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Do you guys often used tool or planner for vacation planner?

hi there,

I got quite a lot of friends who used to plan really well before they go on vacation, especially a road trip. and some of them use travel planner to make their trip so organize!

for me, usually i just bought a travel guide of the destination and finish it during the flight. and honestly, i think this is not enough. I want to be more organized, want to plan ahead for most the attractions, tour etc...

so i am looking for tools for helping me planning... any recommendation?


Posted by
3941 posts

I'll start with - I'm a mad planner - for me, about 25% of the fun of the trip is the planning!

I read guidebooks and will 'star/pin' places I want to see on my CityMaps2Go app - restaurants, sights, shopping - that way with a glance I can see what is close to each other so if I'm in a certain part of the city I can make sure I don't miss anything. I'll make notes (on the app) if it's a particular restaurant about what might interest me (I look up restaurant menus online before leaving to check items and prices, and if it looks good, I'll try and go). I'll also pin where we are staying, and anything like nearby public transport stops so I can see it all at a glance.

For planning, I don't get too fancy. First I use a pen and paper to do a rough sketch, then I just use my Notes app on my iPad - I'll firm up where I want to be and when, then have another note with a to do list of what needs to be done (say - booking a hotel, or a train) and will use that lovely green checkmark emoji to check off when they are done (oh, how I love checkmarks :)

And playing around with the Notes app even more, I discovered I could do a spreadsheet type thing, so for the trip we were supposed have done a month ago (cry cry) I did a sheet with what we wanted to see in each city and what their hours were - that way at a glance I could say - ok, these places all close at 6pm, but this place is open later, so let's save that for the evening. This way I don't have to be hunting for open/close times. And I also have a column for admission fees.

Others I use - I like Rome2Rio just to get an idea of how long it takes to get from here to there and what some of the options are.

And Trail Wallet is great if you want to keep track of expenses. I've tried a few other budget apps (incl Fudget) and love TW - worth it to pay the small amount to have unlimited entries. But I'm also a travel budget nerd, so maybe not for everyone.

Posted by
11453 posts

Like Nicole, I find the planning to be enormously enjoyable.

Nothing beats doing research and doing it as far in advance as possible. No app or “tool” can replace reading a guide or two, looking up info on a regional or city tourism site, making a list of what appeals to you in the destination(s) you will visit along with days and hours of operation so you don’t plan your visit for a day of closure. I use an Excel spreadsheet as we typically visit multiple locations over a trip of 5 to 8 weeks but even for a single week in a city like Paris, London, or Rome I will do a detailed plan well in advance so I know what needs to be reserved in advance and have some options laid out in case of poor weather.

Rick has a lot of planning advice here in the website.

Posted by
23434 posts

We are probably closer to just the opposite. I would hate to be locked into a rigid schedule. We tend to plan fairly tight the first day or two and the last couple of days. In between we have some rough ideas for each day or location, but nothing fixed unless it is critical for advance tickets -- then, of course, we will do that. Every 4th or 5th day will be complete open. It will be a catch up day, perhaps laundry, or an afternoon nap. The blank day allows us to easily shift things around or to take advantage of unexpected discoveries or local events. We try to make our trips as relaxing as possible with min stress. For us, this works very well. But if you have a strong need for hour to hour organization, go for it. Our approach would probably cause a lot of stress for some travelers.

We are still using paper since we started traveling before Ipads and Iphones. We have a small, loose leaf notebook, with a paper or two devoted to each day with critical information. Slowly converting to the Ipad.

Posted by
14165 posts

I, too, am a planner and I enjoy it enormously. I keep running folders of bookmarks of interesting things related to places I am interested in.

I even have a daily plan of activities and sights when I return to a location - such as Paris. To me this is essential if I am going to get a Museum Pass and make the best use of it because you've got to plan around museum closure days.

