Making travel plans is tricky even in the best of times, but the pandemic and its lingering effects have made things even more complicated. Whether you're going halfway around the world or planning a trip much closer to home, your smartphone can be a huge help.
You probably already use your phone to get you from A to B as quickly as possible, but Google Maps, Apple Maps, and other apps can do much more than this—they can put together a proper itinerary for your next excursion, storing longer lists of places that you want to tick off on your travels.
Planning ahead means that time away from home—whether a vacation, business trip, or anything else—is much better organized and less stressful. You can make sure you visit everywhere you want to visit in the time you have available.
Use Google Maps to Save Destinations
Search for a location on Google Maps, bring up its info card, and you'll see a Save icon—it shows up on Android, iOS, and the web, and if you tap the icon you can add the place to one of the lists Google Maps makes for you (Starred places, Want to go, and Favorites) or choose New list to put together a custom list of your own.
When you create a new list, you can give it a name and description, and choose a list type: Private means only you can see the list, Shared means you can share it with a select number of people (your travel buddies perhaps), and Public means anyone can see the list (in case you want to share your pick of the local bars in your area, for example).
Whether or not you decide to share the list, this is your opportunity to put together a handpicked collection of places based around a trip—it might be restaurants, or landmarks, or entertainment options for the kids. Google Maps lets you create multiple lists and save locations to one or more of them as required.
You can get back to your lists by tapping on the Saved tab in your mobile apps, or by opening the main menu on the Google Maps web interface and choosing Your places and Saved. Open up an individual place and it's possible to add a note, which is handy if you want to remember why you added it, or what you're actually going there for.
When it comes to loading up step-by-step directions, any places that are in one of your saved lists will appear first when you're searching for somewhere to navigate to: Just type the first few letters then select the location. Google Maps lets you queue up directions for up to 10 places in succession for the same journey.
Use Apple Maps to Create Whole Guides
Like Google Maps, Apple Maps can save specific places and add them to a curated list that you can return to whenever you like. Bring up a location in the app on iOS or macOS, then tap or click on Guides—it's the button that looks like a plus symbol inside a box. You can add the place to an existing guide, or create a new one.
If you decide to create a new guide, you need to give it a name. You can also add a custom picture—otherwise the list will be given the main image on Apple Maps for the first location you add. Once somewhere is added to a guide, the plus symbol changes to a tick symbol.
It's up to you how you use these guides: You can create one master list for an entire trip, or build up multiple lists to cover your next vacation (covering restaurants, hotels, entertainment, or whatever). When you're looking at somewhere that's been added to a guide on Apple Maps, the list will be accessible from its info card.
To get back to your guides, tap your user icon to the right of the search bar (on iOS) or pick a guide from the navigation pane on the left (on macOS). You have the option to add new places, share the list with someone in your contacts, change the order of the list, change the guide photo, and more. Unfortunately, Apple Maps doesn't yet have the option to plot a route to every location in a guide in turn.
On iOS, you can browse through curated guides that experts have put together. Open up the search pane from the bottom of the interface, then choose Explore Guides to see what's available—you can narrow down your search by location or by publisher, and view guides that have been uploaded recently.
Other Apps to Help You Get Around
If you need something a little more advanced in terms of trip planning than what Google Maps and Apple Maps offer, a variety of third-party alternatives are available. One of the most highly rated is TripIt, which not only keeps a list of all the spots you want to visit but also organizes your accommodation bookings and travel arrangements (plane, bus, train, and more).
Another app we like is Sygic Travel Maps: It's particularly good if you're not sure exactly where you want to go in a particular area, because it will put forward suggestions as you browse the map. Once you've decided on the places you want to visit, the app will tell you how long it's going to take to get to each one, as well as serving up other useful information for your journey.
Also worth a look is Wanderlog, which lets you build up multiple itineraries and maps very easily. The app lets you collaborate with other people on journeys, gives you optimized travel routes based on the places you've selected, and can recommend other locations of interest based on spots you've already saved.
Then there's Polarsteps, which is one of the most intuitive and well-designed travel apps that we've come across. It not only makes planning a trip with multiple destinations a real pleasure, it also enables you to keep a log of your adventures and look back on them at a later date. A lot of the tracking and logging is done for you, and the app also comes with plenty of useful travel advice about places to see.
If you're planning a road trip, then the aptly named Roadtrippers is one of the best companion apps you're going to cross. You can plug in all of your intended destinations, and not only will the app tell you the best routes between them, it will also offer tons of help along the way—including recommendations for places to visit along your route that you may not have otherwise spotted.