How to Get Driving Directions and More from Google Maps

1
Getting Started

Google Maps
Screen Capture

Google Maps provides excellent directions with a lot of hidden features. Not only can you get driving directions, you can get walking and public transport directions. You can find ratings and Zagat information for restaurants, and you can find the elevation you'd need to climb and route you'd need to pedal in order to bike there. 

This tutorial assumes you're using the desktop version of Google Maps. You can get directions from your mobile phone, but the interface is slightly different. The concepts are the same, so this tutorial may still be useful.

To get started, go to maps.google.com and click on Search Google Maps on the upper right-hand corner. You should then click on the blue directions symbol to get directions. 

You may also Set your default location. This is an optional step in your preferences to set the place you're most likely to need driving directions from. In most cases that's your house or your workplace. If you click on the link and set your default location, that saves you a step the next time you get driving directions. That's because Google will automatically add your default location to your starting location.  

2
Enter Your Destination

Hotlips to VooDoo Doughnuts on Google Maps
Screen Capture

Once you've generated Google Maps driving directions, you'll see an area to add your starting and ending destinations. If you've set a default location, this will automatically be your starting point. Don't worry if you want to start from somewhere else. You can just erase it and type in a different origination point.

A few features worth mentioning at this point:

  • Google Maps lets you set multiple locations. Click on the plus symbol to add multiple destinations.  You'll move alphabetically, so your origin will always be A and your other points will follow. This is ideal for scenic road trips or dropping off deliveries.
  • You can get easy reverse directions by clicking on the arrows between the origin and destination locations. It will switch their position and give you directions in the opposite order. 
  • You don't have to know the exact address of your destination. In this screen shot, I've typed in "Voodoo Doughnuts" and "Hotlips Pizza Southeast" If these aren't precise enough locations, I'll be asked to clarify in the next step.

3
Select Your Mode of Transportation

Bike directions
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By default, Google Maps assumes you want driving directions. However, that's not your only choice. If you want walking directions, public transport directions, or bicycle directions, you can get them by pressing the appropriate button.

Not every choice is available in every area, but in most major cities, you can travel by any of those methods. Public transportation directions also include the bus or train arrival time as well as the necessary transfers. 

4
Choose a Route

Multiple routes
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Sometimes you'll see suggestions for multiple routes with the time estimates for each. This might be a good time to compare your route to traffic conditions by pressing the Traffic button on the right (on top of the map view). This isn't available in all areas, but where it is, it should help you pick a route. 

If you know you want to use an alternative route that isn't offered, you can just drag the path anywhere you want to reroute, and Google Maps will update the directions on the fly. This is especially handy if you know the road is under construction or the traffic is congested along the standard route. 

5
Use Google Street View

Click for street view
Screen Capture

Once you've completed the previous steps, your driving directions are available by scrolling down on the page. One final step I recommend doing before you start driving is to check out Street View.

You can click on the preview image of your final destination to switch into Street View mode and get a look and feel for your route. 

You can use the Send button to send directions to someone by email, and you can use the Link button to embed a map on a Web page or blog.  If you're an Android user, you may want to save your directions to My Maps and use your phone to navigate.

Print Directions 

If you need print directions, you can click on the menu button (the three lines on the upper left) and then click on the print button.