Google Maps is far and away the best online mapping service out there and it’s no mystery why: Google has been working on it constantly for years and it employs more than 7,000 people whose sole job is to make it better. This year has seen a huge flurry of new Google Maps features and to help you keep track of them all we’ve decided to list our five favorites that you should definitely check out to enhance your traveling experience.
- Save your maps offline. This is a terrific feature for people who are traveling in areas where they don’t have an LTE or Wi-Fi signal nearby. Essentially, you can now download very large maps onto your device that you can still use to track your location as long as your GPS is still enabled. This feature is particularly handy for when you’re in another country and you don’t want to pay international data roaming charges when you’re looking up directions — you can basically just save all your maps beforehand and use GPS to help guide you. The maps themselves take up a tiny amount of space too — the map of the entire Paris metro area takes up only 6MB, for instance.
- Alerts telling you when to switch lanes. One of the annoyances of highway driving comes when you’re in the left-hand side fast lane and you aren’t able to quickly switch over to the right lane for your exit because you’re being blocked by other cars. Google Maps has now added a new feature that alerts you to when you should switch lanes in anticipation of your intended exit to make sure you have enough time to get over, thus ensuring that you won’t miss an exit ever again.
- Smarter traffic estimates based on historical data. The shortest route isn’t always the fastest, especially if everyone takes it at the same time. With this in mind, Google has started using historical traffic data to give you estimates of how crowded certain routes will be at certain times of the day and will also tell you if you need to leave early to avoid getting caught in a traffic jam.
- Quick facts. Have you ever stumbled across a really cool landmark but you have no idea what it is or why it’s significant? This is where Google Maps’ new quick facts feature will come in handy — it will give you some basic information on nearby landmarks in your area such as some of their history, how to reach them, and also if or when they’ll be open for public viewing. This feature is a definite must to anyone traveling in a new city for the first time.
- “Four dimensional” Street View. This feature will help take you into the past by giving you the ability to look at historical Street View pictures from the past several years to let you see how places have changed in recent history. So for example, you can watch the construction of the Freedom Tower in New York as it happened or you can see how communities have rebuilt themselves after being hit with an earthquake or other natural disasters. This feature only figures to get better and better as time goes by and we have more years to look back on.
- Elevation profiles for bicyclists. If you’re the wimpy kind of bicyclist who hates going up steep hills then this new feature is a must. First spotted by TechCrunch, this feature gives you a look at how steep hills are in your area so you can map a route to your destination that will be as pain-free as possible. TechCrunch notes that this is a desktop-only feature right now, although Google will probably be rolling it out to its mobile apps in good time.