Travel with Google

We use Google every day to search for all kinds of information, but they have many services and apps that can be used for travel that you may not know about or may not be using to their full potential.

Search and Gmail should be obvious tools you use, but there's plenty more Google apps for travel you should take advantage of.

Let's jump right in.

Google Trips

Relatively new from Google, the Google Trips app seeks to not only organize your travel details, but also provide suggestions on "things to do" as well as "food & drink"; it's a perfect example of using Google to travel.

The app intelligently gathers transportation and accommodation confirmation messages sent to your Gmail, so things like your flight or bus itinerary and hotel reservations will be easily accessible in one place, even when you're offline.

The app will suggest popular tourist spots, museums and viewpoints as well as where good restaurants and bars may be. The app knows what's close by, how long most people spend at various attractions and can even suggest a mapped out day trip of activities based on what you may like and how long it'll take to get to everything. Consider it a personalized walking tour on demand.

Using Google Maps while Traveling

While much is obvious, like using Google Maps for driving directions or just panning around and exploring, there's several more really useful and under-used features you should know about for your trip.

Saved Locations and Labels on Google Maps

Whenever someone tells me about a cool coffee shop in Budapest, a brewery in Portland or a campsite in New Zealand I'll automatically open up Google Maps, search for that spot and click the "star" icon to save it. That star stays pinned on your map forever (unless you remove it), which means when I'm actually there in Budapest months or years later I'll see that starred coffee shop and go check it out.

You can also long press anywhere on the map (say an arbitrary camp spot) and then star that point as well. Besides stars, Google has now added "lists" with different icons as well. So you can mark places as "want to go", "favorites" or add your own custom lists.

You can also add labels to any place you'd like. For example, I'll star the homes of hosts I'm staying with and then add a label like "Frank from Couchsurfing" so it's easy to make my way back to their place after a day in town.

More tips for using Google Maps to travel:

  • Find places to camp using "satellite" view. Check out my video for finding stealth camping spots.
  • Use offline mode to download areas and save data when you're on the go, navigate streets and search for coffee shops even when you're offline.
  • Google Maps Timeline keeps track of where you've been, leaving GPS breadcrumbs so you can go back and retrace your steps.
  • Your timeline is private, but location sharing lets you temporarily share your real-time location with a friend. Useful for hitchhikers sharing their location with their host or a loved one or just trying to keep track of your travel partner around the city.
  • Public transit directions are handy for getting around new cities, and in countries like India it will even show you long distance trains between cities.
  • Walking directions often work in wilderness areas as well as cities, great way to plan a hike.
  • Searching for hotels will also display their prices in some cases, pretty handy!
One more cool trick: If you book a flight or hotel, Google Maps will see that from your confirmation email (assuming you use Gmail) and will automatically add your flight information to the map. That means when you zoom in to the airport you're flying to or from you'll see a little icon indicating the date and time of your flight. Pretty cool!

Google Voice

Google will give you a free phone number that you can use to call and text via WiFi from virtually any device (phone, tablet, desktop) from anywhere in the world. You can have this number forward to your existing number, or just use it online. Calling numbers outside the US costs just pennies, but texting and US calls are totally free.

Project Fi

This is Google's wireless phone service that works in 135+ countries around the world. $20 a month gets you unlimited calls and international texting, you also get data which costs the same in every country and is billed based on your exact usage.

The beauty of this is you never have to swap out any sim cards, your phone just works wherever you are, no matter where you are in the world (just about).

You can use my promo code to get $20 off one of your first bills, it's TDW3EE.

Google Photos

If you're not using Google Photos you're missing out. Google will automatically backup all your photos (when you're on WiFi by default, to save you mobile data costs), and they'll do this for an unlimited amount of photos for free at high quality (uploading at original quality is an option, but you're limited to ~15GB unless you're willing to pay a bit for more storage).

Besides this backup, Google does all kinds of wizardry on your photos. You can search your photos for "mountains" or "mom" or even "pine trees" and it'll know which of your photos contain this thing.

