spreadsheets and suitcases

organization + travel = family fun

Bits & Pieces: Disney, etc.

  • The Disney Parks Blog has another live-stream from the Parks for tomorrow!  Mickey’s Soundsational Parade will be streamed LIVE from Disneyland tomorrow, 2/24 at 2:20pm HST.  I guess their live-stream of Fantasmic! was a big success, so they are doing this one and have others planned for the next few months.
  • Did you guys catch “The Wonderful World of Disney: Disneyland 60?” celebration on ABC Sunday night?  It was very nice.  I can’t stand Derek Hough, or his annoying sister, but I must admit that this dance clip with a surprisingly spry guest at the end was awesome.  This was the end of a longer montage that also included “Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid and “Friend Like Me” from Aladdin.
  • We’ve put the deposit down on the banquet hall for DD’s Quinceañera in November.  So exciting to have that checked off the list.  Now that the date is completely secured, one of my Ecuadorian cousins has already purchased her flight to attend the party!  Of course, we already have our flights.  Moving down on my To-Do Timeline, time to really nail down the theme colors, which will help us choose the dress, linens, etc.

As Tigger says, TTFN!*

*Ta-ta for now 🙂


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Non-Travel Spreadsheets

I’ve got a million non-travel spreadsheets going right now! We’re moving to a new place in a few weeks, and I’m organizing my moving box labels, a change-of-address checklist, a new monthly budget scenario, and tracking moving expenses. It’s super exciting, but time-consuming. This week, DD has a concert, we’re prepping to paint the new kids’ room, and we’re having a garage sale- I’m going in 5 different directions right now. Sorry for the lag in posting- once we’re a bit more settled I’ll share more of the moving organization details.

I recently assisted a friend who was trying to decide whether to use cash or miles on a trip to the Caribbean. We talked (texted!) through several options and she wound up getting a great deal for the dates she wanted. More details on that in a later post 🙂

Amid all this organized chaos, I was able to make all of my Disney Dining ADRs. I got everything I wanted, including lunch at Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom on out first Park day. Sweet! Next up on the Disney checklist, purchasing tickets to the Halloween party (they’re on sale now), and watching all of the Star Wars movies while waiting for our FastPass+ booking window to open. I’ll also share some cute Disney DIYs for shirts and shoes!

Be back soon!

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Travel planning for dorks: spreadsheet tutorial part 6

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

Let’s add a bit of functionality to our spreadsheets.  As you have seen, they are not simply a way to list things neatly.  We can use many cool Excel features to make a spreadsheet look good AND do some work for you.


The possibilities are endless!

The possibilities are endless!

First, a short glossary and map.

  • cell: one space on the spreadsheet, usually containing one piece of information.  Identified with its column and row position, such as A1, or D15.
  • range: a series of cells, which can be horizontal or vertical.  Many formulas require you to select a range of cells.
  • column: all the cells in a vertical line.  Identified with letters of the alphabet, beginning with A.
  • row: all the cells in a horizontal line.  Identified with ascending numbers, beginning with 1.
  • formula bar: the line used to enter information or a formula into a cell.
  • formula/function: an equation or piece of logic that uses the information in a cell or range of cells.  For mathematical functions, equations will start with the “=” sign, such as =140.20+55.62
  • name box: a space outside of the spreadsheet that identifies which cell you are working in.
  • sheet or “tab”: the collection of cells you are currently working in.  It’s easy to add one, just press the + sign in the circle next to where it says Sheet1.  If you right-click on “Sheet1,” you’ll see options to makes changes to your Sheet/tab, including renaming. You can never have too many!
  • workbook: this is what Microsoft calls the file you are currently working in.  Your workbook contains all your sheets.






Commonly Used Formulas/Functions

  • SUM: this is pretty easy, right?  Just addition.  To add up the values in a range of cells, type =sum(first cell in the range: last cell in the range), such as =sum(C3:C14) as in the example above, which of course equals 365.  To add up values in cells that are spread out around the sheet, just use “+,” such as =B5+C7+F3. 
  • AVERAGE: also self-explanatory.  Write the formula the same way you do for a sum, using a range.  I made an average in the example above (it was in cell D15, written as =AVERAGE(D3:D14).
  • CONDITIONAL FORMATTING: this is a series of formatting options available to a given cell or range of cells.  There are too many options to list here, but you can place specific conditions on a cell so that its background color, text color, or border color changes when those conditions are met.  I use this function to make a cell change color when my Actual Cost for a trip budget item exceeds or falls below my Estimated Cost, as explained in the Budget tutorial post.  Experiment with these- it really helps with household budgets as well…you can see right away when you’ve gone over your budget in any given category.  Well, of course I have a spreadsheet for my household budget!  What kind of spreadsheet dork would I be if I didn’t?  I also have one to track all the books I read in a year…and one to track all the flights my kids have been on…let me stop.

cond formatting


Inserting/Using Functions

This is a breeze.  You just have to figure out what you want the values in your cells to tell you.  Press the handy fx button to the left of the formula bar to pull up this dialog box:

function box

You can type the description and Excel will tell you which formula to use, as well as its definition (see the definition for AVERAGE in the picture above).  Under “Or select a category,” if you select All, be prepared for a huge list of words you haven’t seen since high school calculus.  It’s a little scary.  Suffice it to say, Excel is magical and can do any and all math for you.

