spreadsheets and suitcases

organization + travel = family fun

Travel planning for dorks- spreadsheet tutorial part 2

on August 5, 2014

Please see Part 1 here.

After all the columns in the Estimated Costs cells in the Budget tab are filled in, we can start to figure out what needs to happen when.  That’s where the To-Do Timeline comes in.  I list the months leading up to the trip, then usually 3 Days, 2 Days, the Day/Night Before and Travel Day as header categories. In my example below, I swapped Last Day at Work for the 2 Days header since it was a weekday.

I generally start planning my trips 12-18 months out.  I’m working around 2 school schedules and a non-negotiable summer activity for my tween, so I’m always trying to maximize time by leaving the moment school ends, or getting back home 12 hours before school begins.  Planning in advance helps a lot with that, especially having a better choice of flight times.

If booking flights with miles, it’s important to know that most airlines begin to release award availability about 330 days out.  In my experience, that’s when you get the best choice of seats at the lowest, or Saver level.  Availability then wanes, or sometimes disappears, until about 30 days before your departure date.  If you don’t find any when you first look, keep checking periodically, as you never know when a few seats might open up.  High-tech folks: there is a paid service called ExpertFlyer that monitors award availability and lets you know when seats are available on your desired flight.  I don’t want to pay, and I can’t live on the edge by waiting until the last minute, but if you must or prefer to book closer to departure, you can get lucky with award seats just before your trip.  Keep in mind that you may need to pay a close-in booking fee if your trip departs less than 21 days after you book it.  I love this handy Date Calculator.  Because who wants to count backwards to 330 days manually?

For me, then, the first block in the To-Do Timeline is about 13 months away from Travel Day/Day of.  I just make a short list under “May 2013,” for example, for a trip in May 2014.  It might contain items like:

  • research flight routes on United Airlines
  • make note of preferred flight times/#s
  • establish estimated monthly savings amount.  I take my total estimated cost and divide by the # of months until the trip, to determine how much we need to save per month to have all the money before we go- I don’t do credit card debt.  Though- we do put every single expense possible on credit cards to reap the miles, points, cash back and other rewards that may be available.  More on that in another post.
  • decide on a savings vehicle.  Currently we use an online account.  Easy to fund, hard to withdraw.  Other options might include bank savings accounts or even checking accounts if they pay decent interest.

As I get closer to the trip, I use the strikethrough option to mark when a task is completed.  I use the strikethrough instead of just deleting it so I can look back and be sure that I did indeed complete it.  It’s absurd how much I love crossing items off a to-do list, you guys.  It’s like a shopper’s high!

A fully completed To-Do-Timeline is a thing of beauty

A fully completed To-Do-Timeline is a thing of beauty

I use the same idea in my paper planner, except that when I complete a task for the day, I highlight it blue instead of striking it out, which would make it look messy to me.  Why blue?  It’s my favorite color for several reasons.  Here’s one.

A list under the “3 Days Before” header might contain:

  • return all library books
  • plan to consume all perishable foods
  • request to stop the mail
  • double-check passports (who am I kidding, it’s really a quadruple-check by this point; I’m kind of obsessive about the passports)
  • general grooming: clipping nails, plucking eyebrows, etc.  I don’t dress up for the plane necessarily, but I do want to be clean and neat.
  • begin cleaning the house
  • purchase airplane candy and snacks.  Somehow we began a tradition of buying multi-packs of gum and a bag of chewable Werther’s for every flight.
  • locate/label all charging cords.  I use a Brother P-Touch.  Labels are my besties.
  • print finalized carry-on packing and regular packing lists
  • print finalized itineraries

I find that the To-Do Timeline really helps me organize my time and spread the work out.  I also have the freedom to move things from one header to another when things change, or when one activity is dependent upon the completion of another.  Things that must happen on a very specific date (like making dining reservations at Disney 180 days out) are bolded and in red so they really stand out.

I’m currently in the “August 2014” block of activities for our winter trip to Ecuador.  Recently, I completed tasks like sending a draft itinerary to my HUGE family to start determining who is interested in doing what activity.  We’re taking a boat trip through a mangrove forest, and will hopefully see some river dolphins!  And, we’re determining the best order of operations for a road trip to Cuenca and ride on the Nariz del Diablo, ay ay ay. The almost 24 straight hours of travel it will take to get there from Honolulu will be worth it.  Especially to watch my son meet his great-grandfather 🙂  As my buddy Stitch says…



4 responses to “Travel planning for dorks- spreadsheet tutorial part 2

  1. […] is the final post in the spreadsheet tutorial!  See Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and […]


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