The “My Maps” section of Google Maps is a valuable resource for planning and sharing trip details with friends and family – you create markers on a map and you can add pictures and details to personalise it further. You can even choose different icons to use as markers for different types of location.
As nice as it is to have a map to imbed on a blog that shows where you’ve been, I prefer to use Google’s My Maps for pre-trip planning, by storing information about places I’d like to visit all over the US and Canada. I used to have data everywhere: boxes of scraps of paper, articles ripped out of magazines, links stored in emails I sent to myself after finding out about an interesting place online.
As much as I tried, this mess of paper and notes was never organised to my satisfaction. I had to search through all the information to find the details I needed about a certain attraction or town – and even if I found it, I’d still have to look up its location so I’d know if it was on my route. Or I might pull into a town, and think to myself, “Hmm. I know that guy I met at the hostel in Albuquerque recommended a restaurant here. I wonder where I wrote down the name of it?”
Now I keep everything on My Map which I call “Unapparent reasons for a trip around the US and Canada” (the name comes from the title of my website, A Year in a Car for No Apparent Reason). When I find an attraction that I’d like to visit, I log on and add it to my map. Then, when I start planning a trip it’s like having my own personalized guidebook of recommendations. Some things may have been sitting on the map for two or three years, waiting for me to get to that area. There’s no way I’d manage to hold on to a magazine article or scrap of paper for that long.
Many of the things on the map are things that I wouldn’t plan a trip around. Shelburne Falls, a waterfall in Massachusetts, was recommended by a co-worker. It wouldn’t be the point of a trip out to Massachusetts, but it is something I’ll go and see when I finally do make it out that way. In the meantime, all the information I need will be sitting on the map until I get around to it.
I still write down suggestions when I talk to people, and I still rip articles out of magazine and save them. But every little while I log on to Google Maps to go through the stack and put them on my map of things to visit.
Just creating a map and marking locations is a great way to keep the travel dream going when you’re stuck in one place for a while, and can give you some unexpected ideas for places to travel. I’d never really given the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico much thought until I looked at my map one day and realized I’d put a lot of markers in and around the city.
If you’re interested in starting your own “places to visit” map here’s a couple of places I recommend:
Point Reyes, California
Possibly my favorite place in the US. This National Seashore is an hour or so north of San Francisco (across the Golden Gate Bridge). A gorgeous area and home to one of the best cheesemakers in the country, the Cowgirl Creamery (try the panir and the “Mt. Tam” triple cream). The area is a bed and breakfast type, and can be pricey, but there is a Hostelling International Hostel.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
I’m a sucker now for caves and cave tours, and this is the one that started it all for me.
The Frontier Restaurant Albuquerque, New Mexico
Local hang out for the students from the university across the street. Order a sweet roll or two; you’ll thank me later. I’m also especially fond of their hashbrowns, but everything is delicious and cheap.
There are still lots of blank spots on my map and I’d like to fill them in. So I’m asking you, dear reader, if you have anything you’d recommend. Favorite tourist spots, great museums, or excellent restaurants. I’m interested in everywhere in the US, but right now I especially want suggestions for Hawaii, where I’ll spend two months from November. Please leave any suggestions in the comment section below.