For a template, I use a googledocs table. Years ago someone suggested that website/app on this forum so I made a template with 4 columns, Date/Activity/Transportation/Accommodation and fill in my information as I book and plan. I can access my information from my phone or iPadMini and of course I'm old so I print it out as well, lol!

I tried the TripIt app and prefer to put my own information in as the TripIt picked up too much from my emails. This might work for you but I wanted information in a more compact manner.

Posted by
567 posts

I like to plan trips! I don't over plan each day and I allow for down time as well so I can remain flexible and rested. I use an Excel spreadsheet to list places to visit, cities, prices, operating hours, days closed, etc. Then I can add in a column for dates. Excel lets me sort and also make sure I don't plan to visit a museum on a day it's closed.
I then make a simple calendar in Word. It's very general and I usually only plan 2 -3 places to visit per day. I also use Google maps to save places I want to visit, restaurants I might like, etc. Then, if I'm in the vicinity, I can check it to see other places that are close by. I'll print a copy of the calendar to take with me.

Posted by
1329 posts

I fall in the middle. There are very few must dos. But I’ll make tentative plans for each day and highlight places/events that aren’t flexible. If I’m in a city on a Monday and Tuesday and the museum is closed Monday, then I’ll highlight it on Tuesday. I don’t have to go, just that I’m aware that if I want to, Tuesday is my only option. Same with tours/performances.

I’d go crazy with some of the itineraries I see posted, they look more like a military drill than a vacation. Unless it’s a gourmet meal, I can’t plan down to the level of detail of picking a restaurant in advance.

Posted by
11355 posts

I love using TripIt and upgraded to their paid version. It keeps your past trips too so I can look up which hotel or car rental we used in a certain location on an earlier trip.

Posted by
2252 posts

Another Tripit fan. My favorite attribute of the app is that it is shareable with anyone else who is also going on the trip as well as to let people at home (usually my house sitter or kids) know where I am and what I'm doing. I can also get advice for rebooking possibilities if necessary and notifications of itinerary or gate changes as they happen. For me it's invaluable.

Posted by
4865 posts

I use OneNote (online version) to "plan" my trip and essentially create my own online guidebook. I use it to sketch my itinerary, make notes about places I might want to go and specific sites I want to see. I'll add snippets of images, URLs, references to guidebook pages, hours and admission details, etc. As I make specific plans, I track the details. During my trip, I use my phone to add notes for later reviews and trip reports.

I create a Notebook for each trip, a section for each city (I'm usually visiting 6-8 cities per trip) and a page for each activity. I create the pages on my laptop and synch to my phone or tablet, where it's available for offline use.

I use TripIt (free version) to track the details of my bookings and timed activities: flights, hotels, trains, excursions, reservations.

Posted by
3941 posts

While I do love to plan, we def aren't rigid about what we do each day. Like Dale - some things may need to be done in advance for a certain day/time - like - booking a walking tour or entrance into a site to avoid long waits in line. I like to book trains in advance if I can to save a few bucks - but only long trains between cities (say - 4hrs +).

If we plan on daytripping from a city then I just play it by ear, or if the journey is short between cities - eg - last year we went from Bolzano to Verona and I don't think there was any negligible savings to purchase ahead since trains were very frequent and already pretty cheap.

Otherwise, we know things we'd like to see and the night before we will decide what to do the next day (usually weather dependent). Sometimes it's even morning of! And I like to pepper in smaller places usually in the middle of our trip for a chance to relax for a few days before hitting another big city - last year it was Innsbruck/Bolzano/Verona in between Vienna and Venice. In 2017 it was Dordrecht and Gent in between Amsterdam and Paris.

Also - today our radio station asked what could you give a 20 min TED talk on - my response - travel planning (for nerds like me) who think planning is half the fun.

Posted by
27362 posts

Nicole P, I bet you couldn't do a 20-min. talk; you'd have enough material it would take you many hours.

Posted by
3941 posts

acraven - when I get talking about travel you can't shut me up :)

Posted by
19153 posts

"Someone said, failing to plan is planning to fail."

