Google trip planning: 7 ways to simplify your next trip from start to finish

2018-07-05 12:28 - Nadia Krige
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travel apps

Check out these 7 ways to simplify your next trip using Google. (Photo: iStock)

Even though Google is pretty much my go-to for any question, concern or flickering of curiosity, I must admit that I haven’t been harnessing its power enough in my daily life or my travels.

After spending two days of exploring Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, with the Google Africa team last week, I soon found myself a 10 times more savvy traveller than before.

READ: South Africa in 360: Google Street views gone even more wild

So, if you’re in the process of planning a trip right now, here are a few of the ways Google’s various apps can help you plan, enjoy and reminisce:

Before

Google Trips

Think of this nifty little app as a super intuitive personal assistant, ready to help you get everything ready and keep things neatly in one, easily accessible location.

If you book your flights or accommodation using Gmail, Google Trips will automatically pull that information and set up a new Trip in the app. If you don’t use Gmail, you can also add the information manually.

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Your Trip folder provides a place to store all your important reservations, suggestions for restaurants, bars and places of interest in your destination/s, day plans and your personal lists… which is what we get to next.

Google app features

(Google Trips. Photo: Nadia Krige)

Google app features

(Google Trips. Photo: Nadia Krige)

Google app features

(Google Trips. Photo: Nadia Krige)

Google app features

(Google Trips Photo: Nadia Krige)

Download Google Trips – IOS/Android

Google Maps Lists

Prior to my #MaputoWithGoogle trip, I had mainly been using Google Maps for its navigational abilities and to check on traffic.

However, with the Google Africa team’s insights, I’ve now discovered a gold mine of additional uses.

One of my favourites, is the feature in Places that allows you to make lists.

So, for instance, if you’re heading to Maputo for a weekend/holiday and you’ve done your research about all the places you’d like to visit while there, you can use this tool to collect them all into one place.

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This can help a lot in planning your days and working out which sites and activities to group together.

You can keep your list private or if you’re travelling in a group, you can share it with your fellow adventurers to add places and suggestions of their own. In other words, it’s a really useful tool for collaborative planning.

Download Google Maps – IOS/Android

While you’re there

Google Maps – Offline Maps

While we pretty much expect the presence of free WiFi in airports, cafes and restaurants in most destinations we visit these days, you never know when you might hit a bit of a wobble in connectivity.

Stay on the safe side by downloading an offline map of the area you will be visiting prior to your trip. Once you’re there it will play an integral role in helping you navigate the streets. Unfortunately, offline maps don’t include information about transport such as bus and train times. So, it’s advisable to make notes of that with Google Keep and including it in your Google Trips app.

It’s best to think of these offline maps more in terms of old-school map books/pamphlets that serve as an orientation tool. Which always comes in handy!

Google app features

(Offline maps. Photo: Nadia Krige)

Google Translate

I’m almost embarrassed to say that I’ve never used Google Translate while travelling. Man, I’ve missed out on SO much!

Apart from typing in an English word to get it’s Portuguese (in the case of Maputo) equivalent, it has FOUR other super useful capabilities:

Photo to text

Ordering food from a menu that has no English subtitles can be rather scary. Fortunately, Google Translate’s photo to text tool allows you to scan the menu (or anything else) with your phones camera and then offers you a translation of the words. It obviously works best when the text in question is clear and well-lit.

It then saves your photo searches in the app for future reference.

Google app features

(Translate photo to text. Photo: Nadia Krige)

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Handwriting

If you’re in a country that doesn’t use the Latin alphabet, Google Translate’s handwriting tool is a great way to find the meaning behind unfamiliar symbols.

This could work well if you’re in a country like Thailand if you spot a billboard, for instance, that tickles your curiosity and you can’t use the photo to text option. Instead, you can try mimicking the shapes of the symbols using the handwriting tool. It’s also remarkably intuitive and will suggest various symbols to match your squiggles.  

Google app features

(Translate handwriting. Photo: Nadia Krige)

Conversation

This excellent little tool serves as a mediator between you – someone who can’t speak or understand the local language – and a native speaker who can’t speak or understand English.

All you do is speak your question or comment, the app will then translate it out loud. The person you’re speaking to can then answer in their language and the app will translate what they said to English.

Pretty nifty, right?!

Google app features

(Translate conversation. Photo: Nadia Krige)

Voice

If you are actually interested in learning some of the local language, you can use the Translate’s Voice tool to pick up the basics.

Google app features

(Translate voice. Photo: Nadia Krige)

Google app features

(Translate voice. Photo: Nadia Krige)

Download Google Translate –IOS/Android

Google Photos backup

If you’re a snap happy traveller, you’re probably familiar with the annoyance of phone memory filling up too quickly. Then comes the trauma of having to choose which shots stay and which to delete.

With Google Photos, you can back up all your snaps on the go and delete batches from your phone memory with a happy heart, as you will be able to access ALL of them in the app and online later on. 

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Obviously, you will need WiFi for this. So, it’s best to get into a habit of backing up whenever you’re in a free WiFi one. Also, if you’re travelling in your home country, make double sure that it doesn’t back up using your data, as it will go in less than a flash.

Google app features

(Photo backup. Photo: Nadia Krige)

Download Google photos – IOS/Android

Back home

Google Photos sharing memories

When returning from a trip, one of the first things you want to do is go through your holiday photos, organise them, share them with your fellow travellers and spend some time reminiscing.

However, more often than not, life gets in the way and you never actually get round to it. So, your snaps just sit in the folder where you dumped them – disorganised and unshared.

Google app features

(Photo sharing. Photo: Nadia Krige)

Enter Google Photos. Without being instructed, it will arrange your photos in a sensible manner, organising by day and even location. It’s incredible search functionality also makes it possible to find the most random memories.

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Remember having the best coffee in the world SOMEWHERE, but simply can’t remember which restaurant it was? You probably snapped a photo of it, so just type ‘Coffee’ into the search bar and allow Google Photos to find it for you. Once you’ve located the pic, you can access details such as the date and the exact location.

Google app features

(Image search. Photo: Nadia Krige)

Sharing snaps with your fellow travellers is also super simple – all you do is create an album of your trip, head over to ‘Sharing options’, select ‘Share album’ and send the link to all relevant parties. They will also then be able to contribute their own photographs.

Google app features

(Image search. Photo: Nadia Krige)

Google app features

(Image search. Photo: Nadia Krige)

Google Reviews

The very last thing you think about when returning from a trip, is probably writing reviews about your stays. However, when you do this through the contributions feature in Google Maps, you join Google’s local guides programme and earn points for every review. In turn, you also work your way up the 10-Level system.

This is obviously kind of fun and exciting in itself, but there are also added perks, such as being rewarded with FREE space for a year on Google Drive when you hit the mid-range levels and being invited to conferences when you’re in the top levels.

Find out more about being a Local Guide.

Thanks to Google Africa for a fun and educational experience in Maputo!

Nadia Krige is a freelance writer based in Cape Town. You can visit her blog, Peregrina.co.za and follow her on Instagram.