This is the first in a 6-part series about the awesomeness of spreadsheets for planning your dream trip. An overview of the series can be found on the Trip Planning 101 page. Once a week for the next 5 weeks, I'll describe another part (e.g. budget, packing list, itinerary) of an awesome trip planning tool that I've developed and tested over the course many trips. This is a slight deviation from the standard Naked Kayaker posts, but I'm quite excited to share it because I think it's useful to more than just kayakers.
Goal #1: make trip planning less daunting and a lot more fun.
Goal #2: save money and make the most of your time off.
What exactly is this trip planner?
When it comes down to it - it's a spreadsheet with a bunch of different tabs to organize all your trip-related information.
Boring, right? It doesn't have to be!
What I've come to realize is that not everyone loves spreadsheets. Many people actually dislike them, because they associate them with work or school. If you're one of these people, then I'd like to invite you to change your mind. Okay, let's be realistic for a moment - if you ended up on this blog post by searching google then you're probably also a spreadsheet lover... but let's be optimistic and carry on...
The Trip Planning 101 Series
The series will include more or less 5 posts:
1. Brain Dump - Where should we go? What should we do? This is when/where the dreaming happens.
2. Itinerary - How do you piece together an itinerary now that you've got all these great ideas?
3. Budget - Probably the most valuable part of the whole tool. Here you can do pre-trip budget planning, during trip cost tracking, and post-trip settling up. Simple even if you have 8 people in your trip!
4. Packing List - A handy way to let everyone pack light (save on baggage fees), but still have all the necessary items.
5. The Complete Trip Planning Spreadsheet - Everything combined in a handy template that you can copy for your future trips, including flights, rental cars, and lodging!
What makes it so great?
So here are a few reasons why this tools works better:
- Not unnecessarily complicated - There are many trip planning spreadsheets out there with tons of formatting and complex formulas. This spreadsheet has everything you need and nothing more, making it easy to tailor to your needs. I've only added formatting if it adds to the functionality (like identifying whether or not hotels/campsites have been booked).
- ... Yet capable of handling complex trips - Some of the top hits on google for planning spreadsheets are really limited in the kind of trips you can plan (e.g. only letting you stay in one hotel - who does that?).
- Share it with your friends and family - Google Spreadsheets lets you share the spreadsheet so everyone can edit (or just look - for the worried parents out there). Everyone can work on it, separately or at the same time while you're in a trip planning conference call. It even has a handy little chat function, so you can chat with other people who happen to be planning at the same time.
- Accessible from any phone/computer AND available offline - Since the spreadsheet is online, you can access/edit it from any location/computer. If you install Google Spreadsheets on your phone, you can tell it to store an offline copy, which is handy if you'll be traveling somewhere without cell service (think: any international/backcountry trips). Everytime you open it on WiFi, it will automatically update to the most recent version. Of course, I always have a hardcopy handy in case my phone dies/falls in water/gets stolen/falls off the roof of my car as I drive away (it has all happened...).
- Flexible - Unlike a lot of the paid/free trip planning software/apps out there, this spreadsheet knows no bounds. This will come up more in each of the posts in the series. But basically, each trip is different, and with this spreadsheet you can add info and delete pages as needed to get the most streamlined tool for the trip you're planning.
- Free - I'm not trying to make money off this - I just get really excited about organizing trips. :)
- Planning can be fun - I realize that I say this as the friend-who-plans-things, but planning really can be fun, or at least a lot less painful than it has been. In the past few years I've had the chance to plan and go on several month-long roaming trips, and I honestly believe the planning phase can be nearly as exciting as the trip itself. It's an excuse to catch up with your friends, dream about the infinite permutations of things you could do, and make your trip go as smoothly (or unsmoothly) as you'd like.
Who is the trip planner for?
Disclaimer - If you already love spreadsheets and automating things and over-planning, then this might not be that enlightening for you (though I still think the Budget spreadsheet is quite handy, though...).
What makes me the expert?
- 2011: 30-day cross-country roadtrip with 3 friends.
- 2014: 24-day cross-country roadtrip involving 2 friends flying in to meet up for portions of the trip.
- 2015: 3-month trip across Europe (Norway, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, France, Switzerland, Italy) with 8 friends flying in from other countries to meet up for shorter segments.
- 2011 - 2016: A pile of shorter (weekend/week-long) trips to other places
So here it goes! Stay tuned for the upcoming posts (aiming for once/week).
How do you plan your trips? Let me know in the comments below :)