Send a Custom Route on Google Maps to Your Phone for Your Road Trip

Using Google Maps
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01
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Access Google My Maps

Google My Maps
Screenshot of Google.com

You don't really need a separate GPS for your car if you've got the Google Maps app installed on your iOS or Android mobile device. In fact, if you take a little extra time beforehand to plan your trip, you can actually build a custom route in Google Maps that you can follow on your phone or your tablet while you're on the road.

Sounds pretty good, right? Sure, but things get get a little tricky when you've got a very long and detailed route you want to follow that hits specific locations and takes you down certain roads.

If you've ever tried to make this work in the Google Maps app alone, you've probably come across one or both of these major problems:

  1. You can't build a super intricate custom route directly within the Google Maps app. While you can drag the route around to some of the alternative routes (highlighted in grey) that the app suggests after entering in a destination, you can't exactly drag it around to include or exclude just any road you want.
  2. If you've ever customized your Google Maps route on the desktop web in such a way that it lengthens your travel time, and then tried to send it to your device, you probably saw it reroute itself so that you arrive faster. Google Maps is designed to get you where you want to go in as little time as possible, so if you spent some time on the desktop web dragging your route around different areas in a way that lets you hit up certain stops that are slightly out of the way or take another road because it's more familiar to you, the Google Maps app won't know and definitely won't care. It wants to get you from one point to the next in the most efficient way possible.

To solve these two problems, you can use another Google product you probably didn't know about: Google My Maps. My Maps is a mapping tool that allows you to create and share custom maps. 

My Maps is super useful for building detailed custom maps, and the best part about it is that you can use it in Google Maps when you hit the road. You can access My Maps on the web at google.com/mymaps. (You may have to sign in to your Google account first if you're not already.)

If you have an Android device, you may want to check out the Google My Maps app available for Android. My Maps also looks and works great in mobile web browsers, so if you have an iOS device and don't have access to the desktop web, you can try visiting google.com/mymaps in Safari or another mobile browser of your choosing.

02
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Create a New Custom Map

Google My Maps
Screenshot of Google.com

As an example, let's say you've got a big trip planned with a fair amount of driving and four different stops you want to make a long the way. Your destinations are:

  • The CN Tower (your starting point)
  • Rideau Canal Skateway
  • Montreal Museum of Archeology and History
  • La Citadelle de Québec

You could just enter in each destination separately four times as you arrive at each one, but that takes time and it doesn't necessarily allow you to customize your route exactly the way you want either.

To create a new map in My Maps, just click the big red button in the top left corner labeled + CREATE A NEW MAP. You'll see Google Maps open with a couple of different features on it, including a map builder and a search field with map tools beneath it. 

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Name Your Map

Google My Maps
Screenshot of Google.com

First, give your map a name and an optional description. This will be helpful if you want to create additional maps or if you want to share it with someone else who's joining you on your trip.

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Add Your Start Location and All Destinations

Google My Maps
Screenshot of Google.com

Enter your start location in the search field and hit Enter. In the popup box that appears over the location on the map, click on + Add to map.

Repeat this for all your destinations. You'll notice pins will be added to your map as you add search and enter them while each location name will be added in a list to the map builder.

05
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Get Directions to Your Second Destination

Google My Maps
Screenshot of Google.com

Now that you have all of your destinations mapped out, it's time to plan your route by getting directions from point A to point B (and eventually point B to C, C to D).

Click on the name of your first destination (after your starting point) in the map builder. In our example, it's the Rideau Canal Skateway.

Clicking on it will bring up a popup box over the location with several buttons at the bottom. Click on the arrow button to get directions to this location.

You should notice a new layer will be added to your map builder with points A and B. A will be a blank field whereas B will be your first destination.

Type your starting location into field A. For our example, this is the CN Tower. My Maps will then generate a route for you from your starting location to your first destination.

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Drag Your Route to Customize It

Google My Maps
Screenshot of Google.com

My Maps will give you the fastest route it can detect, but just like in Google Maps, you can use your mouse to click on the route and drag it to other roadways as a way to customize it.

In our example, My Maps gave a route that takes you on a major highway, but you can drag it north to take you down a smaller, less busy highway. Remember that you can zoom in and out (using the plus/minus buttons in the bottom right of the screen)  to see all the roads and their names in order to customize your route more accurately.

