Create a Heat Map from your Google Location History in 3 easy Steps

It should come as no surprise, that companies like Google are virtually tracking our every move — if we let them. Often, though, accessing our own data that is being collected, and making use of it in interesting ways seems harder than it should be. In this article, I’ll show you a quick hack that helps you to map out where you’ve been in the world, ever. Well, since you started using an Android phone anyway.

I’ve always been very interested in the way our memory works. There are many cues that help us retrieve memories from the depths of our mind — scents, photos, sounds and other sensations. Different cues work for different people (My girlfriend gets annoyed with me for not remembering any tastes of certain amazing dinners.). I find that location works really well for me, which makes the ability to plot my every move on a map especially appealing. Once I know where I’ve been, I’m able to recall what I did there really most of the time. There are many ways of doing this — the Scratch Map is a popular one. If you want to get more fidelity, you’ll probably end up in the digital world. Here is how:

  1. First, get your mind blown by your Google Timeline. Be sure to check it out on a laptop as the mobile version doesn’t give you all the functionality. This neat map shows you all the places that you’ve been to. That is, actual places such as bars, restaurants, companies, etc. That’s a good start, but I want to be able to see every location I’ve been to, for how long or how often I was there, and how I travelled in between them. So let’s use our data to create a heat map that does just that.
My Google Timeline — Yeah, I remember that drive down through Italy

2) Go to Google Takeout, to download your location data. De-select everything and then check ‘Location History — JSON format’. In the next step, download your data as a zip archive, then unzip it. You should now have a JSON file on your computer that contains every instance of when your phone stored your location (which, if you have location services enabled, happens more often than you might think). Be aware that all of this might take a little while depending on how much data there is about you. For my past three years, that was about 200mb.

Download your Location History from Google Takeout

3) Go to the free-to-use heat map feature from Location History Visualizer. They also have a payable product with enhanced functionality you can check out (Note: I have no affiliation with this company in any way. I found them through a Google search and thought their product was cool.). There are many similar services, but most of them have a very low file size limit.
Upload your JSON file — et voilà, ready is a heat map of your entire location history. You can navigate it like Google Maps and take screenshots all you want.

The heat map adjusts itself to the zoom factor. So many trips to Paris…

As you can see, it’s a rather simple thing to do. You can use it to recall the route of that hike you did, your road trip through Europe, or your sightseeing tour in Paris; or just show off to your friends with an accurate account of all the places you’ve been to. Have fun!

What other ways of recalling memories and places do you use? What works for you and what hacks have you discovered? Please share in the comments.


I hope you found this article useful. If you did, please and share it — it helps others find it. Thank you for reading!

@Thomas_Essl is a Freelance Senior User Experience Designer. Currently he is Creative Lead at experience design agency Foolproof. www.thomasessl.com