Overview – what you will do

The key point here is not to spend too much time and money travelling in the city.
You may find that time is more valuable than you thought.
But you will also learn that transit often gives you valuable time sitting down. 

The basic approach is to use Google Maps to lay out: 

  • The things you want to see and do
  • The transit system, assuming you plan to use it
  • Some possible hotels. 

This will let you: 

  • group things to see together 
  • choose a convenient hotel
  • figure out how long it will take to get between places. 

So, if you aren’t already into Google Maps, maybe you should detour to my Google Maps overview. It includes how to set up a My Maps map, and how to add a transit layer from a KML file.  

The key is the transit system, and the way to get that is with KML files. Here’s how that works. 

Your list of things to see needs to include:               

  • Its location  (e.g. near the Picpus métro on line 6)
  • What transit exit serves it (if applicable)
  • When it’s open (go the the website, and while you’re there, record the URL in your list)
  • pricing and ticket options 
  • anything special going on while you’re there?

Multiple maps for a city

For our trip across Europe, I did an overall map and several smaller maps. 

If you’re visiting a big city, you’ll probably want several maps. For example, in both Paris and Tokyo I did one big map, one for the area around our hotel, and another for one of our days out. 

If necessary, you can export layers from one map and import them into another. But they will not be linked; changes to one won’t update the other.

Power mapping

OK, let’s get serious. Let me show you an example of how I use this process to refine an overwhelming list of places into a concise plan that works.  

Here’s Tokyo, with some of my planned sights marked.

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I added all these myself, by looking them up one at a time and assigning an icon. See how they visually group up?  That’s fine, but how do we travel between them? Let’s add the travel layer:

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See how that goes with the groupings?

This is the first hint of caution; remember Tokyo is BIG, and what looks like a quick hop on the map could be 35 minutes. But imagine how much longer it will be if you have to change trains twice on the way! 

You can make a walking map too, such as this one for Paris Butte-aux-Cailles.   But note that I set up the icons with letters in the sequence of the walk. That also makes it easier to flip between the legend and the map. 

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Now let’s look at estimating travel time with Google Maps.  

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Note that I have chosen the transport option at the top, then specified from and to locations (details on that later) 

Just below that, note that I chose a time and date of departure (I could have chosen arrival time too). You can imagine how much difference there might be between 2 p.m. Sunday and 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. 

Notice the three options. They all start with the #27; two then take the E tram and a bus, and a third does it with only one bus. In some locations there will be much more variance, and you’ll examine these options, balancing time against convenience. For example, if you have a large suitcase maybe a local bus isn’t ideal. 

At this stage, you’ll also want to review your arrival into the city, and see your options.  Amsterdam, see map below, has a station Zuid [south] before Centraal, and Zuid has a lot of good hotels near it, well served by local transportation. You need to know this as you work out where to stay. 

click map to enlarge in new tab

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