Using Google Earth to Create a Virtual Field Trip
(Advanced Tour with Customized Balloons)



A Virtual Field Trip using Google Earth can also include customized “balloons”. Balloons are the text/picture boxes that can be opened at your tour stops in Google Earth. Customized balloons are handy when you want to focus on specific content that is not already a part of Google Earth. The customized balloons use HTML code, but you can use a pre-made template and add your customizations without knowing HTML coding.

Setting up your trip stop locations

1. Make a plan or outline of the places your students will visit during the tour. It is also helpful to plan the text and/or photos for your customized balloons.

2. Open Google Earth.

3. In the “Fly To” search box, type in the locations that the students will visit. Click the magnifying glass to begin search. When the location is set, add a place mark by clicking the yellow pushpin button. Type in the name of that location and click the “OK” button. (Note – On the “New Place mark” window, you can click the yellow pushpin and choose a different marker for your location, or you can even turn the marker off). Repeat this process for each location on your trip and save the final .KMZ file.


Downloading KMZ customized balloon template(s)

4. Go to the following website. http://earth.google.com/outreach/tutorial_balloon.html Choose one or more template designs on this site and click the “Download this template” link. Click “Save”, and save the .KMZ template to your computer. For this tutorial, I have chosen the “Wide Photo” template (for landscape photos) and the “Tall Photo” template (for portrait photos). The download files contain both a template and a sample.

5. In Google Earth, open the template .KMZ from step 4, and open your own .KMZ file from steps 1-3 above. In your Google Earth “Places” section, you should see two sets of places, yours and the ones from the downloaded KMZ file.


6. Before customizing the template, make a copy to work on, and maintain the original to use again:
  1. Under Temporary Places in the Places panel, right-click the template place mark.
  2. Select Copy from the context menu.
  3. Right-click My Places in the Places panel.
  4. Select Paste from the context menu.
    A copy of template appears under My Places.

Editing customized balloon(s)

7. Add your own text and images to the place mark: Right-click the new template place mark, and select “Properties “. A highlight flashes on the place mark's icon on the map, and the Edit Place mark dialog appears.

a. Right-click the new template place mark, and select “Properties “. A highlight flashes on the place mark's icon on the map, and the Edit Place mark dialog appears.

b. In the name field, enter a new name for this place mark. The Description tab contains the HTML code for the place mark. In the comment section at the top, each placeholder appears (all caps in curly braces, such as {LOGO_URL}) followed by its description. Don't worry, this comment section won't appear in the actual balloon.

c. In the HTML section below the comments, find and replace each of the placeholders with your own text or links to images. Be sure to replace the entire placeholder, including the curly brackets. (See below for descriptions of each placeholder field and how that placeholder field can be used on a virtual field trip).


Example – The text for the title of the balloon can be edited by changing the following line.
ORIGINAL LINE - size="+2"><strong>{ORGANIZATION}</strong></font>
EDITED LINE - size="+2"><strong>Ruffner Mountain</strong></font>
Be sure to delete the curly brackets.

d. Move the place mark to the desired location by dragging the highlighted icon on the map, or by editing the Latitude and Longitude fields.

e. Click OK.




Placeholder Descriptions & Suggested Uses

Google Earth Advanced Pict