Google Maps Has Become a Real Trip Planner

Have you ever had to drive to multiple destinations in an unknown area, feeding them in your car’s navigation system, only to discover in the end that you just criss-crossed town several times?  If you ever:

  • looked for a house to rent after relocation
  • had to visit multiple clients in a new job
  • or just wanted to see some spectacular lights of Christmas ..

I’m sure you know the feeling – like I do.  The frustration is over now, if you use Google Maps.

With the addition of multiple destinations, Google has not only caught up with Yahoo Maps but significantly beat it. The killer feature may not be obvious at first glance, so let me present a case study here, planning my imaginary drive starting from the St. Francis hotel at Union Square, San Francisco.

First I input all my destinations, in a random order – say, this is how I pulled it off craigslist.  (Click pic for the live view.)

Well, if I followed this order, I’d be crossing the City several times, totaling 29.3 miles.  But now that that I have a feeling of what’s where, I can start playing with the map: simply drag and drop the destination boxes, and see how Google replans my trip.  The second plan cuts down my trip to half, 15 miles!

Is there still room for improvement?  Perhaps I don’t want to cross the Presidio and try the
South-bound semi-circle:

I’m down to 14 miles, which is not a huge difference, and considering traffic, perhaps I take the previous option: it’s more scenic anyway.

The final decision is yours: but the ability to plot all destinations, then move them around freely to optimize your route is a clear winner. Google Maps has just Become a smart Trip Planner.

(Now, if only it added real-time traffic data a’ la Yahoo Mapssmile_nerd)



  1. How does this new feature make it “significantly” better than Yahoo Maps? Its not like you can’t reorder the directions in yahoo maps also. You just click the little letter icon next to the address, and drag it where you want it to be in the list. It looks to me like Google is just playing catch up again.

  2. Is it really ~that~ hard for Google to find the optimized route for me rather than me having to shuffle the routes? That would be of real value. Like I really want to sit there trying every permutation until voila, I magically found the shortest/fastest route. Try harder.

  3. while it’s nice, they definitely should be able to auto-optimize the route. also, each point should have a unique icon to distinguish it!

  4. Automatically optimizing the route is not quite a trivial problem. In fact it’s one of the classic “hard” computational problems in computer science. Do a search for “traveling salesman problem”.

  5. They have real time traffic now in Chicago. I use it all the time on my Treo 650.

  6. Microsoft’s MapPoint web-service has had this feature since 2003. Wait, Microsoft never innovates and only copies other companies. Sorry, I forgot.

  7. About twice a year, I take off for a cross-country trip. For years I’ve wanted a map tool that let’s me put in start, and destination, and then the map auto-splits the route into daily drivable distances. (eg. Day 1: LA-PHX; Day 2: PHX-DAL, etc.)

    Neither the new Google Maps, or Yahoo Maps (beta) does this.

    Does anyone know if such a beast exists?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Yes, the retail version of Mappoint will break a trip out into days, depending on how much you want to drive each day, and even schedule rest stops. I don’t know if the web version does this.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Yes, the traveling salesman problem is NP-hard, but the trivial brute-force algorithm runs reasonably fast in javascript for up to 9 destinations. I suspect many real-life cases will not exceed this. Anyway, it’s not hard to get within 1-2% of the optimal solutions in cases with more destinations using heuristics such as ant colony optimization and local optimization of the trip. A demo which uses the Google Maps API can be found at

  10. @Anonymous “the trivial brute-force algorithm runs reasonably fast in javascript for up to 9 destinations”

    The problem with this is that the brute force algorithm requires the ‘cost’ of every possible trip to be known. For nine destinations that requires 36 driving times to be calculated, which is not feasible.

  11. Daniel Rosas says:

    Hello.. I just started a delivery job with up to 100 stops a day. My Garmin GPS kept crashing when I inputed the addresses. Probably to many points. It was a really bad day plotting by hand with the Thomas Guide. Does anyone know of a program that can help me?


  1. […] maps before and used them to help me get from point a to point b. However I had never thought about using it as a trip planner. It is amazing how easy it is to find and pinpoint main attractions and then to add content such as […]

%d bloggers like this: