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6 ways to get more out of Google Maps

Toy car with luggage on a vintage globe map of the United States with a shallow depth of field. (Michael Quirk/iStock)

Google Maps consistently makes lists of the top 10 most-used apps and is probably one app that many people consult daily. But how much of the program do you actually use?

Those who just type in an address and go should know that there's so much more you can do than just that. To help you make the most of that last, great summer road trip, we've compiled a list of tips to get more out of Google Maps. Here are some useful features hiding just below the surface.

Multistop trips:  Trips aren’t always about going from Point A to Point B. Sometimes there’s a C, D, E or even F you have to get to as well. Google recently started rolling out a new feature that lets you plug in more than one destination at a time. Users can access this by hitting the options menu from the directions screen — you get there by hitting the three vertical dots in the upper right-hand corner — and selecting “Add stop.” Keep in mind that you may not see this update yet.

Use “explore”:  The “Explore” section of Maps is pretty easy to find, but is probably overlooked by those focused on just getting directions. The feature is particularly useful if you’re traveling on business or to a new place and need to grab a quick bite to eat, and don’t have time to wander around aimlessly. From the main search screen, click on the three parallel lines on the left-hand side of the search bar. (Designers call this common icon the “hamburger.”) If you’re zoomed into a reasonably local area, you should see the “Explore” section, which will direct you to good places to eat, cheap places to eat, nearby attractions and more.

Download an offline area: If you’re going to be somewhere where you can’t get cell service, take advantage of the ability to download a section of Google Maps to access offline. To do this tap in the search bar and scroll down until you see “Download a new offline area.” Alternatively, you can search for a city and swipe up from the bottom, and then hit the “Download” option.

Google won’t let you download too large of an area — but you can go up to 120,000 square kilometers. You can interact with this offline section of the map and search for directions to locations within that part of the world. Maps won't suggest places for you, but it will still be more useful than an old-school map. You should know that if you download a part of Google Maps, it will take up storage space on your phone. But it can be convenient, and it’s way easier to transport than a paper map that you'll never be able to refold again.

Share directions: Need to let someone else know how to get to where they’re going? Once you have the directions you need, hit the three-dot options menu and tap “Share Directions.” That will let you text or email directions to someone through a link, or even share directions over Twitter or Facebook if you so desire.

That’s way easier than reading your phone’s screen to someone, or trying to remember off the top of your head. Besides, your friends are probably just going to put the destination in Google Maps anyway. This feature can save both of you the trouble.

Sign-in for better service: If you’re signed in to Maps it adds quite a bit of functionality — though you’re also giving Google’s app more access to your information. Deciding whether the trade-off is worth it is up to you. If you sign in and turn on your history, from that point you’ll be able to reference your past destinations more quickly. So, if you get a restaurant recommendation for a summer trip and then want to go back the following summer, you should be able to do that quickly.

Another advantage to signing in is that you can link your Google Contacts to Google Maps, so it’s easy to find your friend Jim’s house by pulling it from your address book. That saves you from having to ask “Where am I going, again?” when you get in the car.

You can sign in to your Google Account by hitting the hamburger icon and tapping "Sign in."

Know more about what you’re getting into: There are also some settings that most users know about but likely don’t use that often. On the options menu, for example, you can turn on different filters and features to get different information about where you’re headed. If you’re walking in a hilly city such as San Francisco, for example, you may really want to see the terrain around you. A coffee shop may look like it’s just a quick walk and a few blocks away — but those blocks may take you straight up a steep hill. That's vital information to know if you don't want to be out of breath by the time you get there.

One setting I use a lot that many may find useful is the setting preference to “avoid tolls.” Of course, you can’t always find a toll-free way to get somewhere in the time you need, but it’s still nice to have the option on hand.

Do you have tricks or tips to share? Tell us below.