Trip planning basics – creating an itinerary

Back in the old days, when you were going somewhere, you went to a travel agency, and they arranged everything for you.

They reserved your flights, hotels, and rental car with a Computerized Reservations System (CRS) like Sabre or Apollo. And when they were done, out popped a written itinerary showing every detail of your travels – in triplicate.

They folded it in thirds, tucked it into your ticket jacket along with your ticket – this is the old days we’re talking about – and you were all set. All your confirmation numbers, hotel addresses and phone numbers, etc. in one place.

But those days are long gone, and if you’re like most of us, you make your reservations yourself, online. Consequently, you have emails from all over confirming your arrangements. And while you really should carry all those hardcopies with you, shuffling through them to find what you’re looking for is a bad idea.

It’s much smarter to create an itinerary that shows all your travel arrangements at a glance. There are several travel websites that will help you do this, such as Tripit or NileGuide. But for years, I’ve used an Excel spread sheet to create an itinerary that lists everything I need to know on a couple of pages.


It ain’t pretty. But it’s fast and easy to do, free, and over the years it’s saved us countless hassles.

We always pack a copy in each of our bags, especially if we’re checking them. If our bag does get misplaced, the itinerary shows where we’ll be, when. It also provides contact information so we can be reached anywhere.

Twice, this has helped us recover our bags quickly. In Buenos Aires, our bag was returned to us in hours because the itinerary made us easy to locate.

Here’s the template I use. It describes in detail a week’s worth of travel arrangements – flights, hotels, transfers, tours, dinner reservations, ferries, and more – on a single 8-1/2” x 11” piece of paper.

You can do it any way you like, but here’s why I like this layout:

1) Numbering the days makes it easy to figure out things like how much the pet sitter will cost or how many days to stop newspaper delivery. And once I get a total trip cost, it’s easy to calculate the per diem.

2) Showing the days of the week alerts me to possible closures that may impact what we can do. In many places, most things are closed on Sundays, so that’s a good day to visit the museums. Many museums are closed on Mondays, so I’ll check to see when they’re open and make sure we have time for a visit on Sunday or Tuesday. It’s also helpful to know when you’re going to be somewhere on a weekend. As a rule, you’re more likely to need reservations for restaurants, clubs, sightseeing cruises, etc. on Saturday night. If you’re in town on a Tuesday, you might be able to get by without them.

3) The rest is pretty self-explanatory. There’s room for detailed contact information and confirmation numbers, as well as any additional notes.

We email the itinerary to friends and family so they’ll know where we’ll be and leave a copy for the pet sitter in case she needs to reach us. I use a yellow marker to highlight the hotel names and telephone numbers.

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