How to Measure Distance on Google Maps
By Eric Mohrman
Updated July 28, 2017
Discover the Trip-Planning Possibilities of Google Maps
Google Maps is a great tool for travelers. One of its useful features is the ability to measure distances, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Wherever your family is headed, Google Maps can help you find the best route, discover places to go, avoid traffic and unexpected road closures, and otherwise carry on as safely, efficiently and happily as possible.
Google Maps has a handy “measure distance” feature—provided you're not in Lite mode, which is indicated by a lightning bolt at the bottom of the screen. You can track how far you'll go along any route, plotting multiple points and even traveling diagonally across parks or other land features. Use this feature to figure out how far you'll have to walk on a planned excursion or to re-create your path after a day out. Then you don't have to wear your fitness tracker on vacation, and you can finally determine exactly how far your child can trudge along before begging to be carried.
Measure distance using a computer. If you're on a desktop or laptop computer, right-click on a starting point on Google Maps. Left-click "Measure distance" on the menu that pops up. Click on another point on the map, and you'll see the distance in a window at the bottom of your screen. Click additional points on the map to get a running tally of the total distance. Keep in mind that you get a straight line between points. So if you don't plot a route along streets, you get the shortest straight distance between points, which could mean passing through buildings, bodies of water or mountains. Once points are plotted, left-click on them and hold down the mouse button to drag them, and the distance measurements will adjust accordingly.
Measure distance using an Android. If you're on an Android device (the measure distance feature isn't available on Apple products as of this publication), the process is slightly different: Open the Google Maps app and press on your starting point until a red pin appears. Tap the name of the location at the bottom of your screen, then scroll down and select “Measure distance” on its page. Slide the map to position the crosshair icon on the second point, then tap “Add +” at the bottom right of your screen. Plot all the points you want, and the total distance will show at the bottom of your screen. Tap “Undo” to remove the last point added, and use the “Clear” option under the “More” menu to get rid of everything.
One of the most useful features of Google Maps is the ability to get directions. On the search bar at the top of your screen, click the blue diamond-shaped icon with a white arrow in it. Enter your starting and ending points. If you don't know an exact address, don't worry; Google offers suggestions as soon as you start typing.
Google Maps presents the most efficient route, and usually a few other options too. It shows the total distance and expected travel time for each one. You get directions written out, with the distances between steps, and you see the route plotted on the map. What makes this feature extra useful to travelers is that it takes into account road closures and other problems you wouldn't otherwise know about, potentially sparing you some serious inconvenience and wasted time. It also lets you know about any tolls you have to pay on any leg of the journey.
See Traffic Conditions
Google Maps can show you exactly how well traffic is or isn't moving at your destination and all along your travel route. It's a great option for preventing aggravation and lost vacation time. It takes just a few seconds to check before you leave, giving you the chance to find a new route if an accident or heavy congestion has slowed things down too much.
Simply click on the menu icon (three parallel horizontal bars) on the search bar at the top of your screen. Select the traffic option. The roads on your map will turn green, orange, red or dark red. Green means traffic is moving at the speed limit, orange means it's a little slower than the limit, red means it's a lot slower, and dark red indicates that traffic is stopped. You also see road closures, reported accidents and construction zones.
Find Places to Go
Google Maps shows you restaurants, stores, museums and other cultural attractions, parks, natural features and more. Hover over or click on markers to get all sorts of information about these possible stops on your trip, which can include addresses, website links, contact information, business hours, descriptions and user-submitted photos and reviews.
Or simply enter what you're looking for into the search bar. For example, type “food” and Google Maps provides a list of restaurants in the area you're looking at on the map. It gives you the aforementioned information and plots the places on the map for you.
Explore at the Street Level
Wondering whether a particular area of your destination is a nice place for the family to stroll? Drop the little yellow person icon onto the street and walk around as if you're there. This gives you a sense of the place and what's there; you can decide if it looks interesting and safe to walk around.
Curious about a store or a hotel lobby? You can see the interior of many buildings by dropping the person icon inside. Or look inside an airport to see the floor plan, the stores and restaurants, and the location of your gate to take some of the stress out of your flight. Zoom in on a public transportation stop and select it, and often you can access schedules, fares and upcoming departure information.
Eric Mohrman has been a freelance writer since 2007, focusing on travel, food and lifestyle stories. His creative writing is also widely published. He lives in Orlando, Florida.