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8 essential Google Maps features to help you during the holidays

Google Maps
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Holidays are coming, and with it comes all the hustle and bustle of making sure everything is sorted for whatever festive plans you may have. Fortunately Google Maps has some new features to help you out.

Whether you’re going to be traveling for the holidays, or have plenty to keep you occupied closer to home, here are eight Google Maps features that can help you maintain your sanity.

Keep away from crowds

Google maps busyness feature at heathrow airport

(Image credit: Google)

Google Maps’ Busyness tool is a fantastic way to keep away from the crowds, and has recently been updated to include larger areas instead of individual buildings or locations. That way you can do your best to avoid the spots absolutely teeming with people you’re better off avoiding.

The best part is this feature now appears automatically on the app, so you don’t need to go searching for it. However it’s always a good idea to check businesses and stores ahead of time, which you can do by tapping on the map and loading up the business profile. 

Scroll down the profile past the reviews and photos to see a graph of how busy the place gets at specific times — including a real time view of how busy that spot is right now.

Curbside pickup support

Google Maps curbside pickup screenshots

(Image credit: Future)

Sadly it’s not always easy to stock up on certain groceries, and the supermarkets are going to be packed in the run-up to Christmas. Thank goodness for curbside pickup, right? While hardly exclusive to Google Maps, Google does have a number of features (and partnerships) that will make picking up groceries much easier over the holidays.

Provided you shop at partnered stores, Google Maps will now let you place and track grocery orders from within Google Maps; better still, the app will send your ETA to the store so that it can be ready when you arrive. That way there’s no unnecessary waiting around, and no battling the crowds to get the last frozen ham.

Currently this feature is only available for Kroger-family stores at the moment, including Kroger, Fry’s, Ralphs and Marianos. But that doesn’t make it any less useful, and we expect other grocery chains will get on board in the near future.

Get around shopping malls and airports with ease

google maps indoor maps screenshot

(Image credit: Future)

Navigating inside is difficult at the best of times, especially with those terrible directory maps. So getting around during the holidays? Sounds like a nightmare waiting to happen. Fortunately Google has plenty of options to help you out.

Not only does Google Maps offer indoor directions for large and people-heavy locations like malls and airports, the app also expanded its Directory tab recently. That way you can check out a spot and find out where all the important locations are, whether that’s a specific store or restaurants, the bathroom, or something more useful like an information desk.

What’s more, select malls, airports and transit hubs in the U.S. now offer Indoor Live View directions. Set up a route to your intended location, then hit Live View at the bottom of the screen. Once Google Maps has started off the AR directional view, simply scan your camera around the surrounding area so it can figure out where you are. Then, like magic, the app will overlay directions on top of the real world to get you where you need to go.

Track your trip itinerary

google maps

(Image credit: Google Maps)

Even with everything booked, it can be a bit of a challenge keeping track of all the things you need to do and when. Thankfully Google Maps can help you out by pulling information from your Gmail inbox and Google Calendar, and storing them in one easy-to-access place.

Just hit the Saved button at the bottom of the screen, and then Reservations. Google Maps will then show all the different things you have booked, so you don’t need to go hunting around your inbox just to find out what time your table booking actually is.

Make restaurant and hotel reservations

gooogle maps hotel booking

(Image credit: Google Maps)

To spare you the trouble of going through separate restaurant and hotel apps or websites, you can make reservations right through Google Maps. All you need to do is find a restaurant or a hotel on the map, and tap the Reserve or Availability option on the business profile page. From there you will be taken through the steps to get a visit sorted out, and without having to call and wait to speak to a person.

That’s going to be incredibly handy at this time of year. Whether you need a place to stay during a holiday trip, or if you absolutely mangled dinner and need to be able to feed your extended family at very short notice.

Avoid traffic jams

google maps live traffic visualizations

(Image credit: Google)

Traffic can be a nightmare at the best of times, and holidays only makes it worse. So what better time to make use of one of Google Maps’ key features? Using a mix of historical and real time data from a range of sources, Google Maps has a pretty good idea of how bad traffic is — or is going to be — along your route. 

So it definitely pays to pay attention to what Google is telling you, especially if it’s suggesting a different route than you were expecting. It may not be as extreme as Waze in directing you around traffic, but believe me Google Maps can help you avoid some killer traffic jams you might not have realized were there.

If you’re traveling by public transit instead of by car, don’t forget that Google Maps can track all that too. That way you can keep tabs on delays, arrival times, and everything else that might happen.

Google Maps itself will also highlight areas with increased levels of traffic, giving you the chance to make a manual diversion if you notice it soon enough

Save on wireless data and avoid deadspots

google maps offline maps

(Image credit: Google Maps)

Cell signal can be spotty, and the last thing you want is to lose access to your navigation halfway through a cross-country drive. The solution? Download those directions so you can always access them, even if you’re offline.

Simply hit the avatar in the right-hand side of the search bar, then select Offline Maps. From there Google will give you a map of your region, and you need to make sure the highlighted area covers whatever route you want to take. Then hit the download button, and you’re all set.

Just be aware that if you plan on traveling super-long distances, i.e.crossing several state lines on your way, you may need to repeat this process multiple times.

Let others know when you'll be arriving

google maps location sharing

(Image credit: Google Maps)

If you’re traveling somewhere over the holidays, chances are there’s someone waiting for you at your destination. So keep them in the loop by sharing your location and trip progress. Simply start the navigation, swipe up from the bottom toolbar and hit Share trip progress

Your phone will then ask you which contact or app to share with, and doing so will send a link that lets someone else track you in real time. 

Tracking ends automatically when you arrive, or you can stop it manually by following the same steps and selecting Stop sharing. 

Tom is the Tom's Guide's Automotive Editor, which means he can usually be found knee deep in stats the latest and best electric cars, or checking out some sort of driving gadget. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining that Ikea won’t let him buy the stuff he really needs online.