When I was growing up, my parents and I would take a road trip at least once a year. Sometimes we'd drive to the beach, sometimes the mountains, and sometimes just to somewhere we'd never been before. Regardless of destination, I was sure we'd pack at least one thing: a map.
More specifically, a very large map that my parents bought before I was even born: Rand McNally's Complete Road Atlas of the United States (and Surrounding Territories). Wherever we found ourselves, we knew we'd be somewhere on our map, that we'd never be completely lost.
Today, I'd be surprised to find that same map in my parents' car. Not because it's totally useless, but because they've found something much easier: Google Maps.
Google Maps is a free online map from Google. It's accessible through your web browser or as an app for mobile devices. You can use Google Maps to get step-by-step directions, find information about local businesses, and a whole lot more! For example, ever wondered where we create the content for our website? Check it out on the Google map below!
Whenever I go somewhere for the first time, I use Google Maps to get directions. Just head over to maps.google.com, select Directions, and enter your destination. This video will show you how it works:
If you have a smartphone, you can use the Google Maps app. This app can give you free turn-by-turn directions, which means your phone can tell you exactly when to turn left, make a U-turn, or just keep driving. Google Maps can even tell you when there's a lot of traffic on your way and will suggest an alternative route.
Google Maps is about more than just finding your way. There's a lot of information about different places built right into the map. For example, you could look up the address of a local coffee shop just by searching for its name. You'll also be able to see how late it's open and grab a link to the website.
Google Maps is a really useful tool. It can help you get where you need to go and learn what you need to know before you get there. One of my favorite things about Google Maps is a little less practical, though.
Unlike a paper map, Google Maps isn't limited to one state or country. In fact, it provides maps for almost every country in the world. Combined with satellite imagery, user-submitted photos, and Google's powerful street-view feature, Google Maps is more than just a map. It's an interactive atlas—a way to learn about different places and people all over the world.
We've spent a lot of time talking about Google Maps, but there are several other free mapping tools you can use instead. Some of these might even be pre-installed on your computer or mobile device. If you're unsure which mapping service to use, we recommend trying a few to see which you prefer.