Geeky Trip Planning

In Tips

Have you ever heard anybody say “No, I absolutely loath traveling and rather stay home and not see anything of the world”. Exactly, me neither and I’m no exception on this rule. Traveling is an enriching experience and everyone’s approach to trip planning is different. Mine is getting my full geek on and doing it meticulously and methodically. Let me tell you how I prepare for my trips…

Why we plan

A word of nuance first; This approach is not for everyone. It might come over as a control-freak but let me first explain why I like doing it like this. The plan made on forehand doesn’t need to be followed at all, to me it serves more as a guideline, but it prevents coming home and while sharing stories with friends hearing about that one mind blowing, life altering and jaw dropping sight you wish you’d known about on forehand. Furthermore one of the major things about travel is the pre-fun that is to be had while picking out a destination, planning a route and booking itineraries. It’s even proven scientifically that traveling is all about the anticipation:

Vacationers reported a higher degree of pre-trip happiness, compared to non-vacationers, possibly because they are anticipating their holiday. Only a very relaxed holiday trip boosts vacationers’ happiness further after return. Generally, there is no difference between vacationers’ and non-vacationers’ post-trip happiness.Dr. Jeroen Nawijn, NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences

There are many ways to make a trip and I prefer to do everything myself opposed to go with a group or just buying an itinerary. This means booking the flights yourself, catering for transportation between points and choosing your own places to see and what route to take between them. There are many variations on this possible, for example in Cuba we opted to use the busses (Viazul) instead of renting a car and sleeping at people’s houses (casas particulares) opposed to hotels, in Iceland we rented a car and picked a “base camp” from which we just did long tours, on the Eurotrip we drove by own car (except Bulgaria – Turkey, we took a bus for that bit) allowing maximum flexibility and to the Baltics we had a lot of flights and even a bus (after a cancelled sight-seeing transfer bus).

Where to start

As inspiration sources for trips a good starting point is always those group or personal itineraries offered by the bigger travel agencies. Knowing where to go and what to do there involves a lot of Google, travel websites, magazines and the always trustworthy Lonely Planet guides. I tend to love Lonely Planets as they contain a lot of information and their format is the same for every country, however my girlfriend loathes them as they tend to be somewhat confusing and the quality of content varies between countries. For example the Cuba Lonely Planet is absolutely superb but the Baltics Lonely Planet was a bit disappointing. Every now and then they offer the digital versions for 50% off, so when preparing you can wait till they are on offer, never paying more then needed (yes, I’m Dutch).

Weapon of choice

Since I haven’t found a nice application to really plan trips the way I like I always end up with making spreadsheets. Google Sheets is my weapon of choice for the simple reason that collaborating and sharing is dead simple.

A spreadsheet allows for easy overview, automatic linking between sheets and simple calculations. Some of the trips only require a simple sheet, for example the Baltics only had the travel details and places to stay in it, but some trips have vastly more complicated sheets associated with them, for example New Zealand has the flights, the rental car details, the ferry crossing details, the hotels, the sights and the excursions in it as well as the travel times between places and the time needed at locations so that feasibility of the plan can be determined.

Useful Formulae

One of my favorite party-piece formulae is the one that allows easy currency conversion. For example, my upcoming New Zealand trip a lot of the prices are in NZD, to convert them to EUR is as simple as:

=GoogleFinance(“CURRENCY:NZDEUR”)*{PRICE_IN_NZD}

Another helpful thing is creating dropdown options in a sheet to have categories in your rows, coloring rows based on your selection in the dropdown and aggregating totals of for example total distance to drive on a specific day. The coloring is done by adding a conditional formatting rule to the range of the columns you want colored (for example A:G) and opting for a custom rule in the form of:

=$C:$C=”Sights”

In this formula $C:$C represents the column I have the dropdown on and “Sights” being the value in the dropdown I want to apply the chosen color to. For the distance totals I use an array formula to list all the dates in my sheet with:

=ARRAYFORMULA(UNIQUE(A:A))

Where A:A is the column with my dates, and then use this list to have a query for counting the distances with:

=SUMIFS(F:F; C:C; “Driving”; A:A; “=”&K2)

This conditional counts the values in column F, when C (my dropdown again) has the value “Driving” and when A is equal to the date I got earlier from the ARRAYFORMULA above (K2 in this case is the cell containing that value. The ampersand is there to concat the equals sign to the cell value).

How to use

It helps to consider your spreadsheet as a fluid document and I will update and rearrange it constantly if things can be presented simpler or more convenient. It is hard when starting to plan a trip to have a feel for how it will look further down the road, so it shouldn’t be viewed as set in stone or used as a todo list. It’s just a tool for you to use as you go, and you can always ditch what you were planning and instead linger at a cafe or wander into some wonderful vista that you weren’t expecting.

That’s exactly the kind of situation when you’d want to access to this information — when you’re on the go and away from wifi, when you’re trying to figure out what to do next. Making your Google Sheets available offline is as easy as clicking a slider in the app on your phone, however making custom Google Maps available offline can be a little trickier and requires you to make some portions of the maps that you need available offline in the Google Maps app. Don’t forget to also make all your confirmation emails available offline or conveniently save them in Google Drive (and then make them available offline obviously).