How to Use Google Photos as the Perfect Vacation Companion

Sherwin Coelho 03-08-2016

Holidays are a time to remember, where you capture memories that you want to cherish forever. Using Google Photos with your fellow travelers will ensure that your favorite moments are saved for a long time to come.


My friends and I recently went to the south coast of Portugal for a week-long holiday. When we returned to England we realized that we had over a thousand photos and videos taken from a combination of mobile phones, DSLR cameras, and Go Pro cameras.

We wanted a place where we could each save our files in a way that everyone can instantly access them the moment they’re uploaded. Considering they were media files, we were left with only one clear winner – here’s why:

Shared Albums

We recently wrote an elaborate post How to Make Google Photos Work for You with These Tips Google Photos could be the much-awaited solution to manage all your photos. But is it the best among all online photo sharing sites? Read More on how to make the service work for you. With unlimited photo storage space Get Free Unlimited Photo Storage & More with Google Photos If you aren't using these hidden Google Photos features, you're really missing out. (Hint: There's free and unlimited photo storage!) Read More , it’s more than capable of handling all your media files, as well as files that others share with you.

Regardless of which device you’re using, uploading photos to Google Photos is a breeze. On a PC, simply log in to your Google Photos account, then drag and drop the photos from your camera or memory card into your browser, or PC program. On a mobile phone, ensure you’ve installed the free Google Photos Android or iOS app, select all the photos and videos you want, then share it to the app.

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As soon as your files are uploaded, you’ll see the option to add it to a new album or create a shared album. The second option lets other people access your files and add their photos and videos to your account. You’ll see a notification when each person uploads their batch of files to your album.

The process is so intuitive that after creating and sending my friends the link to a shared album via WhatsApp, I didn’t have to explain to any of them how to upload their photos. Within a few hours, each of them started uploading photos and videos from all their devices. While the constant notifications were annoying, it was also exciting to see their photos – many of which were better than mine.


Unlike other services, Google Photos’ program, website, and app all work in a similar way. They each contain three main sections – Photos, Albums, and Assistant. We’ll explain what each one does, starting with Photos.

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This section contains all the photos and videos in your account, neatly arranged by date. A useful recent addition is that your scroll bar is now changed to a slider that lets you jump to any year or month to quickly see the photos taken at that time.

To create an album, all I needed to do was select all the dates of our holiday, click the “+” icon at the top, then select Album. The icon also lets you convert your selected photos into an animation (GIF) or a collage.


Upon clicking the Albums section, you’ll see your photos organized into neat categories – People, Places, Things, Videos, Collages, Animations, Movies, etc. Clicking Places, for example, lets you see all the photos you’ve taken at different locations (using your camera’s geotagging feature Geotagging Photos: What It Is & Why You Should Start Right Now Geotagging is simple and there are many reasons why you may want to start doing it. Here's everything you need to know, including how to add and remove your own geotags. Read More ).

A lesser-known feature is that all the categories in this section also function as individual search terms. Therefore, I can search for “Portugal” to see all the photos we took on our trip, or I can search for “Lisbon” to only see the photos we took at that place. Likewise, I can search for “June 13”, “Selfies” or “Portugal beach” to further narrow down my search criteria.


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If you have many photos of your friends, then you’ll see small circular faces when you click Google Photos’ search bar. Upon clicking a friend, Google will ask you to name them. Going forward, you can search for your friends by name. I find this both brilliant and spooky.


The Albums section also contains the albums you’ve created, as well as ones shared with you. Clicking a shared album reveals all the people that have access to it at the top. The best feature is that each photo/video in a shared album contains the name of the person who has uploaded it.

What I’d really like to see though is a feature where you can select a name at the top to filter media files uploaded by that person. For example, one of my friends carried a GoPro, which we used to take underwater photos and videos, but there was no way I could only see his photos without navigating to them within the shared album.


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The icons at the top left of this album let you add its items to your Google Photos library, reorder photos within your album, and share its link with others. The overflow menu (three dots) let you play all the album’s items as a slideshow, and download all its photos to your PC.


We’re gradually moving towards a world where artificial intelligence is being used to better our lives (read about the different ways you can use it right now 5 Online AIs You Can Put to Work Right Now Artificial Intelligence are machines capable of learning, and some AIs are pretty good at learning simple tasks right now. Let's look at a few clever programs that can do everyday things for you. Read More ). One instance where you can see its usefulness is via Google Photos’ Assistant feature.

This feature automatically analyzes photos taken at the same location/date. It’ll then either stitch multiple photos taken from the same location into a GIF, or stitch adjacent photos taken from the same point into a panorama photo. You can also read about other free tools that let you create stunning panoramas 6 Free Tools to Create Stunning Panorama Photos Want to create an amazing panorama photo from multiple photos? You can use one of these tools to create a panorama with ease. Read More .

