One of the Best Tools to Use When Planning Your Next Photography Trip

One of the Best Tools to Use When Planning Your Next Photography Trip

I don’t get to shoot landscapes as often as I’d like, but when I do, I try to maximize the time I have in a place to the fullest extent. Many times, that’s just waking up for sunrise while my relatives snooze their alarms on a family trip, but eventually, when I started planning my own adventures, I had a hard time figuring out where to start until I discovered an incredible tool.

Last year was the first time I took a proper trip just to shoot landscapes. What better place to do so than Iceland? At first, it was completely overwhelming trying to plan such a trip. I was going for seven days and meeting an old college friend for the entire thing. Thankfully, his agenda was “I’m just along for the ride,” which gave me the freedom to shoot whatever I desired but also meant I was on my own when it came to our plans — quite a daunting task. One of the hardest parts about planning such a trip like this was wrapping my head around where everything was and if we even had time to drive to them. 

I found myself knowing exactly what places looked like but having no clue where they were geographically. Thus, I started making a list of the places I had seen or heard about and wanted to visit. One of the absolute best things I found in doing this was Google Maps. Yes I know, you probably have never heard of it. It is this wonderful service where you put addresses in and... Okay, jokes aside, it really is Google Maps! However, there’s a feature you might not even know exists called “My Maps." I surely didn’t when I came upon it by accident.  

Obviously, you can put in locations and find where they were but what happens when you have 20 different places on my list? You start to lose track of where everything is, especially considering half of the locations you can’t even pronounce! This is where My Maps completely changed the game. All you need is a Gmail account (it won’t work with non-Gmail accounts) and to go to the My Maps website. You’ll come to a screen that looks similar to this one: 


Google MyMaps Main Menu

Creating a Map

It won’t have any maps on it just yet, but that’s about to change! Let’s open up the Iceland trip that I created. You can create whatever map you’d like, of course.

Adding Locations

So, this is where the fun begins. Take that list you have of places you want to visit and start pinning them to the map. Over the next month or so, anytime I came across a spot from Iceland on social media, I would add it to my list. Eventually, I had to narrow it down a little bit, because some places were simply more interesting than others and my time was limited, but you can add as many or as few locations as you’d like.This was the end result:

google mymap with locations of interest marked

Locations I narrowed down that I wanted to shoot in Iceland

Figuring Out Where to Stay

So now that I had pinned a lot of the locations that I was interested in visiting, I at least had a much better idea where everything was located so I could figure out where my friend and I would be sleeping. This was a huge breakthrough and sigh of relief to visually see all of the places on a map rather than trying to plot them out in my head. With these points marked, I opened up AirBnB and started browsing around for places that were generally within a large area of spots to visit. Here’s a general idea of where I looked for places to stay. I broke up the trip into two sections because it was financially best to stay somewhere as long as possible, thus we stayed in the red area for three days and the blue area for four days. I’ve also included the final spots we ended up staying. 

You’ll notice that I used a second layer and colorization for marking the cabins. These are wonderful features to keep things organized and easily understandable for your planning. I’m currently using the layers feature to help plan a long trip to Europe. In one layer, I have all the spots my girlfriend wants to visit, while in another layer, I have places I absolutely want to go, and in the final layer, I put places we have not made a decision on yet. It’s really helpful because you can turn these layers on and off to see “ideas” clearly drawn out on a map.

Adding Photos to Locations

The final feature that helped out tremendously was the use of photos and being able to add them to locations right from Google search.

Using location images in google mymaps

When you can't spell or even pronounce the location, you can reference what it looks like

I could remember what iconic locations such as Godafoss and Kirkjufell looked like (thanks, "Photographing the World"). However, for places like Fjaðrárgljúfur, I didn’t have a clue! All I knew was it wasn’t a waterfall because it didn’t end in “foss.” This might not be a feature you utilize, but it really helps me when I’m planning trips for months on end or when I travel internationally. Sometimes, I see a place on social media and add it to an upcoming trip, but I don’t quite remember everything’s name (or how to spell it), only what it looks like.

Syncing With Your Phone

Lastly, you can sync this with the Google Maps app and share the map with anyone! When we arrived in Iceland, I opened up Google Maps and logged into my account on the app. After you are logged in, just open up the menu and select Your Places - Maps - [Trip name]. Boom! All my points of interest and even the photos I selected were on my phone:

Synced map on my iPhone using Google Maps

Synced map on my iPhone using Google Maps

I was also able to share the map I created with my friend throughout the entire planning phase and actual trip. This might be a great way to collaborate with someone or simply share a travel log of places you’ve visited around the world.

I’m hoping this helped some of you and shows you a tool you can use in planning your future trips, especially those of us that like to visually see where our travels are taking us. I distinctly remember how much this helped planning a trip to a foreign place and how easy it was when using it. I’d love to hear what you think in the comments. 

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Andrea Re Depaolini's picture

I started doing this last year for my trip to Iceland, and I loved it. Tip: since last year you don't need to create a "My Maps" because you can just put a location to your Favourites (with the star) and create a subfolder of Favourites for the country, and you can also share it with your trip mates. What I wish Google Maps could let us do is download a whole country to your phone's offline maps because the current system force you to choose a rectangle area that is a waste of space on the phone because of the overlapping zones.

Alex Armitage's picture

I will keep that in mind! I'm assuming it's basically the same thing except using favorites and organizing them into folders, where as this is just basically creating a map and adding favorites.

mlittle's picture

I have done it both ways and they are both effective. With Alex's method you can have layers and actually draw on the map. This is really useful when doing photography with a drone. You can also have several maps. Very useful article Alex!

Alex Armitage's picture

Thanks for the kind words Michael :)

Tim Smith's picture

Great Article. Very well written, and fun to read.

LeeAnne Mallonee's picture

Both helpful and timely; I'm suddenly planning a late summer trip to....Iceland!

Alex Armitage's picture

The truth is you could just drive around aimlessly and find wonderful places to photograph in Iceland! It's like cheating. Glad this could help you, I was really lost without it, no pun intended.

Andres Moline's picture

Great tip! I’m going to use it for my upcoming trip to Japan. Thanks for sharing

Alex Armitage's picture

Thanks for the kind words and commenting!

andrewchislett's picture

Wow. Thank you Alex. I have 2 800 km of coastline to photograph in South Africa :)

Alex Armitage's picture

Would love to see those images!

Wouter du Toit's picture

Are you going to the sunshine coast, or the West Coast? Both are beautiful, but both are also very different. It's my home country, and I can tell you you're going to have a super time.

andrewchislett's picture

Hi Wouter! I live in Johannesburg. This would be a long term personal project - starting at St Lucia :)

ron fya's picture

Guys: even better. There is a Google Trips app for your mobile. It's amazing AND OFFLINE !

Carl Murray's picture

Downloading that ASAP. Thanks for the heads up! :D

Alex Armitage's picture

I have looked into this. Does it sync with my maps now?

Andrea Re Depaolini's picture

Yes, it does, and when you create a new trip it automatically associates your favorites (or groups of favorites) near your destination to the trip. I have yet to test it on the field but it seems good. The only problem I see is that it prefers cities as destinations, I'm planning my road trip to Namibia and it doesn't seem to get it properly

Wouter du Toit's picture

Oh my word, Namibia is an amazing place. It's quite off the grid though, and there are mostly towns and not cities, except for Windhoek. Let us know how using Google Trips went, and enjoy your trip!

Carl Murray's picture

Planning a round the world trip on a motorbike, whilst doing photography. This is going to save me a LOT of effort. Thank you! :D

Alex Armitage's picture

Thanks for the kind words! It’s such a no brained to use. I wish I had discovered it sooner honestly.

Matthew Saville's picture

I've been doing the same thing with Google Earth for years, but now that Paoramio is dead, I might as well just use Google Maps for more of my trip planning. I like Google Earth, though, for wilderness backpacking because you can trace GPX / KML tracks anywhere, download them to your phone and open them in a similar app such as Backcountry Navigator, and then still have access to not just a basic map but full satellite imagery / topo maps even while totally away from cell service.

Alex Armitage's picture

I will say having the maps downloaded is the biggest feature. I’ve found myself sitting on the side of the road hoping for service sometimes.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Even though I know how to use the private Google maps features as I use this for work all the time I never thought about using it this way. I did however on my phone's Google maps mark places I found on Google or that people told me about as "want to go" places.

Rick McEvoy's picture

Google Maps is great and free. I use it all the time. I think we sometimes forget that Google does provide some great free stuff!

Rick McEvoy

Alex Armitage's picture

It all started with a little search engine. Kind of incredible when you think about it.

Andrzej Muzaj's picture

I've also made similar map when I've travelled to Iceland for the first time, and now I've added even more spots to it, as my second journey there approaches. I love the Google Maps engine and often combine it with Google Earth Pro or some other GPS phone apps. Thank you for that article Alex! :)

Alex Armitage's picture

Thanks for the love and comment Andrzej :)

Michael Breitung's picture

Planning my trips this way for some years now. Great feature.

Alex Armitage's picture

I wish I had known about it sooner. It felt really overwhelming to try and figure out a trip like this one. What would you want to see added to it? If anything.

Mr Blah's picture

This app could be soooooo good yet it falls really fucking short. Get this: its a google map app, it has an option for "direction" but it doens't give you the driving distances or the actual directions... WTF???

Each layer is heavily independent so if you want to have a layer for cities you'll go too and then have another layer for the directions.... you'll need to copy all that info from one layer to another...

I was planning a 5000km trip this summer with this. A fucking nighmare.

Works semi-well as a pin map. but that's it.