Google maps and my maps

Vanlife How-to: Save Spots in Google Maps

In a previous how-to post, I shared how to find campsites using google maps and MVUMs. In this post, I’ll show you how to use various forms of Google Maps to save locations.

Location research can take a lot of work, and it’s important to document your learnings as you go. It’s also important for you to be able to access and use that information when you need it – and sometimes that means while you’re driving around looking for a campsite in a remote place with no cell reception (and thus, no internet service to access what you’ve saved online). I’ll show you how to manage through all this.

The map types I will share are:

  • Google Maps on a phone
  • Google Maps on a computer
  • Google’s “My Maps” (which is best for detailed planning)
  • How to access your My Maps info through Google Maps
  • And How to access your My Maps info offline using third party apps.

Keeping Track of Spots

While scouting for places to camp through online maps, we will eventually find a road with potential places to camp.  We could just call our research done and drive out there to find a spot. If we really like planning ahead, or we want more information to help us while we’re out there, we could mark the campsites we find on a map. This can be very useful at times, for:

  • If we really want to find one specific location that we’ve identified
  • Helping us know where the campsites start. (Say there are about ten campsites along  a road.Kknowing where they start helps us keep track of where we are, and to not get frustrated that we aren’t seeing any spots when we simply haven’t gotten to where they start
  • Help us know when not to drive any further. Again, if there are ten sites on a road, and we have the last one marked on our map, we’ll know not to drive any further past that point, which will save us time, frustration, gas, and wear on our vehicle.

That could mean literally marking them with a pen on the MVUM or other paper map. Or that could mean saving the locations on a map we use on the computer or phone. I’ll describe two methods for the later strategy. The first method is a simple one, to save the locations on Google Maps on your phone. The other is to use Google’s My Maps, which works better for when you want to add a lot of detail.

Saving Locations in Google Maps on a Phone

[I’m showing an Android version of Google Maps. It may be slightly different on iPhones or later Android versions]

If we want to put a marker on our map, such as, where permitted dispersed camping starts along a road (which, for National Forests, we’d find from a MVUM or Motor Vehicle Use Map) we can find that spot in Google Maps – either by going to it on our phone, or if we have found it on Google Maps on the computer and we don’t want to re-find it on our phone, we can look at the GPS coordinates and  type them in our phone.

On the computer, to find the coordinates, you can generally just click on the map (sometimes it takes a little bit longer of a click), a marker will appear, and the coordinates will be shown:

Google maps and my maps


We can find it on the phone:

Google maps and my maps


Then touch the part of the screen that has the GPS coordinates (the one on the lower half of the screen). And then click on “Save

Google maps and my maps

Then choose which display icon you want to use. For this example I use “Want to go”

Google maps and my maps

Then back out a couple times, and you will have the spot saved on your map.

Google maps and my maps

You may also wish to add the locations of some potential campsites, and of where the campsites end, or as far as you want to drive.

Google maps and my maps

Then, when you’re ready to go out there, you can select one of those saved points and get directions to it:

Google maps and my maps



Offline Maps:

In Google Maps for your phone, it is very useful to save the maps offline. This way you can use Google Maps for searching and navigation even when you have no cellular reception.

Here’s how to do it: first, touch the button in the upper left corner with three horizontal lines, in the menu that comes up, you will touch “Offline maps”

Google maps and my maps

Then, touch “Select your own map”.

(Note that this is also where you come to delete maps from your phone once you no longer need them. Doing this will not delete the points you’ve saved)

Google maps and my maps

Position the map so that the area you want downloaded is in the box, and touch “Download”

Google maps and my maps

Now, while you’re in this area and don’t have reception, Google Maps will work very nearly as well as if you do.

Google Maps on a Computer

On a computer, Google Maps works essentially the same in all the ways described above. If you’re logged into your Google account on both the phone and computer, spots that you’ve saved on your phone will generally be visible when you view Google Maps from your computer, and vice-versa. This doesn’t work perfect though. It may only work for spots you’ve saved as stars, and sometimes it takes a while for spots to transfer over.

Google’s My Maps

My Maps is a very good mapping utility. It works nearly the same as Google Maps, but it allows you to save locations with a much more detailed set of icons and shapes. You can enter text and even pictures for any point or shape that you save. You can use it on a computer or phone.

The main limitation of My Maps is that you cannot use it offline like Google Maps. That’s why I use My Maps for planning, and for sharing information. But when I want to go to a certain area, I’ll put some of the key points on Google Maps so I can access them when I’m outside of phone reception.

A couple other notes:

  • It is possible to see the My Maps data inside Google Maps, but it only works while online.
  • For offline use, you can download your My Maps data with a .KMZ file and import that file into a third-party maps utility. I explain how to do this later in this post.

