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My favorite travel logging app is also Google’s most controversial feature

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And more authentic than Instagram

Google Timeline
James Bareham

It’s summer in the northern hemisphere, which means it’s a popular time for people to get outside more, go on vacations, and — if you’re obsessed with the internet — chronicle just about everything you’re doing. Facebook and Instagram have evolved from social networks to time capsules of our lives, but they’re slowly losing popularity as young people move away from Facebook and keep fewer photos on Instagram. But that’s ok because I found a better solution.

Last month I went on a long weekend trip with my girlfriends. It was our first travel together eons, so it was something I wanted to log. But I also didn’t want to spend time actively writing things down in order to maximize my time engaged with the group. For years, I’ve resorted to jotting places I went each day into my Google Calendar, as that’ll usually trigger memories of time spent there. Alas, our days were so packed I wouldn’t have had time to do any logging anyway.

When I got back I still wanted to fill out my calendar, so I went through my Google Maps location history to get a refresher on where we went. As it turned out, my recorded location history was exactly the kind of background travel logging I was looking for.

When traveling in a new city, it’s likely you’ll be using Google Maps to get around, so it was neat to see each day laid out in a timeline, from how long we waited for a table for brunch to how much time I spent on the road driving us to a hike. It also brought in geotagged photos I took, appropriately illustrating how each day unfolded.

I’d like to think that I have a pretty good photographic memory, so when I see that Google noted that we left the Spice & Tea Exchange store at 5:59PM, I’m able to recall how we ran back to the car frantically thinking we needed to refill the meter, only to learn that in Asheville, metered parking is free after 6PM. It’s instances like these that jog the silly memories, reminding me of the time spent with my friends captured in tiny moments.

And while it’s definitely fair to feel creeped out by the amount of data Google has about where you go, how long you’ve been there, and what photos you take, I’ve come to accept that this is what I’ve agreed to in exchange for a “free” service. Information about places I’ve visited is not that personal to me, but I can understand why others would not want Google to be passively tracking their whereabouts in the background.

Maybe Google Timeline isn’t for you, but for me, having a device that goes everywhere I do is an easy way to create an automatic album of my travels. You can also opt in for Timeline only when you’re traveling.

Whatever your thoughts are, at least this much is true: whatever is recorded in your Timeline is what’s authentic and it’s what truly happened. And that’s a lot more than I can say about travel logging on Instagram.