spreadsheets and suitcases

organization + travel = family fun

Travel planning for dorks- spreadsheet tutorial part 5

on September 15, 2014

See Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

We’ve reached what I consider the most important tab in our trip planning spreadsheet- the Itinerary.  This is where you can plan, revise the plan, see what a given day might look like, change your mind many times, and generally map out the …

It was super-fun making this graphic!

It was super fun making this graphic!

Why is the Itinerary so important?  We already have all the budget notes, confirmation details, to-do timeline and packing lists, so, we might be able to wing it, right? NO!  You need to organize your day so you can fit in the things that are important to you. The itinerary is not meant to tie you down and restrict your movements.  It’s meant to free you from having to remember all the things that have to happen in a particular order so you don’t miss out on the very things you wanted to see on a trip in the first place.  We’re not talking 15-minute increments of planning, though I’ll admit that Disney World trips require tighter time windows than any other kind.  But for a regular trip, my rule of thumb for any vacation day is to plan an AM activity, a PM activity and at least 1 meal.  The rest can be filled in as you go.

Your spreadsheet can be organized thusly:

  • the first few Header lines indicate the day of the trip (Day 1, etc), the date, and the day of the week (Monday, etc).
  • the cells below contain general information (hotel breakfast, meet Rosie at 10am, sleep in, etc.)
  • any confirmed or reserved activities or meals should be bolded so they jump out at you when you glance at the sheet  
the planned meal for this day was snacking our way through Chelsea Market, right by the High Line

the planned meal for this NYC day was snacking our way through Chelsea Market, right by the High Line

I like to try to fit 6 or 7 days across, in “landscape” view, as least while I plan.  I sometimes have to rearrange the font size or print area if the whole itinerary doesn’t fit on 1 page when I print it.  Here is a sample of one of my Disney itineraries- it’s much more detailed:

warning: staring at this too long may cause seizures

warning: staring at this too long may cause seizures

I realize that this image looks overwhelming.  But it’s simply a more fleshed out version of the simpler itinerary above.  For example, Disney resort guests (staying on-property at a Disney Hotel) have access to Extra Magic Hours in the parks.  Those details should be noted on the itinerary to take advantage of the lower crowds.  Then, you want to specify what headline rides you want to hit at Rope Drop, where and when you have an Advanced Dining Reservation, whether you will and when you take an afternoon break, etc.  Then it’s color-coordinated by Park.  More on Disney planning in a detailed series of posts on Disney trip stuff.

Anyway, I’ve found that Itinerary planning must be contained to certain parameters- it’s very easy to overplan and go off the deep end with details.  There are some guidelines:

  • the more people involved, the laxer the time constraints need to be.  If you’ve ever seen a Real Housewives excursion on reality TV, you know what a pain it is to wait around for the late people and accommodate those with 40 pieces of luggage.  Be flexible with regard to starting times!
  • the younger the people involved, the lower the mileage per day.  We already know how much stuff you need to haul when traveling with little ones- let’s minimize how much hauling is necessary in a given day.  Think day trips to the pumpkin patch that also has a petting zoo and small café vs. stopping at every antiques shop in downtown Nashville.
  • plan at least 1 meal, or better yet, get your foodie friends or family members to help you research!  The whole, “Where should we eat? I don’t know, whatever’s good.  How about Greek? No thanks, I hate olive oil, lamb, rosemary, and mint…..” conversation is so, so tiring.  I’d much rather go back and forth over the course of 12 texts/emails/FB messages before the trip and have a confirmed reservation than have that kind of conversation while I’m hungry.  My brother-in-law is a whiz at social media stuff, and uses apps like OpenTable and Yelp to find yummy food spots.  He directed us to 2 great restaurants in Vancouver, which I never would have found on my own.  By the way, I’m the person who hates all the most common Greek food ingredients.  I’ve decided that the only way I can ever visit Greece is via cruise ship, so I can avoid actually eating on Greek soil and just eat on the boat.  Sad,  but I have to see Olympia before I die, so that’s the way it has to be.
  • depending on the overall pace of the trip, plan restful mornings or evenings at least every 3 days.  Of course, you know what kind of pace your crew can handle best, but I find it essential to sleep in some mornings, even at Disney.  This is a vacation, after all.  Sleeping in allows you to be more alert for late-night activities like theater and fireworks, where having an early night lets you rest up for an early start the next day.  In my experience, most adults can only burn the candle from both ends for 3 days max before burning out.  Vacation burnout = fighting and stress, ew.
  • plot out your transportation between activities ahead of time.  This especially applies to those with a poor sense of direction, like ME.  I print out maps and put them in my binder, and write out what I call “useful directions,” in which I translate something useless like “travel 500 meters north” to something I can actually understand, like “make a left out of the main door and walk 1/3 of mile (<10 min) towards the waterfront area, if you’ve passed the McDonald’s you’ve gone too far.” Also, make it your business to know about the public transportation you will be relying on, including the cost of the fare, what station you want to go to, what forms on payment are accepted on board, and how to get back to your hotel.
  • leave room for magic and/or cartwheeling.  Easy to do at Disney, where magic lives 🙂 But sometimes you can find travel fun in unexpected places.  My daughter told me that one of her favorite moments of our road trip this summer was an unexpected stop at the Pennsylvania Welcome Center, where we cartwheeled across the grass and took a short break before continuing to drive.  Who knew?
  • make all your planning mistakes before the trip.  By going over your itinerary with a fine-toothed comb many times before your trip, you become very familiar with the rhythm of your journey (drink!) before you even pull out your suitcase.  These planning sessions are where you will catch that Tourist Attraction A is very near to Relative T’s house, plus you’ll pass Food Truck Z on the way back to the hotel- and that’s one day planned, yay!  Or you might notice that Park X and Park Y are very similar and you can choose to visit one and drop the other.  And since you’re looking at all the days at once, you’ll be able to schedule those restful times efficiently.  Plus, you can keep things balanced for the kids- if you’re doing a museum morning, plan a playground afternoon.  Personal experience note: unless you have an iron stomach, keep “seafood dinner” and “ice cream stop” far away from each other on the itinerary- that combination of foods has never ended well for me.
  • embrace this concept: not everyone has to be together all the time on vacation.  Sometimes, you need a vacation from each other, too.  This especially applies to those of us not native to Hawaii- our families are on the mainland and so we’re stuck looking at each other’s faces 99% of the time.  I love my husband and kids, but I also love other people and want to spend time with them.  So, split up, pair off, bow out, or whatever, because absence really does make the heart grow fonder. My kids are happy to spend special time their grandparents, and I’m happy enjoying a museum with my equally-dorky husband.  See if you can squeeze in some solo time, too.  It’s very restorative.
  • be on your trip, and enjoy the adventure.  This means to be in the moment, and not micromanaging what is coming up next.  This was Danny Tanner’s fatal mistake on the Hawaiian vacation episode of Full House- he relied solely on this:


Seriously, though, the Itinerary is basically a guideline, wish list, and record of the trip all in one.  It’s the tab I spend the most time on while spreadsheeting.  I print out several copies once it’s finalized, which is usually just a few days before we leave.  The rest is up to the universe.

The final post in the Spreadsheet Tutorial will be about most-used formulas and Excel tips/tricks.  I’ll include any questions if you have them!

2 responses to “Travel planning for dorks- spreadsheet tutorial part 5

  1. […] This is the final post in the spreadsheet tutorial!  See Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. […]


  2. […] handy trip spreadsheet (remember that for a Disney trip, you’ll have your dining info on your Itinerary Tab- to see how the food break fits into your overall plan for the day, and on a separate Dining tab- […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: