Since we’re very limited for travel and road trips during the pandemic, I decided to take my friends on a virtual road trip using Google Maps.
We would travel the Silk Road from west to east. This was inspired by Trabant Trek, a reality show where a group of westerners with next to no money buy four very tiny cars in Budapest for $300 each and attempt to drive to Cambodia. There was not much planning and they spend most of their time getting drunk or waiting for their cars to be repaired. Or both.
About once a week I would send out the updated map which would include a photo of each of my travel companions on a specific place they were “visiting”. You can check it out our adventures here.
Here’s how to make your own:
Go to mymaps.google.com and create a new map.
Upload each traveler’s photo as a custom icon.
Find a location for each person to be at and add them to the map. (I use tripadvisor and atlasobscura mostly). I have 12 travelers and so I find 12 locations (without much regard right now as to who is where). Sometimes I dig around in google street view (using regular google maps) to find intersting places as well.
Once you have added the locations you can:
Choose who is where by changing the icons for the location.
Choose to put a quote in each location’s description box that the person would be saying when there.
Choose to add a link to more information in the description box (if google doesn’t provide a link by default you’ll definitely want to do this so that the traveler will know more than just the name of the place).
I chose to use the “layers” feature to separate travel dates and regions. You can also turn layers off so that you can work on an upcoming day without travelers seeing it. (They DO have the ability to turn the layer on if they wish, however).
IMPORTANT: The phone view requires them to reload the map each time you make changes. Ask your friends to navigate on a desktop to avoid them thinking you haven’t made any changes. To reload on an Android phone hit th Hamburger Menu to see the “Reload map” option.
What About Using Google Earth?
I tried Google Earth desktop and online for this as well. I found that the desktop pro method is ugly-looking and difficult to navigate. You can toggle multiple KMZs on and off but still its not enough. Google Earth Online puts your travelers image on the ground. So you can’t see the icon if you are in a building (under it) which is annoying. You disappear on the zoom.
On the plus side, it’s prettier than google maps and it has loads of awesome pictures. But I don’t think friends will figure out how to move markers around to see everything. You have to click a pen and it’s just not obvious.
It was also challenging to poke around on streetview from google earth.
What About Using Tour Builder?
I tried TourBuilder https://tourbuilder.withgoogle.com/
This just looked ugly and was made more for presentations than active fun.
What About Using Trip Advisor? Or AtlasObscura?
These both allow you to create lists that friends can see , but it doesn’t allow for much a narrative. It’s just a list.