To start with, I am not one to spend $50-$100 per day that I am going to be in Germany on airfare, then arrive there and say, "Where do I want to go?" In fact, I already have a long list of things I want to see in Germany, and another list of things I've already seen but want to show someone else, so the first thing I do when I start to plan is to decide where on those lists I am going to go and what I am going to see. I don't just decide to go to somewhere and then ask myself what I want to see.

So my plan starts with the places to which I am going, the towns I am going to visit and what I am going to do there. So, yes, in that way I am regimented. If I want to see one thing in a town, and I go there for one day to see it, then that's on my agenda for that day. But plenty of times, I have planned 3, 4, maybe more days in a town, and I have a list of things to do there, and some days it is just "hanging out". Then I do whatever I feel like doing on that day.

I always have a schedule of where I am going to spend each night of my visit. That way I can make reservations early for a place where I want to stay. Early in my travels I tried going without reservation, just coming into a town and finding a place to stay. That didn't work out badly, but it wasn't optimal, either. In one town, I arrived a day early and did have a reservation for the following night , but I decided to try the TI option. As it turned out, the reserved place had the room vacant for the first night. The place they sent me to was OK; it was not as convenient as the place I had reserved to the following night, and it was a little more expensive, but it worked. I realized then that the TI doesn't give you the best place remaining in town, they give you the next place on a rotating list. It pays to reserve early.

There are plenty of people out there that know how to reserve early, and when they find the best place, they don't say, "that's a good place, but I won't take it. I'll leave it for someone how arrives later." No, they take it and you get what others didn't want.

So, to get to the point, the tool I use is a spreadsheet - actually what I think Excel calls a workbook, a lot of worksheet tabs together in one file. I have a worksheet for every place where I will spend a night, with a list, including, when I'm still in the planning phase, of suitable places to stay. Then I have a worksheet for every day of travel, with schedules for trains or buses to get to where I am going. The first worksheet is an index with a link to each night of accommodations and to each day of travel. The second sheet is my itinerary, with similar links.

Posted by
3941 posts

I think the only time prob since the invention of iPads that I didn’t prebook all of our accoms was when we went to California in 2013. We had one night doing the PCH where I didn’t quite know where we would end up before our trip began. Once we got a grip on things, the night before our unbooked night we looked at a map and said ok, this looks like a good place to stop, I went on Expedia and booked a place.

Thinking back to a few dives we ended up staying in (one particular one outside Boston comes to mind) back in the mid 90s- early 00s before booking things on the internet was the way we did stuff. I don’t wish to return to those days!

Hubs and I are um...less adventurous with our accoms than we were 20 years ago, and it’s nice to not have to drive around (or public transport around) wasting time trying to find something left in your price range/personal comfort zone. Having an electronic device does help a lot...I think it would make booking on the fly easier, for sure, but I just like having...choices.

Posted by
154 posts

I am an obsessive planner and use google sheets. I like that I can have multiple tabs for one trip. I typically have tabs for my basic itinerary, lodging, budget, etc, as well as tabs for each location.
I copy and delete unneeded columns and rows, and use the merge feature, to make then look very professional (IMHO, of course). I make sure each page can either be printed for an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet, or sometimes a half sheet. You can make google sheets (and docs, of course) readable without internet on a device, print out, view on other devices, etc

Depending on who I'm traveling with, I will laminate back and front covers, spiral bind it and make my own guide book (typically with half pages). What I really like about doing that is I can add in blank pages for last minute notes, have all my reservations in it, as well as guidebook type info.

Posted by
2 posts

Thanks folks for your detail reply!

I have tried some of yours suggestion. but personally I prefer a printable and more detail version, therefore, i would go for something like excel/ google sheets, as I really like holding a physical copy which doesn't rely much on real time internet connection during my travel.

and finally i found a detail planner template, which quite suits my needs:

i think might me useful for someone who like in-depth trip planning like me:)
p.s. really not for those who hate plannings:)