You can organize your photos into albums, or let Google do this automatically for you and even include maps in your albums. It just keeps getting better too, they're always adding very cool features and is a no-brainer for any traveler.

Google Drive

Sometimes your devices get lost, stolen or broken; it happens. That doesn't mean you have to lose your data, though. Just as Google Photos backs up your pictures in the cloud, Google Drive will let you back up any of your other files in the cloud. Your documents, projects and any kind of file will be safe, even if your computer isn't.

Google Translate

This Google Translate app will do what you'd expect, you can type in a phrase in one language and get the translation in another language. This is very helpful obviously, but there's a couple other features that are even better.

For many languages, they have a camera mode where you can hold up your phone to a menu or street sign in a foreign language, but on your screen it will look like it's written in English (or your preferred language). It's basically magic.

They also have a conversation mode, tap the microphone and the app will listen to each of you, one at a time, then translate what you each say out loud in the other person's language. It's a pretty cool feature, when it works well, but in practice you have to be a bit patient with it since it's not always perfect.

Google Flights

Google has a pretty decent flight search engine. Some features I like are being able to search a little more broadly, for example you can search for flights from New York City to simply "Europe", at which point you'll be shown an exploration map showing prices to all points in Europe as a whole.

Google Now

Here in Greece at the moment it gives attraction suggestions, quick translations and converts USD to Euros.

This app works on your phone as a hub of information you may need right at the moment and place you're in. For travel, handy things like weather will show up there, a currency conversion calculator, as well as flight itinerary the day of your flight and even public transit schedules when you open the app in the vicinity of a metro stop. Pretty handy.

Google Reminders

You can access and set Reminders via Google Inbox, Calendar or talking to Google Assistant. You can set reminders based on time, like "remind me to message Mark tomorrow", but also by location, which is very cool. So you can say something like, "Remind me to eat currywurst when I'm in Berlin" or "remind me to get good beer when I'm in Whole Foods".

When you get to the store or place you'll get a notification to remind you, pretty cool!

Google Calendar

Google Calendar obviously keeps you up on your appointments and even your Reminders, but it also intelligently works with your email and other apps. For example, just like Google Trips and Google Maps, if you've booked a flight or hotel then Calendar will be able to see your confirmation email (assuming you use Gmail) and will automatically add that to your Calendar.

If you use to find hosts while you travel, you'll also find an option on their site to automatically add your hosting/surfing dates and events you're attending to your Google Calendar as well, this is also really cool! You'll see an "Add to Calendar" option next to people that are hosting you on your dashboard, just click that and you'll be set up.

Using Google to Share your Stories

Start a travel blog easily with Google's Blogger site. It's incredibly easy and free to set up, using your existing Google account. You can do the same with YouTube if you plan on sharing videos.

If you want to try to make some money form your blog or videos then Google has you covered too. Adsense is their program for displaying ads on your blog or videos, and with Blogger and YouTube this feature is built right in, you just decide where and how you'd like the ads to show up. The amount of traffic you get will more-or-less determine how much cash you can make.

Finally, Google Analytics can easily be applied to your blog, this is Google's software that gives you insights into how much traffic your blog (or other website) is getting, where people are coming from to get to your site, how much time they spend and heaps of other useful information.

A few more Google tricks for travel

With Google Play Music you can upload 50,000 songs for free that you can then access from anywhere. Like Google Photos and Google Drive, this means that your songs live in the cloud so can't be lost/broken/stolen and can be listened to from your phone, tablet, computer or any device that can get online (and still listen offline). They also have personalized streaming radio for different moods you can listen to for free (or get a paid account to remove the ads and listen to any songs you want).

Google Wallet lets you send and receive money between friends and family.

Google Keep is a useful note-taking app for you to make lists, record audio notes, make drawings or just jot down notes and reminders. Like everything Google it syncs across all devices.

There you have it, many ways to use Google for travel. We live in an age of convenience, take advantage and travel with Google apps. I update this post with new Google tips when I can, feel free to add your own Google advice in the comments below as well. Happy trails!