There are a lot of useful travel planning tools. I’m going to focus on those that help you organize your itinerary. A good travel planning tool should at minimum:
- Help you organize your plans
- Display your itinerary chronologically
- Be accessible across platforms (on your computer, phone, tablet, etc.)
- Simplify sharing plans with others
Some tools off other useful features, from helping you to find activities to tracking delays with your flights.
This is a review of the various categories of travel planning and organization tools with some suggestions for the top options in each category. I haven’t used most of these, and so I can’t pretend to pick the best ones. But I can give some insights into features and target audience for each. For those that I have used, I offer a more detailed review.
For many years I managed my travel by creating trip-specific folders in my email. Then I’d put the relevant details in a document and print it out. And I’d carry around the papers sorted in chronological order. There is some comfort to carrying around paper. It’s not going to disappear when you lose network connection. But it’s also not easy to update. And it’s a hassle to carry around. After more years than I want to admit, I finally moved over to higher tech solutions for travel planning. (And a few years later I finally switched to electronic boarding passes for my flights.)
Except for Tripit, everything I list below is free. For folks who take lots of trips, or have many elements involved in their travel, I think these tools can be a tremendous help. More than once I’ve noticed that I booked something for the wrong date after importing my bookings into a chronological travel plan. And for those who want suggestions for things to do and see, there are some tools focused on that part of the planning as well.
Cloud-based Spreadsheets and Docs
This category of travel organizer is the most flexible and customizable option. But it’s also the most manual as you have to enter all of your travel information yourself, unlike the apps that offer various automatic import options. What you don’t get from this is a nice display of your plans. What you enter is what you’ll see.
There are two main options in this category: Google Docs/Sheets and Dropbox Paper
These tools are stored in the cloud so you can access them from anywhere that you have wifi or phone service. And they are easy to share with others. I’m a fan of a good spreadsheet, so for chronological plans I’d probably use that. But Dropbox Paper has some robust features that are compelling. Because you have to manually enter all of your plans, there is no error checking if you enter something wrong.
Travel Organizing Apps
This category of tools is focused on organizing travel planning and booking that you have already done. The hands-off apps don’t offer any suggestions for activities or itineraries. They just display whatever you input. They all have some system to import your travel plans from email, either automatically or via a forwarding address. And they all produce a nice readable display of your itinerary.
TripIt is the travel organizing tool I use. It is available in web and app versions and is owned by Concur. You can set up auto-import on an email inbox, or manually forward all your travel booking emails. Tripit imports these emails into a nice readable format in chronological order. If you forward something that Tripit can’t parse you get an email asking you to do this manually. I’m constantly surprised that 90% or more of my booking emails are processed without a problem. The free version has a lot of great features so I’d suggest starting there. I use the paid version ($49/year), mainly for the real time flight monitoring. Sometimes I get an alert from Tripit about a gate change or a delay before I get it from the airline. You can also set up flight alerts and seat alerts in the paid version.
Very similar to Tripit in terms of features, there are two other popular travel organizers: TripCase and Kayak Trips. Some people find the TripCase user interface nicer than Tripit. Kayak Trips is affiliated with the travel booking website Kayak.
Recommendations & Travel Organizing Apps
This category of travel planning app includes recommendations for hotels, restaurants, and things to do. These tools can create itineraries for you based on destinations that you save. This works well for people looking for ideas for their trip. Consider, though, that suggestions may be paid advertisements in some of these apps. This type of travel planning app might also be good for folks who create their own lists of things to do, and places to visit, to help map out plans.
Google Trips, a great option for people who exclusively use Gmail, this tool automatically imports your travel plans into clean itineraries. It also integrates with Google Maps to help you plan your days sightseeing. If you save things you want to do in the app it can help you plan your day based on the distances between places and how long people usually spend there. Roadtrippers, originally focused on road trips, this app can do some nifty calculations around drive times and cost, and helps you find things along the route. The app can create day by day itineraries for you.
Activity Planning Tools
These tools don’t include itinerary management. But they do help you organize your activities once you get to your destination. I generally just save things as places in Google Maps, or I keep a list of things I want to do and work out what will happen once I get to my destination. But I can see how these tools might be quite nice for planning sightseeing, meals, and other activities.
Tripcipe offers a Chrome extension which you load to your toolbar. Then when you find things online that you want to do on a trip, you save them directly into Tripcipe. It displays a map with all of your saved items in one place. Sygic Travel is a maps based app for tourist attractions, restaurants and more. It offers a lot of recommendations, so if you need ideas for things to do on your trip this tool might work well.
There are plenty of other options in each of these categories. If you have a favorite travel planning tool I didn’t mention, share it in a comment below.