Organizing Travel the Old School Way

by Gray Cargill on May 18, 2011

Times Square

Travel can be chaotic if you're not organized

A couple of weeks ago, as I was in the midst of my trip planning for Spain, it occurred to me that, despite the many leaps forward in technology during recent years–smart phones, iPads, apps, travel planning websites–my personal method for organizing and planning my trips hasn’t changed in ten years. I still type up notes for my trip in a word document. What kind of an anachronism am I? I thought. I sadly tweeted my confession out to the Twitterverse and was pleasantly surprised when several followers replied that they, too, still organize their trips via notes. Whew. I felt so much better.

Given that I’m a bit of a geek and tend to embrace new technologies, you’d think I’d have moved on to something a bit more high-tech by now.  But I’m also a big believer in the theory that “if it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it.” I have a trip planner template that I’m quite comfortable with, and I haven’t found anything that does everything it does. (Then again, being the cheap–er, thrifty–person that I am, I also haven’t sprung for an iPad yet.)

I carry my trip planner with me everywhere in a clear plastic binder, so it doesn’t get wet. Sure, I could bring a guidebook and fumble through it on the spot, looking for the information I need, but I know that my notes contain only the essentials–no weeding through excess data is necessary. Plus the very act of writing typing the information helps me to remember it better.

What does it look like?  Why, like this:


[Destination name]

[Dates of trip]

PRE-TRIP ACTIONS: (things I must remember to do before I leave)

(Sample items)

  • Call bank and credit card companies to let them know my travel dates
  • Put mail on hold
  • Record vacation voicemail at work.
  • Set work email on vacation mode.
  • Buy snacks for plane ride
  • Email family with flight and hotel information
  • Etc.


(Sample categories; my actual list is more specific)

  • Clothing
  • Toiletries
  • Electronics
  • Journal
  • Eye mask
  • Earplugs
  • Etc.


FLIGHTS: (in case my e-tickets get lost)

Confirmation #

Departure Date:

Airline/Flight # – depart BTV at __time, arrive layover city __ time. Seat #.

Airline/Flight # – depart layover city __time, arrive vacation destination at __time. Seat #.

Return Date:

Airline/Flight # – depart vacation destination at __time, arrive layover city __ time. Seat #.

Airline/Flight # – depart layover city __time, arrive BTV at __time. Seat #.


(taxi, shuttle, bus – whatever my options are)




  • Name
  • Confirmation #
  • Nightly Rate/Total Amount (in case they try to tell me something different when I check in or out)
  • Address, phone and email
  • How to get there from the airport
  • Misc. notes


Names of recommended restaurants, where they’re located, and price range.

Information about bars with good happy hours.


A List (my “must dos”):

(They’re listed here by category, but in my document they’re very specific, including hours open, admission fees, location, how to get there, etc.)

  • Tours
  • Museums
  • Entertainment
  • Attractions
  • Recreation
  • Other

B List (other things I’d like to do if I have time):

  • Same categories as A list, but different activities.

Rainy Day Activities

(Anything on the A or B list that would make a great rainy day activity–just in case.)


  • Phone info (if foreign country)
  • ATM info (if foreign country)
  • Etiquette (if foreign country)
  • Tipping
  • Safety
  • Emergency numbers/Hospital info
  • US embassy information (if foreign country)
  • Etc.


Day 1:

Day 2:

Day 3:

You get the picture.

The great thing about this template is that some items can be copied and pasted from one trip document into another (like the packing list and pre-trip actions steps). I roll over my Vegas trip planner from year to year, just tweaking little bits of information, such as if a restaurant has closed or the hours of an attraction have changed.

I still have 6 months on my “dumb phone” contract, and I don’t see myself spending the money on an iPad any time soon, so I guess I’ll still be using the document a while longer. I love technology, but I’m not blind to its weaknesses. One of my greatest fears of migrating to an all-electronic organizational platform is: What happens if the smartphone, iPad, or netbook stops working during my trip? Or worse yet, it gets stolen? The information would be lost. . .and so would I. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure no self-respecting thief would be interested in my paper notes.

How do you get yourself organized for your trips? Are you a techie, a note-taker, or a guidebook person?

Gray June 25, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Joya, that’s great. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who’s “old school”. 🙂

Joya June 25, 2011 at 9:50 pm

I don’t think it’s weird at all Gray to write out in Word! I wrote down places to go and addresses in my Moleskine journal for my trip to Sweden and Denmark and it suited me just fine. Instead of a smartphone, I had a paper map and I was able to get around the cities easily.

Gray June 5, 2011 at 7:27 pm

Oh trust me, Ramona, I get lost too. Just because I’m organized doesn’t mean I’m not also geographically challenged. 🙂

Ramona June 5, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Well, if I planned my trips so carefully, I’m sure they’d be better, that’s for sure. Excellent planning you’ve got here, I need to copy it into a safe place and use it in the future. I always get lost or forget something at home. While it can be funny, sometimes it can really ruin the mood 😀

Frances May 23, 2011 at 3:28 pm

No worries. I am like that too. Sometimes what other people find essential are not for me. And where I need to go in depth, some people do not. So it is best to just create your own system, especially if it works.

