If you’re a plugged-in traveler, you likely lean pretty heavily on Google Maps as a planning tool—we sure do. But today, Google is re-launching the service with an impressive slew of new functions that will no doubt change the way you plan and navigate your next vacation. Here, a guide to what’s new and notable:
• Responsive search: Now when you search for a place, Google will subtly glean what type of experience you’re after and flag comparable places for you to consider. For example, search for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and you’ll get what you’re looking for—plus flags for the Frick, the MoMa, and the Whitney nearby. Search for Italian restaurants in Chicago, and the options will shift as you start to poke around (clicking on a pizza joint will trigger Google to flag affordable or casual spots, while clicking on Spiaggia might trigger a slew of high-end, Michelin-starred tables).
• Integrated Google Now information: When you search for directions to the airport, a card will hover over the map with your flight information. You’ll also get an estimate of when you should leave, based both on real-time traffic updates, live incident reports (construction; street closures), and your preferences on how early you’d like to arrive (say, 90 minutes before boarding). The same applies for hotel bookings and restaurant reservations.
• Event listings: Now when you search for event spaces, you’ll also get a glimpse at the upcoming shows. Theater schedules, upcoming concerts—they’re all built into the listings for their host spaces.
• Integrated flight search: Planning a road trip to Charleston? Maybe it’s better to fly than drive. Google will now show you the different ways of getting somewhere—including average flight prices, and a connection point to Google Flight Search if you’re interested in going down that road.
• Google Earth, Google Photos, Indoor Maps, and Street View converge: This should have happened ages ago, but all these great tools are now housed under one roof. And you no longer need to drag and drop the peg man to get to street view. With indoor maps and indoor photos for restaurants, malls, airports, museums, and other venues growing by the minute, armchair travel via Google Maps may just be a new reality.
• Custom maps: Saving the best for last, Google is resuscitating some features that were lost with the transition to My Maps roughly a year ago. When planning your next trip, you can star places you want to check out, create itineraries or walking tour routes (measured to the hundredth of a mile, should you desire), and denote points of interest with cute pins (a coffee mug maybe, or a paint easel for a museum) that help you get a good sense of what’s where. Save and share maps, collaborate with friends who might be joining for the ride, and then synch everything to your phone for an on-the-go guide.
Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.