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Tip: Add More Destination Points If You're Really Going Out of the Way

Google My Maps
Screenshot of Google.com

Before we move on, it's worth pointing out that if you plan on taking a very specific route that takes you pretty far away from faster routes that Google Maps typically generates for you, then it's worth adding more destination points to your route that take you the way you want. This will help you avoid being rerouted by Google Maps when you access it from your phone.

So, for example, let's say that as you head from the CN Tower to the Rideau Canal Skateway, you want to take Highway 15 instead of continuing down Highway 7. Google Maps won't care and will continuously try to get you to take the fastest route, but if you pick a random destination along Highway 15 and add it to your map, even if you don't want to stop there, then that provides Google with more information about where you want to go.

For this example, you can look at the map and add Smiths Falls as a destination by clicking on the Add Destination link in the Directions Layer you just created. You can type "Smiths Falls" in field C to add it and then click and drag it to fix the order—so that it falls between the starting point and your second destination.

As you can see above, Smiths Falls is added and takes the place of the second destination on the route, moving the second one (Rideau Canal Skateway). The only downside to this is that you'll possibly need the help of a passenger to navigate the map as you drive right through the random destination you added to keep you on the route you specifically wanted, but didn't want to stop at.

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Repeat Steps 5 to 7 for the Rest of Your Destinations

Google My Maps
Screenshot of Google.com

To expand your route to include all the other destinations you want to visit, simply repeat steps 5 to 7 in the order of the destinations you want to visit. Remember that when you click to get directions, you'll have to enter your previous destination in the empty field.

So, in our example, for our next destination we'd first click on Montreal Museum of Archeology and History in the map builder, click to get directions and then enter Rideau Canal Skateway into field A. When we type this entire destination name in, there are actually three suggested options to choose from in the dropdown menu—each of which have a different icon.

The first one has a green pin in front of it, which represents the first untitled layer that was created when all the destinations were entered into the map. The second represents destination C in the second untitled layer, which was created when we built the first part of our route.

The one you choose depends on how you want to build your map and how you want to take advantage of the layers feature in My Maps. For this particular example, it's not really relevant, so we can choose any one of them. After that, we'd repeat the above for the last destination (La Citadelle de Québec).

About Google My Maps Layers

You'll notice that as you follow these steps to create your own custom map, "layers" will be added underneath your map builder. Layers simply allow you to essentially keep parts of your map separate from others to better organize them.

Every time you add new directions, a new layer is created. You're allowed to create up to 10 layers, so keep this in mind if you're building a custom route with more destinations than that.

To deal with the layer limit, you could click the Add Destination link in any existing layer to simply add a destination to an existing route. In fact, if you know the order of the destinations you want to visit, you could simply go through steps 5 to 7 for your first destination and then just keep repeating step 7 for all subsequent destinations to keep it all in one layer.

It's all up to you and it depends on how you might want to use layers. Google provides more information about what you can do with layers if you're interested in doing some other fancier things with your custom map.

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Access Your New Custom Map from the Google Maps App

Google Maps App
Screenshot of Google Maps for iOS

Now that you've got all of your destinations plotted on your map in the correct order with directions for their routes, you can access the map in the Google Maps app on your mobile device. As long as you're signed in to the same Google account you used to create your custom map, you're good to go.

Open the Google Maps app, tap the menu icon on the right side of the search field to see the menu slide out from the left and tap on Your places. Scroll down past your labeled places and saved places to your maps. You should see the name of your map appear there.

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Use Google Maps Navigation With Your Custom Map

Google Maps App
Screenshot of Google Maps for iOS

Fair warning: Google Maps Navigation and My Maps aren't exactly the most integrated features, so you may need to go back and edit your map a little. Again, it depends on how intricate your map is and how tailored you want your directions to be to your liking compared to where Google wants to take you.

Once you've tapped to open your map within the app, you'll see your route just the way it looked when you built it on a computer, complete with all your destination points. To start using Google Maps turn-by-tun navigation, simply tap the second destination point (skipping the first one assuming that you're starting there, of course) and then tap the blue car icon that appears in the bottom right corner to start your route.

Here's where you might notice Google Maps navigation take you off your route, and this is exactly why step 7 was suggested. If you find that Google Maps navigation plots a slightly different route than the one you built on your custom app, you may need to go back to edit it by adding more destination points (even though you don't want to visit them) so your route takes you exactly where you want it to take you.

Once you arrive at your first destination and are ready to leave after visiting, you can simply access your custom map again and tap the next destination to start turn-by-turn navigation. Do this for all subsequent destinations as you arrive at each one, and you can enjoy not having to waste time plotting your map as you go!