How to create a customised map with Google Maps
I sometimes enjoy creating itineraries and studying new routes for future bicycle trips and however I believe Google Maps isn't the most professional tool, its intuitive features and potentials make it one of the best and most used software to create maps online. In this article, we will create step by step a map with Google My Maps, in order to then share, download or save it in your Drive and analyse a possible travel itinerary.
I have also realised a video guide to create itineraries with Google Maps where you can find different suggestions to the ones you will read about here. Scroll down below at the bottom of this article in order to watch the video and leave comments here or on our YouTube channel if you have questions, doubts or useful suggestions. Video and images are in Italian only but i hope they can be easy to understand even if you don't speak italian!
The following guide is for Google Maps desktop users, while if you want to use it on mobile, you have to follow the procedure (a little trickier) and download the My Maps app or access to Google from IOS or Windows browsers.
Firstly you will have to sign in to Google Maps, or better... if you don't have one yet, you will have to create a Google account. If you own an Android mobile device, you already have a Google account, so you'll need to use your credentials.
After entering your Google credentials, you have to access Google Maps. The screen shows a map with a simple search bar at the top left and not much more.
Create the customised map
To start creating your customised map, you will have to click on the Menu icon on the top left.
Among the numerous options, you are looking for "Your places".
You will now see four options: labelled places are labelled by you in Google Maps (personally I labelled Home and Work). Saved places already have a reference you want to keep track in Google Maps. Visited places contain the history of your recent places (of course if you abled the positioning and data on your smartphone while you travel). The last one is what you're looking for: the "Maps" section. By selecting Maps you will open all the maps created by you. If you've never used this function, you won't have any map, but you will find a "Create Map" button at the bottom of this section.
You will open a new browser window with a map and some tools at the top left of your screen, with the layer menu and the tools underneath, in order to create points and other options on the map.
Characteristics of the map and layers
Let's analyse the layers window:
At the top, you find the name of your map (at first it is Untitled Map). You can modify it (and add a short description of it) simply by clicking on it. You will not need to save: every modification will be saved on My Maps and you'll be able to access your maps every time you need at https://www.google.com/mymaps.
Just under the map title, you have three options: Add layer allows you to add a layer to the map, for example, to separate the POI (points of interest) layer from the route one. In this case, the more complex a map is, the more layers you need to keep it "clean" your creation. In our specific case, to create a bicycle tour map I think we will only need two layers: one for the POIs and one for the route. A deeper division could help us separate each category of waypoints: restaurants, hotels, touristic POIs and bike shops...
The second tool you see under the title is Share that allows you to get a link of your map for sharing it, but we will see this option specifically further at the end of this article. Ultimately the Preview doesn't need an explanation: by clicking on it, a new window will open with the map as it is when (and if) you will share it.
Under these three tools, when you create the map, a first layer is automatically created (Untitled layer), which can be named like the map. Just under the layer title you will notice a tool called Import: this allows to load GPS data in your map (like GPX files created with a GPS device or downloaded from the download area of Life in Travel) or KML files created with Google Earth or other formats like CSV or XLSX. In this article I want to show you how to manually create a map on Google Maps, so we will not consider this option, usually very useful.
Ultimately in the window, we find the last button, Base Map. By clicking on the little arrow on the left you will open a menu with a preview of the different maps available.
You have the classic Map, Satellite, Terrain but other different views that you will discover alone. I usually use Map or Terrain.
Create a route
Now that you have taken a look at the first settings of your map, you can start creating your itinerary. To start drawing a line you will have to use the icon toolbar just underneath the search bar.
The icons are pretty intuitive, but let's have a look at their functions. The first two arrows are the Undo and Redo functions. The hand icon lets you drag the map in any direction. The marker is used to add a marker on the map. The triangle with small dots is to draw a line or a shape. The arrow allows adding directions. The ruler is for measuring the distances or the surface.
The main icons you will need are Add marker and Draw a line.
I generally prefer starting by drawing my itinerary and then add my POIs, but nothing against proceeding the other way around. By selecting the Draw a line icon, you will see four options, but in fact, you will only need two for a bicycle tour, in my opinion: Add driving route or Add a walking route. You might be wondering why I didn't mention the icon Add biking route: in Italy right now Google data about cycling routes are very limited and often the result of your search will be a miserable "Couldn't find a route". To follow a walking route by bike might be dangerous because you might end up in some trails, while to follow a driving route might as well be dangerous because you might face very busy roads or even motorways. So keep in mind that the itinerary must be studied very well and remember not to trust the first solution offered by Google.
Anyway, once you have selected one of the options, a new layer will be created on the map and you can choose a starting and an ending point, leaving Google processing. As you can see from the picture here above, underneath the layer title you can also change afterwards the type of path to process (car, bike, walking). Once added starting and ending points, you will have your itinerary. You might want to take a deep look at your itinerary and the roads involved and evaluate if the itinerary suits your needs. If you want to adjust it you can add halfway points by clicking on Add destination, by dragging the itinerary or the places where you want to. Repeat this operation until you will be satisfied by the result.
Now you can proceed by adding the Points of interest.
You can select the starting layer automatically created together with the map or adding a new one and adding into it your Markers with the tool previously described. For each marker you can add a style and an icon. When done, you will have your map and you will be able to use it in various ways.
Share the map
Once created your itinerary with Google Maps, the map will be kept as Private. In order to share it, you will have to modify its permissions and change it to Public. In order to do it, you simply click on Share and this window will open.
In this window, as you can see, you will find a link to share in order to see the map, you can send it by Gmail or through social media and you can change the permissions options. In order to make Public your map you have to click on Change, that is on the right of "Private, Only you can access".Now you can decide based on the use of your itinerary, which permission give to the map. If you want to share it on a website you have to make it public, otherwise nobody will be able to see it. If you want to share it with friends only, you can select the second option "Anyone with the link". Moreover, you can download the map in KML format or embed it on a website with an "iframe". You will need to click on the three dots right to the map title. Among the numerous options, you might consider: "Embed on my site" in order to obtain a code to add to your blog or website, or "Export to KML/KMZ" in order to obtain a file on your PC and visualise your map on Google Earth or other cartographic software.
Down below you find the step-by-step video guiding you to create an itinerary on Google Maps. As told before, if you have doubts, questions or suggestions, please don't hesitate and comment down below or on our YouTube channel.
Have a good planning day!
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ITA - Ho 33 anni e sono piemontese, anche se da qualche anno vivo e lavoro in Lombardia. Dopo un inizio da totale inesperto in questo campo, mi sono avvicinato al mondo dei cicloviaggi e della bicicletta sempre più. Oggi posso definirmi "cicloviaggiatore", e assieme all'altra mia passione - il videomaking - non mi fermerei mai! Cyclo ergo sum, pedalo quindi sono, per cercare di capire perché andare in bici sia così bello, terapeutico, ricco... E ogni volta che provo a capirlo, non ce la faccio, e sono costretto a ripartire sui pedali!
ENG - I'm from Piedmont and I'm 33 years old, I have been living and working in Lombardy for a few years. After a start without any competence in this field, I then approached the bicycle world more and more. Today I can call myself a bicycle traveller and videomaker who would never ever stop. Cyclo ergo sum, I cycle therefore I am. I ride my bike trying to understand why it is so beautiful, rich, therapeutic. And every time I try, I do not understand it. So I must leave again...
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