For me, part of the fun of travel is the anticipation. That includes reading the information from the tour company, Googling the places we’ll be visiting, seeing what people on Trip Advisor have to say about the hotel where we’ll be staying. As mentioned in a previous post, I also like to Google things like “Antarctica photography tips” or “best places to photograph in Buenos Aires” to get some ideas. I’m sure I spend more time dreaming about the trip in advance than I do actually being on the trip. But that’s OK—anticipating the trip is part of the experience.

Lately I’ve also been using Google’s “My Maps” feature to create a custom map for each new trip. You can do a search for the airport you’ll be flying into, the hotel where you’ll be staying, and the sites you’ll be seeing, and plug each of them into your map.

Why would anyone want to do this?, you might be thinking. Well, maybe you’re nerdy like me and you just like doing this sort of thing. (My spices are also organized in alphabetic order.) (Not that I ever cook.) But it also helps you figure out which things are within walking distance of the hotel and which things will require a cab ride. And it just gets you a little more conversant with the city. I once spent several days on my own in Venice, and I had spent so much time playing with my custom map of Venice in advance that the city felt really familiar and comfortable to me by the time I got there.

The image above is a screen grab of the map I’ve started for the Alumni Association’s “Expedition to Antarctica” that I’ll be hosting in January. You’re welcome to look at my map; click here to view it. (If, again, you’re thinking, Why would I want to look at a map of someone else’s trip?, no one would blame you. It’s a perfectly normal reaction.)

In Google Maps you can click on any of the pins to see what it’s about. And, of course, you can zoom in on your map to see more detail. Below, for example, is a screen grab of the zoomed-in section of my map showing downtown Buenos Aires, where we start our Antarctic trip:

You can see that I’ve put pins in some key locations—the red one with the bed icon is our hotel, the green one is an ecological reserve that looks like it might be worth a visit, and many of the blue ones are stops on our city tour. Recoleta, at the top, is the famed cemetery where Eva Perón is buried, a definite stop on our group tour. The two blue pins on the extreme left mark the boundaries of Buenos Aires’ “yarn district.” Shane Shanks, a buddy of mine from the alumni-magazine world, knows how much I love knitting and told me that Buenos Aires has an entire area devoted to yarn shops. If I have some free time, a pilgrimage there is most definitely in order.

As for the Antarctica part, first of all, if you look at the image at the top of this page—the screen grab of the custom map I made—you’ll notice that we never get very far into Antarctica. We’ll spend most of our time exploring some islands off the coast of the Antarctic peninsula, and I think we only set foot on the peninsula—the actual continent—once or twice. Someone once said that it’s a little like visiting the Florida Keys and saying you’ve been to the United States.

Below is another screen grab of a zoomed-in section of my map…

…which I’ve included in order to show you that Google’s “My Maps” allows you to plug in a little detail about the spots where you’ve put a pin.

I’ve found “My Maps” to be most helpful in advance of a trip, and a little less helpful once you get there, unless you’ve got a laptop with you. The user interface doesn’t lend itself to an iPhone or iPad—it’s possible to view the maps on those devices, but it’s cramped and unsatisfying—and, for whatever reason, Google still hasn’t released a “My Maps” app for the iPhone. There does appear to be an app for the Android, though.

Do you use Google’s “My Maps?” I’m curious what your experience with it is like. Feel free to post in the comments below.

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