complete silence! That’s a good way to make yourself go insane. What you can and should do is create a stress-free environment that allows you space to actually accomplish tasks. One of my favorite things to have on in the background is a Disney World music loop, which is basically just a soundtrack to a really specific area of the parks! My go-to's are the Main Street loop or the Living Seas loop! It puts me in such a great mood because I love Disney, but it’s also so relaxing and creates such a lovely atmosphere.

Find something that creates a stress-free atmosphere for you! Whether it’s a certain type of music, a candle, or a cozy spot on the couch, get yourself comfortable, and get planning!