To get to My Maps, use On Phones, there is a My Maps app to download. In My Maps, you can save multiple map files. If you put in a lot of detail, I recommend organizing your entries into separate map files, because there are some limits on the number of points you can enter. For example, you can only save 10 driving routes per map file. I like to enter the Scenic Byways and other very scenic roads on my planning maps, so I can hit the limit on driving routes quickly.

When you first go into My Maps, this is what you’ll see – a selection of the different maps you’ve created and saved so far:

Google maps and my maps

Once you’re in a map, you can create and save:

  • Single points
  • Driving Routes
  • Shapes and Lines


Single Points:

When you’re saving a single point, there are a lot of options for the icon and its color. You can enter text and pictures for that single point. Here is how the pictures and text display when you click on a location you’ve saved

Google maps and my maps

And here are the color and icon options:

Google maps and my maps

There are many icons to choose from. Here are some:

Google maps and my maps

Here’s an example of data that I’ve added to a map for travel planning. I’m highlighting many things – places to camp, to hike,  to take pictures, plus driving routes, and I’m using the shapes to highlight land types.

Google maps and my maps


Accessing your My Maps info in Google Maps

This is useful if you want to view the My Maps data and also use driving directions. You get all the combined functionality of Google Maps and My Maps (except for being able to save new My Maps info).


Here’s how to do it.

First, make sure you are logged into Google Maps using the same Google account that contains your My Maps info. In Google maps, touch the button in the upper left corner – the three horizontal lines.

Select the first option: “Your Places”

Google maps and my maps

In the options shown along the blue bar, touch “Maps”. (You may need to scroll over to the right to see it, as it is the option on the furthest right).

Google maps and my maps

Your saved maps will be listed. Pick one to display

Google maps and my maps

The limitation with this is that the My Maps info cannot be saved offline. It all works perfect as long as you have reception. When you lose reception, the My Maps info may disappear.

How to see your My Maps info offline

As we’ve seen above, we can’t use Google’s apps to see our My Maps info offline.

But – there are still other options. We can use a third party app to see our  our My Maps info offline. There are many that work, I’ll share two of them below.

But first – here’s a simpler process using just My Maps and Google Maps. This is what I do most of the time since I can usually expect to get a data signal somewhere along the way between this place that I’m heading to and wherever I go next:

  • For planning on the computer, use Google’s My Maps.
  • While planning, download the area you’ll be going to in the offline maps on your phone (In Google Maps)
  • Once you know where you want to go, manually copy over the most important spots from My Maps to Google Maps on your phone. (as shown near the start of this post)

Using this method, you will have your map available and usable offline, and you’ll have some key spots marked. This isn’t perfect, because you can’t see all of your My Maps info offline. If you have a whole lot on your My Maps, and you know you’ll be out of reception, it may be useful to take a screenshot of the map in My Maps, so you can look at that later and use the information.

How to access all of your My Maps data offline:

You can also download your My Maps data in a .KML or .KMZ file for offline use. Here’s how your planning process can look:

  • For planning on the computer, use Google’s My Maps.
  • While planning, download offline maps on your app of choice, plus on Google Maps (for driving direction use)
  • When done planning on My Maps, save the map as a KMZ and email it to yourself
  • Open that email on your phone, open the KMZ file using your maps utility.

To export a .KMZ file from My Maps, click the three dots near the top left corner:

Google maps and my maps

Then click “Export to KML”, and download the file. It will automatically save as a KMZ, which is what you want. The file will go into your “Downloads” folder in your computer (or, wherever else you have your web browser set to download files to)

Apps for using KMZ files offline on a phone

Now, you’ll need to move this file to your phone. Here are two apps that work:

Free app: Maps.Me. There are versions for android and iOS. I haven’t tested this app much, but it looks good.

Paid app: Backcountry Navigator Pro. It costs about $10 and is available on Android or Apple. This is a very extensive app that allows you to download and use maps from many different sources – mostly satellite views and topo maps. You can save your own locations on the maps using a huge variety of icons. Having offline satalite and topo views can be extremely useful while out in offline areas. Google maps only downloads the normal map view of roads. With a satalite and topo view, you can see what’s on the other side of the next big hill or mountain without needing to drive or hike all the way over there.

The quickest way to transfer your My Maps data is to email the file to yourself. Then open the KMZ file from your email and your phone will show you apps that can display it.

Looking at an email containing the KMZ

Google maps and my maps

When we touch/click one of those map files, a list of applications we have that can use the file is displayed:

Google maps and my maps

Here’s how it looks once loaded into the Maps.Me app. A lot of the functionality is lost, but it does shows all the saved points and driving routes (including their titles when you zoom in)

Google maps and my maps

And here’s how it looks in Backcountry Navigator Pro. This works slightly better, as it also shows the highlighted areas (with outlines)

Google maps and my maps




Try out different methods in addition to the ones I’ve described here. You may find that you enjoy doing a ton of detailed planning and knowing exact spots to go to. Or you may find you like to just pick a general area and leave discovery fully open. You may also like to use paper maps, and there are good ones available if you wish.


Your email address will not be published.