Thinking of adding Google Maps to your arsenal of travel tools? Here are a few things you should know about the areas in which it shines and those in which it lacks.
No credit card needed -- Google Maps is a free-to-use service. You don't have to pay any money to look at maps, use the "Street View" function, browse information on points of interest, get directions, or do anything else with it.
A map that puts you in control -- Unlike traditional maps, you can move the map around in Google Maps and zoom it in or out, so you can look at a different area or look at a specific area in greater detail.
Artificial or natural? You decide -- You can switch between Urban Planning Mode and Satellite Mode. Urban Planning Mode looks like a traditional map and makes it easier to see things such as different types of roads, points of interest, and territorial boundaries. Satellite Mode lets you see what a place on the map looks like in real life.
Explore a neighbourhood without leaving home -- The "Street View" function lets you view panoramic photos of a particular area as if you were standing there, so you'll know what to look for when you get to the general area of where you want to go!
Yes, you can find that on a map -- Simple search functions let you quickly find certain places and points of interest quickly.
Know what you can do, wherever you go -- You can look at different points of interest to see pictures of them, as well as information such as their hours of business, if they have a website, what's going on there, and how well people have rated them.
Never make a wrong turn again -- You can use the "Trip Planner" function to easily plan a detailed route from Point A to Point B. Pick where you're coming from, where you're going, and how you want to get there, and Google Maps will show you multiple sets of directions. You can pick a set based on things like wanting to avoid toll routes or minimizing your walking distance. You can even plan trips with multiple stops!
Art can't be rushed -- Getting satellite or even traditional map imagery that is as detailed as it is on Google Maps takes up a lot of memory on your computer or mobile phone, especially when you can move the map around and zoom in or out at will. It may take a minute or two to redraw the map every time you make a change like this, so be patient.
Not much support off the beaten path -- As its name implies, the "Street View" function is great in urban areas with lots of roads, but it may not be as useful in rural areas where named roads are harder to come by. Keep that in mind if you're heading into a sparsely-populated neck of the woods.
Is that my house?... -- Some people think the ability of Google Maps to provide satellite imagery of almost every place on the planet and make it available to almost everyone for free is a potential violation of privacy rights... or, at the very least, a little creepy.
There really aren't many downsides to Google Maps, or at least they're heavily outweighed by how useful the website is. Not only can you learn about an area and what's in it, but you can also see what it looks like, how to get there, and how to get around once you're there. Plus, unlike a traditional map, you can change what you're looking at, and how you look at it, to suit your needs. Besides the somewhat slow loading speed, a few blind spots, and possible privacy implications, Google Maps is an invaluable tool for planning any kind of trip, whether you're headed halfway around the world or just to a neighbouring town.
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