On Saturday, I ran out of a certain color of yarn for my latest crochet project. That color was no longer available at most stores, but I'd had good luck finding it at various Tuesday Morning stores in Denver. So I decided to make my first expedition to a Tuesday Morning in Colorado Springs. I set off with Google Maps as my guide.

Things quickly got a little strange. First, Google told me to turn off the main road near my place onto a road I'd never taken before. The estimated driving time continuously displayed "1 hour," even though my destination was in Colorado Springs and it wasn't rush hour. Then the route kept leading me deeper into residential areas. Finally I ended up in a cul-de-sac with Google insisting that I drive straight through someone's yard onto a road that didn't exist!

It took me a few minutes to figure out that somehow the app had switched into "bike" mode instead of "drive" mode. That explained a lot! Once I got that straightened out, it only took me about fifteen minutes to find the store. (Which, annoyingly, had a terrible yarn selection. I had to try two more places before I found something that would work.)

But that mishap gave me an idea for a writerly use for Google Maps.

Especially for those of us who write historical fiction, fantasy, or travel nonfiction, travel times matter a lot in our work. They affect communication, how fast someone can rush to the rescue, how much time vacationers should allow for a certain outing, and so on. So how do you figure out these travel times?

Enter Google Maps. If you know the starting location and the destination, you can plug them into Google Maps and get an estimate of how long it would take to travel between those two points using any of these methods:

  • Driving (what most people use Google Maps for)

  • Public transportation

  • Walking

  • Biking

This can even work for fictional places. You simply need to determine how far apart they are and find two real-world places that are that same distance apart. You can do this by visiting https://www.freemaptools.com/find-cities-and-towns-inside-radius.htm, choosing a starting point, and setting the radius as whatever distance you want your characters to travel. The tool then shows cities and towns that are within that distance of the starting point, and you can pick the one that best suits your purposes. 

For example, to test how this would work, I picked Denver, CO, as my starting point and set the radius to twenty miles. There are quite a few towns within twenty miles of Denver, but the best match for that distance was a town named Marshall, which is 19.78 miles from Denver. So on Google Maps, I set Denver as my starting point and Marshall as my ending point and came up with an estimated driving time of thirty-two minutes.

Of course, Google Maps uses today's roads, infrastructure, and transportation technology to calculate travel times. If you need an estimate for a historical mode of transportation, such as a carriage, this website can give you a place to start: https://writersinthegrove.com/tag/writing-travel-times/

If your intended travelers are going by pogo stick, though, I'm afraid you're out of luck. 😉

Write on,


P.S. What are you writing these days? Tell me in the comments so I can include relevant tips in these posts.

(Thanks to Antoine Da cunha for sharing their work on Unsplash.)