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5 hidden Google Maps tricks you need to know

Make sure you know these tips before you get on the road.

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Angela Lang/CNET

Planning a trip or mapping out your daily commute is stressful enough, but it becomes even more frustrating when you can't find a parking spot or you lose signal and a turn is coming up soon. Fortunately, the Google Maps app for Android and iPhone ($699 at Amazon) can remove a bit of the strain of driving with some of its hidden features.

You probably know that with the Google Maps app, you can save addresses -- such as work and home -- so with a tap you can get directions to the places you travel to frequently. You can also get information about a place -- including what to eat, where to stay and what to do there -- to help you make the most of a trip. 

But Google Maps can help with other tasks you may not know about, such as letting you download a map to use offline, include stops along with your driving time to get a more accurate destination time and even help you find somewhere to park. Read on to learn how to use these features so your trip will be smooth. 

Now playing: Watch this: Incognito mode comes to Google Maps
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incognito
Screenshot by Katie Conner/CNET

Go off the grid with Incognito Mode

A new feature for Android users lets you go Incognito while using Google Maps. This means you'll be able to hide your location from other Maps users, as well as locations you've searched for. So if you're trying to surprise your significant other with a fancy necklace, this is what you'll need to do. Open the Google Maps app, tap your profile icon in the top right corner and select Turn on Incognito Mode. When you're ready to turn the setting off, follow the same steps and select Turn off Incognito Mode.

Use Maps offline

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Screenshot by Katie Conner/CNET

It never fails -- when you need directions the most, your phone loses signal at the most inopportune time. Fortunately, Google Maps lets you download your route ahead of time so that you never have to worry about getting lost. 

1. In the Google Maps app, enter your destination.

2. At the bottom of the screen tap the name of the place or the address.

3. Tap the three-dot menu in the upper-right corner.

4. Tap Download offline map.

5. Tap Download. The map for the area you've selected will now be available to you offline.

Plan the route of your entire trip, including stops

If Google says your trip will take seven hours but it ends up being eight, it may be because you didn't include your multiple stops along the way. Google Maps lets you add stops so you can get a more accurate destination time.

1. In the Google Maps app, enter your first destination, like a gas station or coffee shop.

2. Tap Directions.

3. Tap the three-dot menu in the top-right corner.

4. Tap Add stop. Add as many stops as you anticipate taking.

5. Press Done when you're finished adding stops. Now you'll get a more accurate ETA when planning trips.

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Screenshot by Katie Conner/CNET

Easily find an area to park your car in

Knowing where you can and can't park your car is essential, especially if you're running late to work, going to a huge event like a concert or driving to an unfamiliar neighborhood. Instead of driving around and hoping you'll eventually find a parking spot, use Google Maps to point you in the right direction.

1. In the Google Maps app, enter your location.

2. Tap Directions.

3. You'll see a P icon next to the estimated time it'll take to get to that location. Tap the P (for parking). If P is red, it means parking will be limited. Blue means finding parking will be easy or medium challenging

4. Find parking.

5. A list of parking areas will appear. Select one of the options and tap Add parking. The parking spot will be added as the first stop on your route and you can continue on to your next destination.

See what a place looks like before you go

Pictures can be deceiving, so before you book a hotel that looks nice, check it out on Google Maps first. 

1. In the Google Maps app, search for a location, like a hotel you're considering staying at.

2. In the bottom left corner, you'll notice a small box with a photo of the building. This is the street view of the area, so tap it to see what it looks like.

3. You can zoom in and out and check out the area by swiping your finger across the screen. 

Want more Google Maps tips? Check out Avoid speed traps: Google Maps on iPhone finally gets Waze's most controversial feature and Google Maps navigates you a gazillion times better now.

Originally published last week.