We are all familiar with the large search engine, Google, and have probably used it to look up information. Google has more to offer than information, though; it also gives us several organizational tools bundled together into Google Drive. The most popular tool is Google mail, or gmail, and I would guess at least half of my readers have a gmail account – I have three!
With a free Google account you will have access to Google+ (a social media module) and Google calendar, along with gmail. You will also be able to use Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides. These modules are what you would guess – Google Docs stores your documents, Google Sheets stores spreadsheets, and Google Slides stores slide presentations. You can build documents, spreadsheets, and slides within the interface or you can import them from other programs.
To use this suite of Google organizational tools, you need a Google account. If you use gmail, you already have a Google account; if you don’t, you can sign up for an account, even if you do not plan to use the mail program.
Google can be very helpful help with planning and organizing small to large trips – from near to far away. In the past, we did all of our group planning in Excel, emailing our spreadsheet to each group member with the most recent updates. Google has some features that rank it high above a standard spreadsheet. With a combination of Google Docs and Google Sheets, planning can be a breeze.
Google Docs can be used to store documents – confirmations, written directions, journal entries, and more. The program also provides templates that can be used as a starting point – essays, reports and resumes are some that are available.
When planning a trip, you can use Google Docs to save important addresses- places you want to visit or restaurants where you want to eat. You can copy and paste all your email confirmations – hotels, flights, restaurant reservations, and activities – into a document. You can use a separate Google Doc for each confirmation, group similar ones- flights, hotels, restaurants – or place all confirmations in one document.
As you can see in the screen shot, I’ve included links to the shops in addition to their addresses and phone numbers. When I open the Google Doc, I can click on the link and I will be taken to the shop’s website.
The module I find most helpful is Google Sheets. With Google Sheets, you can create a calendar or to do list using the templates – either one of these may be helpful – but there are also ways to use the program for organizing your next trip.
The best way to use Google Sheets is to produce a separate spreadsheet for each trip. Start by opening a new Sheet. You will see a blank spreadsheet. Title the Sheet with the destination and date. You can use the columns for dates, places, categories, or whatever seems relevant to you. If you want to add a second page, click on the “+” sign in the bottom bar.
Overview – We usually start our trip planning with an overview page. The first column lists the dates, the second the day of the week, the third column has where we plan to sleep that night, and the fourth column has highlights of the area. We can also list possible activities, links to blog or review websites and other information.
- Daily Schedule by Place – Next, we add a tab for each place we will be staying. We copy the information from the first page for the days we will be in one particular place, and then expand on it.
We include the name, address and phone number of the hotel along and any other information we were given. Next, we list what we plan to do in the city – day by day or even hour by hour. Links to websites for restaurants and attractions can be included. We includes notes that other travelers have posted on review websites or blogs. Special notes that we have to remember are highlighted in red. You can change the text color or the background color to whatever you like.
- Transportation – Even though we include travel information on the appropriate pages, we often include a separate transportation page. Here we detail all of the pre-booked flights, train rides, and rental cars that we plan to use. We find it’s convenient to have it all in one place.
- Hotels – We often do the same with hotels – list all the places we are staying on one page. This is especially practical if we plan to share our itinerary with others.
Finances – The final page in our trip Sheet will include financial information. We list everything that has been prepaid, what still needs to be paid, and who will be paying for what. When I’m traveling with one of my daughters, we usually split the cost of the trip down the middle, but it isn’t possible – or it would be very inconvenient – to charge two different credit cards for each expense. My daughter will pay one hotel bill and I will pay the next; I pay for one dinner and she pays the next. We keep track of the expenses and settle up as we go.
You can also use Google Sheets to build a packing list. The first sheet could hold a general packing list – then you can add separate sheets for vacations to the beach, hiking trips, ski trips, or trips over the Christmas holidays. Each trip list will have specific additions. You could copy and paste your general list from the first page and then add to and subtract from it, or you can just list the additions on the extra sheets.
Sharing your Itinerary
One of the nice features of Google Docs and Sheets is that you can share your documents with others. Just click on the share button and enter the email address of the person with whom you wish to share. You can set it just to share the information or you can invite others to collaborate by giving them permission to edit. This is very helpful when several people are planning and traveling together.
You can save different versions of each document or spreadsheet. For example, you might want to share a simplified version with friends and relatives that are staying home. You could save the overview page of your Google Sheet for this purpose. You might also want to add the pages about transportation and hotels. I usually don’t like to share the financial page with everyone, but with Google Sheets, I can eliminate that page from the shared version.
Accessing your Itinerary Offline
Google Drive has an app for use on Android and iOS phones and tablets. When you install and log-in to the app, you will be able to access and edit your files. If you would like to view your files offline – without using WiFi or data – you need to turn on that setting in the app.
When you are traveling abroad – particularly when you haven’t yet checked into the hotel and have access to the hotel’s WiFi – you can still see the hotel information on your phone if you have chosen to use it offline. As you roam around a European city, you can see your itinerary without worrying about using international data.
Using Google with Evernote
A couple months ago, I wrote about the benefits of using Evernote for travel planning. So, which one should you choose? Either program will work well on their own, but using them together is even better.
Evernote let’s you save web articles for future reference. Photos and screenshots are easily stored in an Evernote notebook. Google Sheets presents your data in an easier to read format. In your planning, you can use the strengths of each program. The best use, though, is to add a link in Evernote to your Google Sheet. If you click on the link in Evernote, it will take you to the newest version of your Sheet. Although both programs can be used offline, you must be connected to the internet to use the link.
As you plan your trip, you can move back and forth between the two programs. For example if you find an article about a restaurant you’d like to try, save the article in Evernote and then add basic information to your itinerary. You can put a note in your itinerary to check the article in Evernote.
Google Drive is a great tool to use in planning you travel. It can be used with or without Evernote. Play around with each program to see what works best for you.
How do you plan? Do you use your computer and save information online?What programs do you find most helpful?