My daughter recently got her learner’s permit. My son has been driving for about a year. That means when we go on a road trip, my husband and I can sit in the backseat, bicker, snarf down snacks (leaving Goldfish crackers all over the seat), watch movies and ask—every three minutes—“Are we there yet?” So you better believe we're planning some road trips! In fact, that's my sneaky way of teaching my two teens some essential driving skills not covered in driver’s ed: budgeting, route planning and time management. And Google has stepped in to make those all easier, by completely updating the web browser planning tool Google Maps, which is now better than ever. Here's how:
Is driving the best idea?
Teenagers don’t have a lot of life experience, which is why my son recently assumed the best way to go on a weekend trip with friends was by car. I spent 20 minutes calculating time, distance and cost with him before he understood that driving would be expensive and he'd spend most of the trip getting there and back. The updated Google Maps would have simplified this conversation. Ask for directions to your destination and it weighs all your options. If flying is a possibility, it will do a quick calculation—based on actual flights—and include the time and price in your directions. I would still have to calculate the cost of gas for driving, but seeing all that info spelled out quickly is an easy reality check for a teen.
Deciding what to do
We often spend a lot of time deciding on activities and restaurants when we get to our destination. Google Maps has stepped up to improve this conversation too. For example, if we're planning a trip to D.C. and search for a museum, Maps quickly grasps what we're doing and highlights all the museums in the area to help us make more informed decisions—and include the kids (who probably don’t know what the options are) in the discussion. Search for Indian restaurants and it will focus on those too.
Taking public transportation
When we ask for directions from, say, our hotel to the White House, Maps will display not only various driving routes but any public transit choices. Just choose the bus icon and click “List All Times and Options.” It will show you a grid of possibilities so you can see how far you’ll have to walk. This is a quick way to explain to a teenager that sneakers will be a necessity, no matter what the Pretty Little Liars are wearing.
What’s going on?
Want to make sure there’s a ballet or concert worth seeing while you’re in town? Locate a venue on Google Maps and click “Upcoming Events” to see what's scheduled for the coming week. Quick and simple—so the kids stay focused on our trip planning instead of sliding headphones on and disappearing again.
Once we come up with an itinerary, I can share it with my entire crew so they can’t claim I never tell them anything. The updated custom map section of Google Maps is super powerful. Learn how to use it by clicking “My Custom Maps” from Google Maps. Next, click “Create” and select the gear icon in the top right-hand corner. Then go to "Take a Tour" for an introduction to creating a map.
Map to go
After I've created a custom map, I only have to save it from Google Maps on the web and it will automatically be saved to my smartphone (as long as I sign in from my phone with the same Google email address I use for Google Maps online). So when we get in the car to leave, I can simply turn on Google Maps and tell it to navigate. Then my husband and I can put on headphones and watch True Detective till we arrive at our destination. Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at GeekGirlfriends.com.