Willie Nelson sings, “On the road again … “, and many of us will be on the road again this summer. Along the way, we will navigate using a maps app instead of the Maine Gazetteer or other paper maps. We type in our destination, tap “directions” and off we go!

Our focus in this article will be Google Maps because this app works on any device. If you use Apple’s map app, you should check out BoomerTECH Adventures’ blog post, “7+ Amazing Features of Your Apple Maps App.”

As you know, Google Maps will give you driving, walking, transit and cycling directions once you tap “directions.” It will also give you the estimated time it will take using your selected mode of transportation. For example, walking to Portland would take me 10 hours.

Let’s review several additional basic features of Google Maps. Tapping “directions” (blue box) offers you a choice of routes. Once you make your selection, your route will be in blue. If sections of it turn yellow/orange or red, there is either a slowdown (yellow/orange) or a problem (red), and you should be prepared to stop.

Near the top of the screen, there are buttons to tap for groceries, parks, gas and other amenities. Swipe over to the “more” button and tap. You will find EV-charging stations listed.

Along your route, you will see a variety of icons indicating stores, restaurants, walking trails and so on. A blue teardrop icon with the letter P indicates a parking lot. Google Maps also includes icons for stop signs and traffic lights.


Google Maps will automatically reroute you should your route have major problems like a road closure.

When you touch the screen, a red teardrop icon will appear. This symbol means you have “dropped a pin.” Dropped pins are helpful because you can label your hotel, favorite restaurant or where you parked your car. By tapping on the pin, you can easily find your way back to that spot.

Google Maps is a very complex app with many layers. We recommend practicing with the app in order to familiarize yourself with the features before embarking on a trip.

There are some less obvious features to explore, and they are really helpful for making Google Maps work for you. Let’s start with personalizing Google Maps settings. When you open the app, there is a white search bar at the top of the screen. At the right-hand end is a circle with your initials or picture. Tap it.

Information about your Google account will appear. One of your first options is “turn on incognito mode.” If you turn it on, Maps will not save your search history, update a shared location or use your activity to personalize your Maps app. You can turn this option on and off at will. It’s all about privacy, and you need to think about what data you want saved on the device you are using. Read the small print carefully!

Continue to scroll down until you see “settings”. These are the settings for this app. Tap on “settings” and then tap on “navigation,” where you will see a variety of options. The first two relate to sound. Do you want the voice muted? And secondly, how about the volume of the voice giving directions — would you like it louder or softer? Adjusting the sound level of the spoken directions for someone with hearing issues is a benefit.


You can use your phone hands free by using the Google Assistant and activating her/him by saying, “OK, Google.” If you turn this option on, you must also activate your Google Assistant. It’s wise to understand the privacy issues related to Google Assistant and other similar programs. Here’s an article that will help you do your research: privacy.commonsense.org/evaluation/Google-Assistant. One further note: If you are an iPhone user and activate Google Assistant, Siri won’t work.

One of my favorite features is the option to avoid highways and tolls. I prefer to meander along back-country roads, even if they take longer, than dodge 18 wheelers and speed demons on highways. How about you? Continue to scroll down the navigation screen to see that you can take routes that avoid highways, tolls and ferries.

Another option we recommend is to turn on “show speed limits.” The speed limit will appear on your screen as you follow the directions. This feature is handy because it is easy to miss a speed-limit sign, especially in areas where the speed fluctuates.

Investigate this navigation screen in settings to personalize the app to your needs.

Once you are en route, you may notice some additional icons. In the upper right-hand corner of your screen there is a square. It may look like a diamond to some. Tap on it. A menu with options appears, including a satellite view, traffic view, air quality and wildfires. If one had been traveling in Nova Scotia during the past weeks, knowing where those wildfires were would have been important.

You may also see a plus sign in a circle. When you tap this icon, you can report a crash, speed trap, construction, an object in the road and other traffic concerns. The magnifying glass icon allows you to search for places along your route — grocery stories, rest stops, hotels, EV-charging stations and so on. Both these features will help your trip go more smoothly and pleasantly.


One last feature you should check out is “share your location.” The option is handy when whomever is waiting for you to arrive is a bit of a worrier. They can track your progress and stop fretting. Or if a group of you is traveling and split up to see different attractions, it is easy to check in and keep track of one another. To share your location, do a long press on the blue circle that indicates your current location. A menu will pop up, and you’ll see “share” is an option. Tap on it and choose the folks you want to let know where you are.

Apps always have more than one way to accomplish a task. Once you choose your route and start it, scroll up from the bottom. You will find the plus sign icon, the search icon (magnifying glass) and a link to settings.

The various maps apps are pretty amazing in the information they contain and the help they offer travelers. They are complex, and it is important to feel comfortable with them before you hit the road. Practice! On the road again … have a great summer.

BoomerTECH Adventures (boomertechadventures.com) provides expert guidance and resources to help Boomers and older adults develop competence and confidence using their Apple devices. Boomers themselves, BoomerTECH Adventures rely on their skills as educators to create experiences that meet individual needs through videos, Zoom presentations, tech tips and timely blog posts.

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