As A Travel Planning Geek – We May Plan A Bit Too Much When We Travel
I have always liked the romantic thought of just showing up at the airport and taking a seat on the first flight out. But every time we start thinking about a vacation much more planning is done. I may be getting less adventurous as I age or my list-making hubby may have finally rubbed off making me more of a travel planning geek.
Recording Our Travel Plans
I will start with a mea culpa and admit we create detailed OneNote electronic notebooks to capture all the trip plan details. Both David and I add sections and pages as we work through the details (arguing mostly about our very different ideas of how to organize stuff). This notebook comes in handy as a reference on my iPad when I need reservation or flight numbers, hotel booking preferences and to-do lists. I had been using Evernote since it was fully supported on the iPad but I went back to OneNote with the recent iPad release. The OneNote notebook brings everything together in one place and lets me capture all the details of the trip as we go, to help with tweeting and blog updates.
Typical travel plan information in our OneNote for our 10 week trip to Italy includes specific information for that trip:
- Flight and hotel information for each stop
- Maps – country, region, city and airport reference guides
- Transit information – subways, trains, ferries
- Suggestions for things to do and places to eat – often collected through quite careful review of tweets and blogs
- Travel insurance information (including Canadian OHIP rules)
- Wifi hot spot and SIM card information for the country we are travelling to
- Best gelato spots in Italy (accumulating list with comments) (maybe for a future blog)
- The spa menu for one of our splurge stops (so I can plan my day in advance)
- Tickets for things we have already booked (Romeo and Juliette in the Arena in Verona and the Venice regatta special seating and train)
But the notebook also contains handy reference material that gets copied from notebook to notebook for the next trip:
- Accupressure points for jet lag – complete with a picture to show where each of the points are located (this goes with my TENS device and homeopathic jet lag pills)
- A list of exercises that are good for on the plane and good for after you have sat for too long
- A coffee cheat sheet for how to order every kind of coffee imaginable in Italy
- Key Italian phases and words we will need
- Baggage limits and the coverage for Air Canada for travelling as ex-military
Making Travel Plans
Hotels.com is our default hotel booking site. We have earned enough free nights to get us Gold status and unlike many other loyalty programs (can you say Aeroplan?), it has been easy to redeem free nights (you get 1 free night for every 10 you book for participating hotels). Keeps us booking through there! We have also had great service when we have had to change hotel bookings. The only down side to not booking directly with the hotel is the tendency of front desk staff to try to pawn off the absolute worst rooms on us because we didnâ€™t book directly. But David has stiffened his Canadian backbone and regularly declines these rejects!
I had to delete the whole original section of this blog that I wrote about my Canadian airline of choice. As a captive market for most of our domestic travel, we have little choice for most flights (AirCanada or WestJet). I thought I had found a winner but when customer service recovery mattered most, they dropped the ball (send me a comment if you want the details). For our international travel needs, we shop based on destination and how we want to travel, with input from other travellers on the route we are going. We recently found out that as retired military, David got great baggage allowances on Air Canada. This has certainly become a factor when we are travelling extra heavy in baggage – e.g. with extra scuba gear or when we need more clothes to cover a long cruise.
We pay dearly for not being able to collect points on only one airline, but the pain of suffering bad service still keeps us hopping around. Maybe we may finally accept that they are all as bad as each other!
A key part of our travel planning is done though TripAdvisor reviews. David is an inveterate Top Contributor (http://www.tripadvisor.com/members/dive_ability), complimentary when we have great experiences and detailed when he has constructive feedback. We make judicious use of TripAdvisor for our travel and aim to be helpful to other followers. Now that I am tweeting (LDH @TravelAtWill) we have another venue to share our travels and travel planning geek experiences.
Tools and Technology A Travel Planning Geek
We are not one kind of travel planning geek. We travel with competing technology platforms – Apple versus Windows/Android: laptops (MacPro and Windows machine) and phones (iPhone 5s and Samsung Galaxy S4). There are two cameras (Canon DSLR and Canon G11 in an underwater housing), two eReaders (Sony and Kobo) and cases of electronic accessories. My absolute device of choice for travelling is my iPad! Yes – we admit that we have one bag each of electronics!
We have added a new service for DNS and VPN through UnBlock-Us to our travel arsenal. This allows us to have access to web services at home that are sometimes blocked if the web site is smart enough to check where we are logging in from. The UnBlock-Us service has been easy to set up and use even if you are not a travel planning geek.
Navigating around and between towns is generally done with technology support. While we usually have a paper map from the hotel in our bag (marked up with concierge recommendations), my iPhone is always handy to help us to know where we are and where we are going. Paper is not enough for a real travel planning geek. CityMaps2Go is the map app of choice.
CityMaps2Go provides full offline, location aware maps. Points of interest can be “pinned” and the pins are available on all devices, allowing me to do planning on my iPad and then use the planned points on my iPhone. We have started to buy local data services when travelling which means I could be using Apple Maps but I have found that CityMaps2Go answers all of my navigating needs. I should note that we also travel with a GPS that has North America and European maps loaded. While we have been known to put it in walking mode and use it while exploring, this is generally used when we are renting a car.
Apps We Use For Travel Planning
I have no idea what apps David uses but my iDevices seamlessly share information (generally including my MacPro) and ensure I am a travel planning geek no matter what I am using:
- Travel notebooks (OneNote and Evernote)
- CityMaps2Go for offline maps (with pins for key travel destinations)
- My social network apps:
- Posting to: Twitter, Facebook. Instagram
- Reading articles and blogs: Flipboard, Newsify, Delicious (Note: took StumbleUpon off this list when they banned any blogs being added from the Blogger domain – and thus all of my content!)
- Scheduling tweets: Buffer Awesome (to allow more than 10 posts)
- Skype for video chatting with everyone
- iMessages for my “iFriends”
- Dropbox for backing up key data and apps
- Zinio for reading my backlog of magazines
- iBooks for the several hundred books I have with me (with a copy on my eReader for beach / pool reading) (and Book Crawler to catalogue what I am reading and new books that I add to the list)
- WineJournal+ to keep track of new wines we try along the way
- My blogging software (Blogger and MacJournal)
- eWallet to keep and synch my passwords across platforms
- WhitenoiseHD to help lull me to sleep when I need white noise to help
- Contact and calendar information, email, music, photos and videos
Other Gadget Bag Additions
I won’t go through the long packing list (in Excel) we use to pack with but there are a few other essentials that are worth noting:
- Extension cord(s) and/or extra outlets as there are generally never enough or in the right place in most hotel rooms
- Power plug converters – we used to only pack these when traveling to Europe but we recently found we needed them on a cruise. All of our electronics can switch between 110 and 220 (or have a dual voltage converter) so we don’t need to pack a power converter just plug converters.
- A great sleep mask helps on the plane and when you have no blackout curtains. I recently bought an awesome sleep mask (the blue Bucky 40 Blinks sleep mask).
We Are Travel Planning Geeks
We can feel organized when we set off to travel but with the tools travelling with us, we can collect, update and change our travel plans as we go. The “plan” does not constrain us but enables us to spend less time surfing the net when we arrive and more time exploring the vast number of options already set out as starting points.