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We’ll show you how Google Maps can help you navigate through the holidays.


Angela Lang/CNET

Thanksgiving and winter holidays are stressful as is, and potentially even more so during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In addition to our tips to help you stay safe (according to the CDC), we have some to help keep you sane. Google Maps has a stable of helpful tools if you’re traveling for Thanksgiving or going out for dinner. For example, if you’re going to a restaurant, you can check Google Maps first to see how busy it is to avoid standing in crowds.

Google Maps can also take on other travel tasks, such as alerting your family if you’re running late and finding lost travel companions. Not to mention, it can also help you save time by booking reservations in advance. Remember if you travel to a different city or state to be aware of the local rules involving face masks and more.

Here are six great ways Google Maps can make sure you’re on the road — and out of lines — as little as possible.

Read more: Face mask myths and facts: Know the score


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Use Google Maps to see how busy a place is

Before you decide on a restaurant or store you want to go to for last-minute shopping, use Google Maps’ busyness feature to see how crowded a business is. Google’s new feature is helpful in preventing you from going to a busy place where it’s hard to social distance.

To check it out, open the Google Maps app on your Android or iPhone (or your computer’s browser) and move around on the map until you find where you want to go. The busyness information will automatically appear on the map, so you don’t need to search for a specific place to see how crowded it is. It may say something like “Not busy,” “Busier than usual,” or “As busy as it gets.”

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In Maps, see what you’ve booked.


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Track your trip itinerary in Google Maps 

Of course, Google Maps can chart your travels, but it can also quickly show you your holiday flight, hotel, car rental and restaurant reservations, saving you the hassle of searching through your email for check-in times and confirmation numbers.

To see your upcoming reservations:

1. In Google Maps, tap Saved in the bottom menu row.

2. Tap Reservations. Here, you’ll see a list of upcoming reservations you’ve made that Maps has pulled from emails in Gmail.

3. Select an item to see more about the reservation, including date and location.

4. You can also search for “my reservations” in the Google Maps search box to see a list of what you’ve booked.

Find EV charging spots on your trip

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Find a charging station on your route.


Clifford Colby/CNET

If you’re taking your electric vehicle out for shopping or dinner, Google Maps can help you find the EV charging stations on your route, along with estimated wait times for a charging port. You can also filter your search by connector type — such as J1772, CCS (Combo 1 or 2) and Tesla — to see just the stations that are compatible with your EV.

1. In Maps, pull the bottom menu screen up.

2. Tap Search along route, and enter “EV charging stations.”

3. Maps will display nearby charging stations and your wait time for a port.

4. Tap a charging station on the map to have Maps add it as a stop on your trip.

(You can also use this trick to search for other places along your route, like a coffee shop.)

Not cooking? Reserve a table right in Maps

Planning and preparing a holiday dinner can be a multiday chore. If you’d rather spend time with family and friends instead of sharp knives and hot stoves, Google Maps can help you book a lunch or dinner reservation. 

1. In Maps, tap the Restaurants button at the top of the map to see a list of places to eat.

2. Select a restaurant that looks good, and in the window that pops up, reserve a table or join a waitlist, if it gives you that option (not all do).

Remember to use the “busyness” feature mentioned above to pick the least packed place. Also, note that many restaurants are still closed to dine-in, but will often allow delivery, curbside-pickup or outdoor seating.

Use Maps offline

Heading someplace remote where you may not have a mobile network connection? Google Maps can still give you directions when you’re offline.

1. Before you head out, in Maps search for the location where you’ll want directions.

2. In the location’s window, tap the location name or address at the bottom. 

3. In Android, tap Download and then, in the next window, tap Download again; in iOS, tap the three-dot menu in the top right corner, tap Download offline map and then tap Download. Maps will download a map to your phone for the area you selected.

Now, as you use Google Maps for directions in the area you downloaded a map for, when you lose your cellular connection, Maps will switch to the offline map to guide you. Because you’re offline, Maps won’t be able to offer real-time traffic info, of course.

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Angela Lang/CNET

Share your location

Is anything more crazy-making during a group activity than when the group gets split up and no one can find each other? Google Maps can help bring you all back together.

1. In Maps, tap the three-line menu up in the top left and tap Location sharing.

2. Select who you want to share your location with and for how long you want to share it.

3. Tap Share, and Maps will send your location to everyone you’ve selected.

4. If you want to see someone else’s location, tap that person’s icon up at the up of the window and then tap Request.

If, after all this, you’d rather stay inside during the holidays, here’s how to use your Prime benefits to your advantage while shopping. And if you don’t intend to leave your couch at all, here are our picks for the best TVs this fall.

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