How to finally be the organized traveler you wish you were, according to experts
Planning a trip — particularly if it involves multiple destinations or lots of moving parts — can be a full-time job. And in fact, once you book everything, you have the oft-overwhelming task of keeping track of things like packing lists; flight, hotel and tour confirmations; boarding passes; and activity ideas and schedules. Even for the most seasoned traveler, it can be a lot — which is why most jet-setters rely on tried-and-true organization methods when they’re on the go. Ahead, six such methods anyone can easily adapt.
Literally map out your ideas and tentative itinerary
Unless you plan to completely fly by the seat of your pants once you get to your destination, you’re probably doing some pre-trip research on places to go and things to do. And when you gather ideas from several sources (whether it’s social media, friends’ recommendations or travel sites), it can be tough to not only keep track of the many possibilities but also figure out which of them will actually be feasible based on things like your schedule and accommodations. That’s why Hannah Lorenz, a marketing associate for travel agencies Africa Endeavours and Down Under Endeavours literally maps it out.
“When looking up things to do in each place, I make sure to save all of them in Google Maps,” she said. “I usually save the hotel I’m staying in as a heart, save restaurants as stars, and save sightseeing [and] attractions as green flags. Then I download the city map on my phone so I can use it offline. Once I’m traveling and wandering around the city, I can easily see if any of my saved places are nearby, or plan out a day based on which items are near each other.”
If you want to save more details in an organized way, Nate Hake, founder of Travel Lemming, recommends Pinterest. “You can search for your destination, and quickly and easily select a handful of articles from travel blogs to pin to a board you create specific to that destination,” he said. “Then whenever you want to come back and find something ([think]: ‘What was the name of that restaurant I read about, again?’), you’ll have everything neatly organized in one place.”
Spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets are useful for more than crunching numbers and data analysis; and in this case, they can be invaluable in organizing all of your travel info in one place. Samantha Firth, a travel blogger and content creator at Travelling King breaks out the spreadsheet before she even books anything — setting up separate tabs for flights, accommodations and tours — to help her home in on the best options. “By using a...spreadsheet, I’m able to have a better overview look at the different prices for my flights, hotels and tours, which gives me the chance to pick the cheapest option or the best-suited option, timing wise,” she said. “I will also have another tab which will be dedicated to my day-to-day itinerary, which will include time and dates of my arrival and departure to ensure I’m able to fit in as much as possible.” You can also create a tab or a column for activity and itinerary ideas or inspiration.
And if you’re not quite into the spreadsheet thing, you can still keep everything neatly in one place with a simple text document. “Before each trip, I create a Google doc that gets shared with everyone I’m traveling with,” said content creator and blogger, Lindsay Silberman. “In the doc, I’ll start building out a rough itinerary that includes confirmation numbers, addresses and hotel reservation info. At the bottom of the doc, I like to include a ‘Recommendations’ section, where I cut and paste suggestions from friends, blogs [and] magazines for restaurants, bars and local spots. As I’m traveling, I’ll refer back to the recommendations section any time I’m looking for a place to check out that wasn’t already built into the itinerary.”
Susan Portnoy, a travel photographer, writer and creator of The Insatiable Traveler, does it all on her phone, using the Notes app. She creates a folder for her trip, and then pages for flights, contacts, travel insurance, packing lists and each specific destination (if she’s going to multiple places). “On each page, I add details as I confirm hotels, transport, restaurants, etc, until I’ve created individual itineraries for each destination on separate pages. To save time, I use screen grabs [for things like flight confirmations and hotel addresses] to avoid typing everything and add them to the pages. I usually type in the phone number below the screen grab so I can call directly from the page.”
Bonus: With any cloud- or web-based document, you can also also share it with anyone traveling with you and easily keep track of various flight times, reservations, payments and more.
Use apps that organize everything for you
There’s nothing wrong with going old school, but if you don’t see yourself as the kind of person who will diligently enter every bit of trip information into a document or map, you can use an app that will do a lot of that for you. Lots of travelers swear by TripIt, and Aimee Engebretson, the blogger behind One Chance Travel, is one of them. With the app, “all you have to do is create a trip, forward them your email confirmations, and they will automatically load all the details into your itinerary,” she said. “You can also overlay these on your Google Calendar to stay extra organized. There’s a paid version of TripIt too, but I’ve been using the free version for years. It’s been a huge help in staying organized while removing a lot of the manual work that comes along with creating travel itineraries.”
Stacy Royal, principal and co-owner of The Decker/Royal Agency, uses App in the Air to manage everything relating to her extensive work travel. “It pulls in new flight details as soon as I book from the email confirmation, and it also keeps track of all my mileage programs,” she said. “Since I fly across airlines, it’s particularly helpful to see everything in one place.”
Store important information on and offline
As handy as apps and cloud-based documents are, it’s very possible you may not be able to access them when you need to, whether due to spotty service or a lack of WiFi. Make sure you have your crucial information available to you offline as well. Adriana Smith, the founder of Travepreneur, suggests using Apple Wallet (if you’re an iPhone user) for your boarding passes, because “you won’t need WiFi to get access to your online boarding pass; it’s already on your phone,” she said.
Kyle Valenta, the executive editor at Oyster.com recommends downloading offline language translation apps as well as offline maps (like those from Google Maps or Maps.Me) so you’re prepared in case you lose service or don’t have data abroad. “Be sure to save multiple maps if your journey calls for destinations in several places,” he said. “Having these stored in one place, and the translation app ready to go, will make navigating significantly easier once you’re back on the ground, and prevent any wires from being crossed — you’re less likely to get lost, get misled and get ripped off.”
And for the particularly important documents, make sure you can access them without any technology if need-be. “While it may seem old school, it’s...helpful to print out any confirmations of hotels, car rentals, tour bookings or flights; in case any electronics with that information is lost, stolen, malfunctions or loses power,” Valenta said. “Keep those in a folder in the laptop sleeve of a backpack in chronological order, along with photocopies of your passport.”
Standardize your packing process
While every trip may be unique, there will always be at least some overlap in terms of what you need to pack, from broad categories (like shirts, toiletries and undergarments) to specific items that you always bring. So instead of starting your packing list from scratch every time, time management and productivity coach Alexis Haselberger suggests creating an “ultimate packing list template.”
“Include every type of item that you could want for any type of travel, [and] include sections for beach vacations, ski vacations, etc.,” she said. “I use a spreadsheet and have columns for each family member, where I input the number of each item I want to bring on each trip, then an open space to check off the items as I pack them. ...If you ever realize on a trip that you should have packed something, then just add that item to the template when you get back so that you’ll never forget it again.”
Keep a permanent set of essentials in your carry-on
And on that note, if you travel frequently; it may be worth having a dedicated set of certain items that live in your luggage. “I always recommend creating what I call a ‘DIY airplane amenity kit’ that’s left in your carry-on bag at all times — even between trips — so that you never forget it,” Silberman said. “Mine consists of everything I could ever need on a flight: an eye mask, ear plugs, breath mints, compression socks, lip balm, hand cream, face wipes, granola bars and a sheet mask. I also recommend buying travel-sized duplicates of your favorite makeup products and keeping them in a travel makeup bag that can easily be tossed into your suitcase. I’ve found that having a duplicate set of my makeup saves me precious packing time, and guarantees that I’ll never accidentally forget something at home.”