Why create a travel document
Creating a travel planning document gets important information out of your head and email inbox, and all into one place. It may sound old-fashioned, but I like to have my travel plans on paper in case something happens to my phone, or if I’m stuck without a reliable wifi signal. Before I leave home, I print out my one-pager (or 20-pager!) and feel confident that if things don’t go as planned, I don’t have to fully rely on technology to get to my flight, train, hotel, or friend’s house. My travel docs have saved me when I couldn’t find wifi or when my international sim card data allotment unexpectedly ran out. I never leave home without paper as a backup.
Why I use Google Docs
No matter how simple my trip may be, I usually create a travel planning document using the Google Docs suite of tools. You can use your favorite software, or even a sheet of paper, to create your travel planning doc. All you need is the concept–you can run with this idea in the way that works best for you.
- Real-time collaboration: 99% of my travel is with others, so I use Google Docs because it’s collaborative, free, user-friendly, and can be accessed from any electronic device. You don’t need a gmail account to use Google Docs suite. You only need a Google account. Once you set up your account and create your first document, you can share it with anyone, edit collaboratively (in real time!), and use live chat and comment features. All of your travel companions can each have the document open at the same time, on any kind of device. You’re free to share ideas, make edits, and see changes in real time without stepping on someone else’s content.
- Cross-platform: The Google Docs platform plays nicely with Microsoft documents (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc.). This means you can cut and paste without losing much formatting, and you can also upload actual Microsoft Office files and/or convert them to Google Docs.
- Options: I usually create a “Doc,” which is just like a general Word document but, depending on what I need, I might also create a “Slide,” or “Sheet.” These are exactly what they sound like…a slideshow and a spreadsheet. Docs, Slides, and Sheets all have templates available to help you make quick work of content creation, or to make your final product look polished. Here are a couple of screenshots of a travel doc (slideshow) I created for a trip to Hawaii.
Travel doc topics and categories
If you’ve never created a travel doc, here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Flight/train/bus logistics: Flight times, airport or station names, confirmation codes, connection information, customer service numbers, taxi or rideshare info
- General daily itinerary: You don’t have to plan your days hour by hour, but it’s helpful to have a general idea of what you might want to do each day. It’s easy to forget the name of the restaurant you wanted to try, especially if it’s in another language. This is also a great place to put info like: “Ruins are open 11-4pm, and the shuttle bus picks up at noon outside the hotel.”
- Maps: Maps don’t have to be extensive, but they come in handy. If you’re going to a place where wifi is iffy, it’s useful to print a simple walking map to your hotel or first destination of the day.
- NOTE! Don’t forget to download “Offline Maps” from google maps. In Google’s words, “If you’re going where the Internet is slow, mobile data is expensive, or you can’t get online, you can save an area from Google Maps to your phone or tablet and use it when you’re offline.” This feature works in conjunction with the GPS on your phone to help get you where you need to go.
- Packing list: This doesn’t make it into my final document, but it’s hugely helpful. I like seeing my travel companions’ packing lists as well, so I don’t forget important things like a raincoat or an EU travel plug adapter. A collaborative packing list is also helpful to make sure you don’t bring duplicate items if you are traveling with friends. Your packing list “Sheets” document could also morph into a “shopping list” for your destination that includes essentials like toothpaste or a souvenir for mom.
- Inspiration: Pictures, quotes, and general ideas don’t necessarily make it into my final document either, but this is great for building a “vision” for what you want out of your trip. If you’re introducing someone to a new place, inserting a picture of a castle you’ll be going to or a high-level map of the hike you’re going on will help them get excited or “nope” out before there’s a disagreement.
- Emergency information: Depending on your destination, needs, and comfort levels, it could be wise to list emergency contact information (at home and/or at your destination), food or medication allergies, addresses/contacts for physicians and hospitals, medications, and instructions for helpers.
- Foreign language phrases and words to learn: Use your doc as a parking space or quick reference guide for necessary “getting by” phrases. Your language learning apps or internet guides may not always be available.
- Print double-sided, scaled down, and use small font sizes to save space
- Share your doc with family members and friends for their peace of mind, or your own
- Carry your docs in a waterproof gallon Ziploc bag or other waterproof folder, bag, etc. This is especially important if you’ll be on foot or without an umbrella, raincoat, or rainfly on your pack.
- Don’t forget to update your travel document on the go with any important itinerary changes. This is helpful to both you and your people back home.
- Update your travel doc at the end of your day if you have time. It’s nice to have even a summary record of what you did; it’s amazing how quickly we forget details. Having this record comes in handy when friends want recommendations in the future.
How do you travel plan? What have we forgotten? Let us know in the comments!