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7 Google Maps features to help get you through the holidays this year

For example, did you know you could use Google Maps to navigate through an airport?

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We'll show you how Google Maps can help you navigate through the holiday season.

Angela Lang/CNET
This story is part of Gift Guide, our year-round collection of the best gift ideas.

The holiday season is usually filled with travels. Maybe not so much this year, with the pandemic still going on and all, but still, even if you're not flying to any destinations, maybe you're driving to your relative's place or dining out at a restaurant. Wherever it is you're going, Google Maps can help -- and in more ways than just giving you simple directions.

For example, if you're returning a Christmas gift and need to go to the mall, Google Maps can help you figure out how to steer clear of crowds. If you're taking a holiday vacation trip and don't know the airport well, Google Maps can easily help you find some food or coffee there. And if you're running late to a New Year's Eve get-together, you can use Google Maps to let your family know your whereabouts.

Keep reading and we'll tell you all the ways Google Maps can help make your holidays go smoothly.

Navigate through airports, malls and transit stations

If you need to quickly find a store in a large mall, Google Maps announced in November that it's expanding its Directory tab for all airports, malls and transit stations. This can help reduce running around the airport trying to find a place to eat or grabbing a last-minute souvenir before catching your flight. The tab will tell you a destination's business hours and what floor it's on. You can look through restaurants, stores, lounges and parking lots.

Browse Google Maps to see how busy a place is

Google added a new feature to its Google Maps' busyness tool. Before, you needed to search for a location, like a business, to see a chart that showed how crowded it is in real time. But now, a new feature called Area Busyness lets you see when entire map areas are clogged with people. 

To use the new feature, you open the Google Maps app on your Android or iPhone (or your computer's browser) and move around the map to find a general area, say downtown, a riverwalk or a quaint nearby town. The busyness information will now automatically appear on the map, so you don't need to specifically search for a place to see how crowded it is. Google Maps may say something like "Busy Area" and when you click for more details, it could say, for example, "As busy as it gets."

Track your trip itinerary in Google Maps 

Google Maps can chart your travels, but it can also quickly show you your holiday flight, hotel, car rental and restaurant reservations, saving you the hassle of searching through your email for check-in times and confirmation numbers.

To see your upcoming reservations:

1. In Google Maps, tap Saved in the bottom menu row.

2. Tap Reservations. Here, you'll see a list of upcoming reservations you've made that Maps has pulled from emails in Gmail.

3. Select an item to see more about the reservation, including date and location.

4. You can also search for "my reservations" in the Google Maps search box to see a list of what you've booked.

Make a restaurant reservation right in Google Maps

Planning and preparing a holiday dinner can be a multiday chore. If you'd rather spend time with family and friends instead of sharp knives and hot stoves, Google Maps can help you book a lunch or dinner reservation. 

1. In Maps, tap the Restaurants button at the top of the map to see a list of places to eat.

2. Select a restaurant that looks good, and in the window that pops up, reserve a table or join a waitlist, if it gives you that option (not all do).

Remember you can use the "busyness" feature mentioned above to pick the least packed place. Also, note that some restaurants that are closed to dine-in may still allow delivery, curbside pickup or outdoor seating.

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Let friends and family know when you'll arrive by sharing your location.

Angela Lang/CNET

Use Google Maps offline

Heading someplace remote where you may not have a mobile network connection? Google Maps can still give you directions when you're offline.

1. Before you head out, search in Maps for the location where you'll want directions.

2. In the location's window, pull up the menu at the bottom. 

3. Scroll right through the tabs and tap Download, and then in the next window tap Download again. Maps will download a map to your phone for the area you selected.

Now, as you use Google Maps for directions in the area you downloaded a map for, when you lose your cellular connection Maps will switch to the offline map to guide you. Because you're offline, Maps won't be able to offer real-time traffic info, of course.

Find EV charging spots and gas stations wherever you are

If you're taking your electric vehicle out for shopping, dinner or a holiday drive, Google Maps can help you find EV charging stations on your route, along with estimated wait times for a charging port. You can also filter your search by connector type -- such as J1772, CCS (Combo 1 or 2) and Tesla -- to see just the stations that are compatible with your EV. Note you can also search for gas stations by following these same directions.

1. In Maps, scroll through the tabs on the top of the screen and tap More.

2. Scroll down to the Services section and select Electric vehicle charging

3. Maps will display nearby charging stations and how many are available.

4. Tap a charging station on the map to have Maps add it as a stop on your trip.

You can also use this trick to search for other places along your route, like a coffee shop.

Share your location through Google Maps

Is anything more crazy-making during a group activity than when the group gets split up and no one can find each other? Google Maps can help bring you all back together.

1. In Google Maps, tap your profile icon in the top right corner and tap Location sharing.

2. Tap Share location and select who you want to share your location with and for how long you want to share it.

3. Tap Share, and Google Maps will send your location to everyone you've selected.

4. If you want to see someone else's location, tap that person's icon at the top of the window and then tap Request.

If, after all this, you'd rather stay inside during the holidays, here's how to use your Prime benefits to your advantage while shopping. And if you don't intend to leave your couch at all, here are the best new TV shows to watch.