In the mid 1990s I was the Communications Director for a wine importing and marketing company. The owner of the company worked impressively long hours and just as impressive was his secretary, I’ll call her Michelle, who made sure his calendar, correspondence and travel were incredibly well-organized.
I learned so much from Michelle about how to organize a complicated travel agenda. Itineraries included multiple cities, each with plane travel, rental or hired car pick-ups, hotels, business meetings, wine tastings and meals in restaurants to coordinate. She had to have all of the tickets and reservations confirmed and reconfirmed and had to be able to clearly communicate all of this information to her boss. For this she used a simple table of columns and rows, created in Microsoft Word.
There are probably plenty of digital tools to organize travel plans, but I have never found anything simpler or more effective than a table with all the necessary information. Such a document can be printed or e-mailed as needed. Something similar can also be created as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, but since there aren’t any numbers involved, I prefer creating a table in Word.
The table can include as many columns as you need for the information you are tracking, but I’ve found that a five or six column table is perfect. The first column is for the travel date and day, the second for transportation information, the third for lodging information, the fourth for meals and the fifth for other activities. I add a sixth column for notes on special things I might need to pack or anything that doesn’t fit the categories of the other columns, like particular information about people I will be meeting with, vaccinations needed for foreign countries, etc.
You will require as many rows in the table as there are days in the trip. If you are only traveling to one location and will not be changing lodging during that location, the lodging information will be listed in the first row, but you can leave it blank in the following rows. The exception might be the last row, in order to note check out time for that date.
Transportation might also only have information typed into the first and last rows—travel to and travel from—but most of the time there are transportation needs each day. This is where you might note things like your Uber password or phone numbers for car services, the location of taxi stands or subway tips.
I like to put in as much information as possible. Obviously, all confirmation numbers for travel and lodging should be included. You can also note things like the availability and terminal locations of mini-spas for a massage or manicure or other services in airports where you will have long layovers. For lodging you might note hotel amenities or the location of the nearest gym if there is not one in the hotel.
You can never have too many phone numbers. Although you might have all the numbers in your phone, it’s great to have them on paper with your itinerary as well, so include the 800 number for the airline, the hotel front desk’s direct number, restaurant numbers and everything else.
It’s kind of nice to note how much you paid for everything. Type in the airline ticket cost and any travel insurance information under transportation. Tickets for sightseeing activities, plays and concerts, rental car costs and other pre-paid expenses are helpful to add. Not only can you track your expenses more easily, you can also remind yourself of how much something like that python and gator sighting swamp tour in the Everglades cost and decide whether or not you want to blow it off.
When you get home it’s helpful to type some notes about various elements of the trip. How was the airline? What restaurants were stellar and which were duds? How was the hotel or Air BnB? Which activities would you recommend to a friend and which would you skip?
Remember, the faintest pencil is better than the strongest memory, so writing things down will not only make your current travel… I was going to write “hassle-free” but no travel since 2001 has been anything close to hassle free; so I’ll just say less stressful. Post-travel your grid will make the next trip a breeze to plan and you can also easily share your travel tips with others, which is such a fun way to connect with people.