Instead of locking in a place to stay, then plotting a Google Map with what she wants to eat, see and do, Jessica Tsoi plots her wish list before booking her accommodations.
“It has come to my attention that not everyone plans a trip this way,” Tso says to start her video, captioned, “The best (practical) way to plan a trip!” “And ever since I started doing this, I can’t look back.”
Here’s her method: As soon as Tsoi decides on a place to visit, she creates a customizable map for the destination using Google My Maps, a tool that allows Google Maps users to save and share maps with additional functions like color-coding map points, organizing them in “layers,” drawing lines or adding directions.
Once she’s made her map, Tsoi inputs attractions she wants to see, restaurants she’d like to try and public transportation hubs, then does some internet research to find recommended areas to stay in the destination. She compares those recommendations with the neighborhoods that have the most of her saved map points, then picks where to stay.
“I usually have about two areas I’m deciding between,” Tsoi told The Washington Post. “And seeing all this laid out is really helpful for me to decide.”
The method ultimately helps Tsoi pick a place to stay based on her interests, not left finding attractions near a booking she picked based on deals or other reasons. Once she’s on her trip, Tsoi uses the map to plan her day, saving her precious vacation time and letting her dodge some stress.
If you want to give her method a try, here are some best practices.
The first step to getting the most out of Google Maps is to create a Google account. Users can then have a customizable experience with Google Maps and try Google My Maps.
Note that while you can see a finished Google My Maps product on the Google Maps mobile app, you can’t create or edit one in the app. You can use a computer or a browser on a mobile device via mymaps.google.com (although it’s a little clunky to do on your phone).
“With Google My Maps, you need to plug everything in beforehand, so it’s more of an advanced planning tool,” says Gunnar Olson, flight deal analyst and travel reporter at Thrifty Traveler. “It’s most helpful in plotting out a trip weeks or months ahead of time than it is live in the moment.”
You could skip the Google My Maps process and use Google Maps to get much of the same benefit, albeit with fewer frills. Instead of creating a map, Google can favorite certain spots or create a list of places to organize points of interest.
Don’t forget to save your Google Map offline. You’ll save battery by having your phone on airplane mode (or keep your map working if you’re abroad without an international phone plan), while still being able to review your map and use navigation.
Don’t let your wish list decide the whole trip
Chris Hutchins, a travel expert and host of the podcast “All the Hacks,” likes to have at least half of his time in a new place unscheduled to leave room in his travels for spontaneity. Mapping some points of interest is not the same as planning every minute of your trip. Don’t feel beholden to hit every item on your map.
“I really worry in today’s day and age that travel is becoming checklist travel,” Hutchins says. “So the idea of starting with a map and plotting everything out … makes me worry about the type of travel that you might have.”
Tsoi says she saw some TikTok users post similar concerns in her video’s comment section.
“You could easily use it just as a way to take notes on cool places you’re considering visiting, maybe not things you must do,” she says. “It’s a suggested guide for you. There’s a lot of ways to use it.”
Other Google travel tools to try
Google has other tools for every step of your trip. When you’re figuring out how to get to a destination, “Google Flights is the best flight search tool in the world,” Hutchins says.
Olson agrees. “There’s no better way to compare flight prices,” he says. “You can set flight alerts, you can get live data on when the best time is to book flights. … I don’t look anywhere else.”
Both experts also use Google Hotels. Thanks to a hotel button featured on Google Maps, users can compare hotels in the area they’d like to stay in based on prices and reviews.
Atlanta-based travel expert Jewels Rhode uses Google Sheets to organize her trip budget, accommodations and activities, particularly when she’s going somewhere with friends. The tool allows users to easily collaborate on the trip, and you can also upload your list into Google My Maps.
Rhode also swears by Google Translate to cut through language barriers. You can write down words to translate or speak them aloud into your phone, or take a photo of text to translate. Google Translate is a lifesaver for Rhode because she uses it to explain her severe nut allergy when ordering food abroad.