When I get ready for a significant photography trip, I like to do research on good photo sites from books, photographer web sites, stock agency images, blogs and travel magazines before hand and then build a custom points-of-interest (POI) file that I can load into my GPS device as well as keep in my smart phone (iPhone). As it is with technology, the process of accomplishing these types of tasks continues to change and evolve. After reacquainting myself with this process, I thought I would write a little tutorial on how to accomplish along with a video.

To build a custom POI list one has two starting points. either you build a file based on your research on relevant spots or you use a file from some one else, hopefully in a csv format. If you are building a POI list from scratch, my favorite vehicle to accomplish this is Google Earth Pro, GEP (which is now free). The steps to do so are as follows:

  • Create a folder for what you want to call your group.
  • Find the item you want to go to, whether a town, waterfall, barn, park, covered bridge, view point, etc and enter it within GEP.
  • Go to the top and select the little yellow pin, a Placemark.
    • This opens a separate menu which allows you to name the spot, add links to pictures or information on the web or add some descriptions about this site.
    • On the right, where the little yellow pin is located, one can select this and change the look of the pin or add a custom pin.
    • Note, one has to move the pin to the spot where you want it as well as add the information before selecting OK because you cannot get back into this window after you select OK.
  • After building the list (and making sure all of your sites are included in the folder you created) you want to export the list as either a kmz or kml file. This is accomplished by highlighting your folder, and selecting File/Save/My Place As….which opens up the save menu which will allow you to select one of the two formats, name the file and select where you want the file saved to.
  • To import this file into a GPS device, the file will need to be converted to a gpx file (however some will also take a csv file). Now it is really hard to find an adequate program that will accurately make this conversion. I have found the best methodology is to use is the web site called Convert POI. This site gives one a lot of options of formats to convert to.
  • Create your custom map within Google Maps/My Maps:
    • Open Google Maps:
    • On the upper left menu click on the horizontal grid lines to open up the menu
    • Select My Maps 1/2 of the way down.
    • Select Create which opens the new map window
    • Name the map and select “import” which opens up the “import” window that also shows the various file formats that can be used.
    • drag your file here to build your POI file

The struggle for me yesterday was trying to figure out a program with which I could also place this custom POI file on my iPhone. I used to have an app called “My Maps” which logged into Google’s My Maps and allowed access to these custom maps on the iPhone. Well this program no longer works and it is no longer available via iTunes. Also Google Earth also had a feature in which one could access these custom maps. iPhone apps that would not allow custom POI’s is as follows, Garmin, Sygic, I believe Scout, and a host of others. Even a good number of those who propose to have off line maps would not allow the loading of Custom POI’s. Finally, as I was exploring Google Maps on the iPad, I discovered where My Maps was.

In the Google Maps primary window, on the upper left is the little selection bar which opens up the Google Map menu. The top selection is called “Your Place.” When one selects this,  you are taken to another menu which shows you your Labeled places, Saved Places and at the bottom, VOILA, My Maps. which shows all of the custom maps you have created in Googles My Maps.

For this post I went ahead a created a YouTube video of the whole process. This is one of my first attempts at creating a video and it probably is a little longer than it should be but it covers all of the steps and I cover a lot of the options. It’s about 28 minutes and I am not impressed with the sound quality. Will have to get a better microphone.

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