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Two Amazing Free Travel Planning Tools

Ok humans! Are you ready to meet my two favorite travel planning tools? Once you have these two tools under your belt, travel planning will be a total breeze. Even better, it will be fun! Even even better, it will be totally FREE!

Ready to overhaul your vacation planning methods? Let’s go!

view from an airplane window with snow covered mountains and the airplane wing

Free Travel Planning Tool #1 - Pinterest!

Ok, if you’re reading this page, you likely already know all about the wonders of Pinterest as a travel planning tool. There’s actually a reasonably good chance that you reached this exact page via a Pinterest pin. (Which image got you?? I wanna know!!)

But if you haven’t started using Pinterest as a travel planning tool, get your butt over to Pinterest and type in “(your upcoming travel destination) travel” and click go. Your page will be FLOODED with pins linking to travel blogs telling you exactly what the highlights are of your chosen destination.

Sidebar: Have you ever stumped Pinterest? Have you dropped a destination into that search bar and gotten diddly squat? If you have, comment and let me know! I’m always curious about Pinterest’s blind spots. You can visit my Pinterest, full of my own travel guides and others' guides that I've vetted for you, by clicking HERE!

Whenever I’m planning a new trip, my method is to create a dedicated Pinterest board for that destination. Then I pin like a maniac. Indiscriminately. Pin anything that looks interesting! If it looks like it might be cool, save it! You can always delete pins later if you end up not needing them. Don’t worry about details yet. Just pin!

Ok Andi, you say, I’ve got a Pinterest board full of a metric shit ton of travel info. How do I organize this into info that I can actually use?

I’m so glad you asked.

Free Travel Planning Tool #2 - Google My Maps

Yes, this is Google My Maps, not the Google Maps we all know and love for GPS-ing you around the world. Google My Maps is a beautiful and vastly underutilized function of Google, and it’s absolutely FREE to use. This tool is how you’re going to go from a long list of travel blog entries to something that looks like this:

a map of Paris created with Google My Maps

This is a screencap, of course. The map you build will be fully interactive. You’ll be able to place the colored destination pins on your map, organize them into categories, and click through them to find notes and website links! Discovering this tool completely revolutionized the way I travel, and I’ve made a My Map for every single destination I’ve visited in the last seven years.

So how do you do this? Here we go!

Step 1: Go to Google My Maps

Straight up, the easiest way to get to this feature is to type “Google My Maps” into the search bar. It doesn’t usually appear in Google’s icon dropdowns, and searching “google maps” will take you to the other function, so type in Google My Maps and hit enter. Click the first link to pop up in the search result, and you should end up on a page that looks like this:

Click “Get Started” and then, on the following page, “Create New Map”.

Step 2: Set Up your Map for your Content

The map that opens will likely show you a high-level view of the USA, (or your home country if you hail from somewhere abroad). There’s three items highlighted in the screencap below that you’ll want to update before you start adding your destinations.

The very first thing to do is change the map title (Highlight #1). Usually I title it after the destination, but you do you babe.

The next thing I do is set up my Layers. “Layers” is the fancy word that Google My Maps gives its categories. Each map starts with one Layer, but you can add as many as you want. Rename your first one (Highlight #3), and then add your own based on the categories you want (Highlight #2). My favorite way to start my setup is to create layers for Attractions, Food and Drink, and Shopping. Depending on my destination, I’ll often create a fourth category for Outdoor Activities. I’ve used that category for things like beach access points in the Outer Banks, or to mark trailheads when I visit National Parks.

a blank map in Google My Maps

Step 3: Start adding your content!

It’s time to return to that Pinterest board you made and start clicking through to the posts you pinned! Open one up and grab something that sounds interesting. Is it a great brunch recommendation? A local-favorite burger joint? A world-class museum? A place known for insanely good coffee? Whatever it is, make note of its name, and click back to your map.

First, click on the layer you plan to add the item to. This will make sure that your pin shows up in the correct category. Then type the name of the place in the search bar and hit go!

Your destination will show up on your map as a lime green location pin. See below for how it looked when I created a map to go with my 3-Day Chicago Itinerary and searched for the Signature Lounge at the 96th:

a sample location created with Google My Maps

To officially add an item you searched to the map, you’ll need to click “Add to Map”, which I’ve highlighted for you above. Once you add it it will show up like it does below: as a solid dropped pin. It will also show up in your list on the left.

a sample pin created with Google My Maps

Repeat this process until you have everything that catches your interest marked on your map! Make sure you keep an eye on what categories you’re placing each item in. That will make the next step much easier. As with creating a Pinterest board for my destination, I like to err on the side of overdoing it here. You can always delete items later, which is much easier than combing through your Pinterest board trying to remember which pin had that one reference to that one restaurant you didn’t bookmark.

Step 4: Personalize your Pinned Locations

Once all your locations are pinned, you might have a document that looks something like this:

a map of Chicago created with Google My Maps

Pretty cool right? There’s just one problem. Everything looks the same and that default blue color kinda gets lost in the background, doesn’t it?

Good thing every dropped pin is customizable! Let’s take a close up look at my pin for the Art Institute of Chicago:

a sample pin created with Google My Maps

This is what you’ll see when you click on one of your pins. From left to right, the buttons at the bottom do the following:

Paint bucket: click to change the color of the dropped pin (pick a color for each category, or even subcategories! For instance, in my “food and drink” layer, I use light blue for breakfasts, dark blue for lunches and dinners, pink for bars, purple for desserts, and yellow for coffee shops!)

Pencil: click to add notes to the pin

Trash Can: delete the pin

an edited pin created with Google My Maps

The camera and the arrow have extra functions, but I've personally never used them.

Once you go through and customize, your pin might look something like this:

You can customize your pins as much or as little as you want. And each pin automatically contains a handy dandy link to the location’s website for further info!

Once you’re done customizing, your map might look something like this. Much better, right??

a map of Chicago created with Google My Maps

Now let’s go one step further…

Step 5: Reorganizing your Layers

This step is totally optional. If you like your layers the way they are, power to you! But when I’m building these maps, I like to take my assembled pins and reorganize them into either neighborhoods or itineraries. That way when I’m out and about, I don’t have to try to remember which pin went with which neighborhood. I can just zoom in on the appropriate layer and see what’s close at hand!

You can do this very easily by creating a bunch of new layers for your new categories. You sort your pins just by clicking and dragging. Once you’ve got your pins moved, you can delete the old layers you no longer need.

Here’s two examples. The first is a location-based sort, where I sorted my Paris location pins by neighborhood:

a map of Paris created with Google My Maps

For the Chicago map I’ve been building in this example, I organized it chronologically according to its corresponding itinerary (which is available HERE!):

a map of Chicago created with Google My Maps

And there you have it! A beautiful map that also happens to be a one-stop-shop for all your travel info!

This is where you get to review your map and figure out what’s missing. Do you have lots of restaurants but no breakfast places? Is there a signature attraction of the area that you’re missing out on? Go back to Pinterest and find more blogs! You can repeat this process and refine your map as many times as you’d like.

Ready to Go??

Hit me up at any time with questions about building your maps! I love helping travelers learn how to use my two favorite free travel planning tools! What destination will you be mapping first??

Need a packing list to help you prep for all of those amazing destinations you're mapping? Want more of Arts and Adventures? Subscribe today and you'll receive a FREE Packing Light List: the ultimate guide to packing everything you need and nothing you don't!

Love and Shenanigans,


Pin for Later!

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