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The Assistant feature I like best, however, is when Google Photos creates short movies (complete with background music) using your best photos and videos (i.e. ones that aren’t blurred or taken from a wrong angle).

A day after uploading my photos, Google Photos automatically created three videos taken at different locations. While none of them were “perfect”, they each invoked a sense of nostalgia. I shamelessly took credit for creating them because my friends were so impressed with the video montages!

Create Your Own Movies

Even though it’s easier to create movies on your PC, Google (rightly) believes that your best photos reside on your mobile phone, so this feature is only available via its mobile apps. Select the photos and videos you want, click the “+” icon at the top, then select Movie. The app automatically creates a movie for you, but it’s easy to customize.

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The icon at the bottom left lets you add 13 different color tones (think Instagram filters). The middle icon lets you add music from your device or choose one of the app’s free tracks. These are divided into five sections, which each contain about 10 tracks, so you’re sure to find something you like. The last icon (bottom right) lets you add more media files or delete/rearrange the current ones in your montage.

If you’d rather create a movie on your PC, then check out these free video editing programs The Best Free Video Editors for Windows Free video editors have become viable alternatives to paid software. Here are the best free video editors available for Windows. Read More , or use these tips to create your own movies using Windows Movie Maker How to Easily Create a Stunning Video Using Windows Movie Maker Creating a movie using your photos, videos, and music is child's play once you master Windows Movie Maker's simple editing tools. Read More .

Relive Your Memories

The weekend after we returned, we were all suffering from major Portugal hangover and met up at my house. Even though we’d all seen the photos individually, we wanted to relive the moments together. Thankfully, I have a Chromecast, so I used Google Photos’ slideshow option to stream our holiday photos to my TV – something we enjoyed reminiscing for the next two hours.

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Similar to Facebook’s “On this Day”, Google has a “Recover this day” feature where it brings up a photo or collage of things you’ve done on that day in the past. Delve into Settings > Assistant Cards > Recover this day to ensure it’s turned on.

Since, I’ve uploaded my entire photo library to Google Photos, I often get nostalgic about certain places I’ve visited, while also marveling at how fast time flies.

Other Free Alternatives


Facebook is the obvious best, free alternative to Google Photos. However, with more emphasis on social, it’s a place where I only tend to upload a selection of my best photos, and not use it as the primary location for all my media files. That said, its new photo sharing app Moments: Facebook's Beautiful New Way To Share Photos With Friends Give, get and collect photos with Facebook's new app — Moments. Facebook's new separate app makes it easier to share and view those captured moments among friends and family. Read More could give Google Photos a run for its money in years to come.


Prior to Google Photos, Flickr was my photo storage destination of choice. It lets you create albums, add photos to a map, tag photos, and navigate your photos chronologically – just like Google Photos. However, Google’s AI tools, advanced search functions, and ability to create shared albums have led me to abandon Yahoo’s sinking ship.

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Zoner Photo Studio

A few years back, when all I had was my Samsung Galaxy S3 phone camera, I was heavily reliant on photo editing programs and Zoner Photo Studio was one of the best free options. Apart from managing all your photos and making basic edits Manage, Edit & Share Your Photos Using Zoner Photo Studio Free [Windows] Read More , you can give your photos star ratings, create panoramas, and share your edited photos on social media.

What Do You Use to Catalog Your Holidays?

Before you book your next holiday, remember to read our Google travel tips 9 Google Flights Tips That Can Change How You Travel Google Flights helps you make the right choice for the best travel experience. Just like any of Google's search tools, there are tips to use Google Flights well and pitfalls to avoid. Read More and different ways to research your holiday destination 7 Ways to Check Your Holiday Destination Before You Book Traveling the world these days is an amazing experience. Not only is it simple to book flights and accommodation online, but you can research the destination in great detail before you even decide to book... Read More .

We can’t recommend Google Photos highly enough as the best tool to catalog your holidays. It’s free, intuitive, and will remind you of special memories for years to come.

Are there any other tools or services that have served you better on your recent trips? Or any particular Google Photos features you didn’t know of until you read this feature? Post your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Related topics: Photography, Travel.

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  1. Liz
    August 3, 2016 at 10:24 pm

    Google photos is a nightmare. There is no option in the menus for those of us who do not want to share. There are no basic organization options. All of our vacation photos were scrambled and photos were added (not ours) and put into groups that made no sense. I was so angry and frustrated that I moved all the photos I could find (some are still missing) to a terabyte to use on another computer, not online. Whoever designed this software does not live in the real world and apparently is too young perhaps to understand fundamental organizing skills.

    • Jan en die Boontjie Rank
      August 16, 2016 at 8:53 am

      Eh, you surely did something wrong.
      How can photos that do not belong to you possible end up in your library?

      I've been using Google Photos for around 3 years now, and it's is nothing short of amazing.
      You must be doing something wrong, the software is amazing.