Directional Signs with Blue SkiesWith Google Maps you can organize a hiking tour around the world without even standing up (which may indicate you’re a little over-ambitious). Some people might say that plans and schedules totally ruin the relaxed vacation experience, but let’s be honest: most of those folks can’t manage their time. And likely can’t afford to go very far anyway. The rest of us can’t stand the thought of wasting time or money as a result of non-planning. We didn’t fly halfway across the world to stand around staring at street signs, after all.

1.  Get Where You’re Going

The first (and most blindingly obvious) use of maps is working out your route from point A (the conference) to point B (the pub). No points for spotting this, as it’s kind of what maps are for. The revelation is in just how awesomely easy Google Maps makes the process. The days of MapQuest directing doomed drifters to Timbuktu and back to get down the street are over.

Google Maps

Google Maps

With mobile access, you never need be lost again. GPS-gadgets can keep you located at all times, and even without satellite assistance, you need only be able to read to enter a street number, intersection, even business name — the all-seeing eyes of Google will find you. If you’re heading out into the sticks (or staying downtown, but don’t want to be waving a few hundred dollars in hardware around every second step), you can print a map or even copy a few key intersections. If you’re taking the old-school pen-and-paper route, be sure to label the streets before and after each turn off — that way you won’t be stuck with the crippling “did I miss it?” worry at each intersection.

2.  Go Somewhere Better

Anyone who’s tried to find a late-night bar, but foolishly waited until it’s actually late at night and  they’ve already been in the early bars to do so, knows this one. A single wrong turn can send you down a maze of alleys that’d make the Minotaur give up and go back to the Labyrinth. What’s worst is when you discover the next day that the 24-hour bar, Captain Alcoholic’s Free Drinks for Visitors Pub, you were looking for was just one street from where you started. (Anyone who’s never tried to find a late-night bar — man, just get out more.)

Avoid such wasted time with the Google Maps “Search Nearby” feature. Whether you need fish and chips or a fridge fixed, you can find any business in range and likely several reviews before wasting your shoe leather. And while the official sites might enhance the truth a little — they’re unlikely to write “covered in graffiti and vomit” in their description — services like user reviews and Street View can let you check what things are really like before turning up in-muggable-person. (In fact, you can use Street View to take a virtual walking tour of Brian Cairns’ step-by-step Las Vegas travel agenda.)

Google Maps Street View

Google Maps Street View

3.  Save Money Getting to Both

There’s nothing worse than driving 10 extra blocks on a two-block trip to save 15 cents in gas. Such cent sucking is senseless. The petty penny-pinchers who drive this “short” distance to “save on gas” are sacrificing a precious 15 minutes or so of life — and no matter how quick they say it is, it always adds up — for an almost imperceptible saving.

But if you’re planning a long trip or driving a non-routine route near your home (perhaps to shop somewhere), there’s no point in missing out on lower pump prices, as long as the change in distance is negligible compared to how far you’re traveling. Everywhere you expect to fill your tank, check the GasBuddy website or use Google Maps’ GasBuddy add-on and choose the lowest price. Don’t waste time checking trends (the Internet will drown you in useless data if you let it) or scrimping for that extra half cent, just choose a sensible stop and stick to it. (Check out Smartlife’s post on how to save money using GasBuddy for more information.)

GasBuddy

GasBuddy

4.  Show People What You Did There

Google Maps won’t just save you time on your trip, it’ll save time after. One of the great “hidden costs” of vacationing is uploading the photos after the fact. “I’ll just send the photos to my friends,” you think, before losing two hours to signups, uploading, captioning, linking, gallerying, and e-mailing links to all and sundry. And worrying about who’ll see them, in which case you shouldn’t be putting those particular snaps online in the first place. Always assume EVERYONE will see whatever you put online.

One fun shortcut for this slog is Panoramio, which will upload your images onto a personal Google Map. No more shuffling through stultifying slideshows, as your friends can see your events by location — clicking on the thumbnails that look interesting, or happen in interesting locations. You can also opt to have your pictures public, helping others to avoid your mistakes. Or repeat them, if they look fun enough.

Panoramio from Google

Panoramio from Google

Quite frankly, I only scratched the surface on the number of ways you can optimize your trip-taking with Google Maps: getting Street View and walking directions on your mobile device, viewing live traffic conditions and creating alternative commute routes, and so on. I HIGHLY recommend you take 10 minutes and review Google’s series of excellent and entertaining Google Maps video tutorials. Or, if you have A LOT more time, check out this blog dedicated to aggregating anything and everything related to Google Maps. Either way, it could end up saving you countless hours in “lost” time.

Image credit: DSGpro / iStockphoto

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