Sophie May 22, 2011 at 10:17 am

Now that’s how you organize travel=)

Gray May 21, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Thanks, Jeff! Hmm….you guys are making me think more and more about getting the Touch instead of the iPhone.

Jeff B May 21, 2011 at 3:39 pm

I use a combination of new tech and old school. My favorite tech product to travel with is the Ipod Touch. You can use it to make phone calls (skype), store guidebooks (kindle app), email, internet, facebook, etc. I find myself using is more and more for travel. You can also store all your travel plans on one of the many apps available. In addition to that I also print out my hotel, train and flight confirmation just in case.

Gray May 20, 2011 at 6:04 am

Oh, Krista, wow. Just wow. You’re even more old school than me! Like you, I hope pen and paper never completely disappear. I’m a notorious list keeper at home and journal writer on the road. I’d be lost if I couldn’t jot things down any more.

Gray May 20, 2011 at 6:02 am

Jenna – LOL, you have no idea how important snacks are to me. You would not want to be around me when I get hungry. I get very cranky. 🙂

Gray May 20, 2011 at 6:01 am

I’m with you, Becky. I’m very curious about what other high-tech things are out there, other than bringing portable technology that has apps on it where you can look things up in the moment. I’ve run across some destination sites that supposedly help you craft an itinerary by “adding this” to “my itinerary”, but you’re right–much of it is dependent on who paid to be included on that site, not a thorough listing of everything that’s available. When I get back from my trip, I may try to do a more thorough search on what’s available out there and see what I come up with. Sounds like a potential blog post to me….

Krista May 20, 2011 at 1:27 am

I still use a good ol’ trusty note pad and a pen. I find it much easier to just grab a pad at anytime when I think of something and just jot something down, plus what if something goes wrong with my technology, like you said.
I like my paper and pen, don’t take it away :o).

Jenna Vandenberg May 19, 2011 at 11:43 pm

I have no system…but I’ve very quickly gotten used to the maps and apps on my phone so I’m afraid I’m losing my “winging it” skills. And I love that you have “buy snacks for plane” on your list. Very important!

Becky May 19, 2011 at 10:26 am

I’ve got a pretty simple approach, too, but I use a spreadsheet instead of a Word document. Not for any fancy calculation or anything but for two reasons: easy to rearrange lists using the rows and multiple tabs. So I can put my pre-trip to-do list on one tab, hotels on another, sites on another, etc. Makes it easy to flip to where I want.

I’ve also got a spreadsheet called My Ultimate Packing List. Everything I imagine I would ever want on a trip, sorted by category. I’ve I’m going to the beach, I add the swimming category to my trip-specific list. Saves me so much time.

So far, the commenters look like we’re mostly in the low-tech end of things. But I am curious about what higher tech things are out there and are good. I’ve done a few Google searches, but so much that I’m finding seems really ad-based. I’ve recently been wondering about collaborative trip planning tools for when I go on solo trips where I’ll meet up with friends at different parts of it. Any tips?

Gray May 18, 2011 at 8:32 pm

@T Roach – Oh man, I’m glad I’m not the only one. I wake up a lot at 4 am thinking that. 🙂 Notepad, huh? Interesting. I usually only use that when I’m writing HTML.

@Tracy – You have an iPhone? Whimper. See, I’m thinking that’s the idea. Carry the document with you on something small and electronic like an iPhone (where you can also use apps to look up stuff on the spot if needs be), but have the paper backup in your room in case something happens to the iPhone. Smart.

@Christine – Another vote for the iPhone! I can’t wait for November. I’m totally getting one.

Christine May 18, 2011 at 7:07 pm

I’m not quite this organized, but I do a bit of new tech and old-fashioned! I always have a travel “folder”–so does my mom!–with my itineraries, boarding passes, check-ins, etc. Sometimes I’ll type up a quick page of notes with restaurants I want to try or things people recommended. However, I’ve definitely started to store much more of this on my iPhone in the notes app or emails so that it’s more easily accessible, less to pack and better for the environment!

Tracy Antonioli May 18, 2011 at 5:11 pm

I’m one of those people who said they still use Word–and I do. But to be fair, while I do still type up my plans in Word (well, Pages–love my Mac!) and I do put the pages in plastic sleeves in a binder, I typically leave that binder in my room or apartment…and use the PDF file of that same document I’ve emailed to myself and saved on my iPhone. It’s more of a ‘travel light’ mentality than a ‘I need my technology’ mentality. But I DO need my technology!

I guess I’m for a mix of the old and new schools!

T Roach May 18, 2011 at 4:29 pm

For me I sometimes wake up somewhere and think ‘man, I gotta sort my life out’. I have a pad of scrap paper that I jot flight numbers and times on, stuff like that. is my guide book.

But when I do plan, I do it old school too: on Microsoft Notepad (I never did trust Word)

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