If you’ve used a formula, gotten the answer, and prefer to change the way that number is presented, click the dropdown menu in the Number Format section.  You can then make your response appear as a monetary amount, a percentage, a fraction, or many more options.  You can modify how your text appears, too, it doesn’t have to be a number.

number optionsNifty shortcuts

  • I often see people scrolling through large spreadsheets looking for information.  Please, save your eyes and use “Ctrl + F.” Find anything in the current sheet or workbook easily.  You can also Find and Replace, if you realize after the fact that you had misspelled something in the first sheet and copied it in many other places.



  • If you have this problem: long titleYou can solve it at least 3 different ways: First, you can extend the size of the column (Column A, in this case) to the exact length of your text by holding your mouse on the line between Column A and Column B until you see what looks like a plus sign with arrows on the east and west points, then double-clicking; this sometimes messes up the formatting of the cells below.  If you no likey that (I definitely don’t), just hit Undo and turn to my good friends in the Alignment section, Wrap Text and Merge & Center.

wrap and merge center

          Wrap Text resizes the cell to fit the information in it:

wrap text

          Merge & Center combines adjacent cells and centers the text.  Just select at least 2 cells.  The merged cells then act as one.  Voilà!

merge & center

  • I get annoyed when scrolling and lose my header columns or row names.  Enter the Freeze Panes options.  First, at the top, change your menu from Home to View.  Then select Freeze Panes in the Window Section.  You’ll see the options below.  Use Freeze Panes for a custom view, or just use Freeze Top Row and Freeze First Column.  You can use both Top Row and First Column at the same time.  Now, you can scroll having to go back to the top to see what you are looking at.


  • You’ll also find the Hide function in the Window Section of the View menu.  Hide allows you to hide a column, row or even a whole workbook.  This allows you to keep the information available, but hide away if you don’t need to see it just then.  I find this very useful at work- they send me spreadsheets will all sorts of information that doesn’t help me.  Instead of deleting the column, I just right-click on the column letter, and select Hide.  It reduces the clutter on my screen, and I can always get the column back by hovering my mouse over where the column used to be, and extending the size again.  Many a work crisis has been solved by looking carefully at a sheet and realizing that info has not disappeared, it was just hidden.  You can tell because a letter will be skipped- if I hid Column C, my screen will show columns in the following order: A, B, D, etc.
  • Finally, Insert Comment is great for, well, inserting comments.  You right-click on a cell, and type in a little note.  I like to remind myself of the hours for a tourist attraction, to remind my husband what credit card to use for a type of expense, or leave funny notes to myself to find later.  I’m easily amused.  A cell with a comment attached will display a little red triangle in the top right corner.  Hover your mouse over the triangle to see the comment:


Whew!  Look, if all else fails, just use this Microsoft Tutorial for Excel.  Don’t forget to play with the fonts, text color, and borders to make it look pretty as well.  Happy spreadsheeting!

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Travel planning for dorks- spreadsheet tutorial part 5

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!


Travel planning for dorks- spreadsheet tutorial part 4

See Tutorial Parts 1, 2, and 3.

We’ve reached the Carry-on Packing List and Packing List tabs on our spreadsheet!  Everyone knows a vacation isn’t really happening until you pull out those dust-free suitcases and start loading your clean neat piles of clothes, which fit with plenty of room to spare…no?  Does the process look more like this?

Mickey Overstuffed Luggage

Well, my friends, it doesn’t have to!  Packing can be fairly simple and organized if you embrace the concept of the Master List, and utilize categories to keep everyone on track.

First, I’ll explain why I separated the Carry-On and Packing Lists.  Once upon a time, I had just a trip-specific packing list on a piece of paper in my planning folder (it had not yet graduated to a binder).  I would list the needed items into groups like Clothes, Camera Stuff, Toiletries, Confirmations, etc, and put a star * next to the items that I needed in my carry-on.  As I packed an item, I would highlight it or cross it out, and eventually would only be left with the carry-on items.  This system worked well, especially because I would then fold that piece of paper into my carry-on and take it with me.  This provided a list of what I had packed in case my suitcase was misplaced and I needed to replace my stuff.  Also, it served as a Repacking List for the way home, making sure I didn’t leave anything behind.  So why didn’t I continue with that method?

my husband and kids

my husband and kids running away from my lists

That’s why.  More people = more stuff to pack/forget to pack/leave behind.  So I upgraded my system.  I still use the Master List, but now it’s separated by Carry-on Packing (things you need on hand) and Packing (for checked suitcases or things you don’t need immediate access to).  Plus, it’s in a spreadsheet (duh!), and color-coded.  Each traveler has a color assigned to them, which is the same on each of the packing lists, and Lord help me if I don’t subconsciously buy travel items for my family in their assigned packing list color!  Husband, did you ever wonder why I was so happy to find a RED spinning suitcase for you?  And why you have a hanging toiletry kit with a RED lining?  All my favorite travel items are various shades of blue, because that’s MY color 🙂  Anyway…

The Master List: there are some items you need on every single trip,  so you may as well fill them in on your packing list from the start so these important items don’t get left behind. You may think some of these are no-brainers and you don’t need to have them on a list that you check before leaving the house, but imagine getting to an airport security checkpoint or Border Patrol crossing and realizing that you left your passport in your at-home safe.  This has not happened to me, thank goodness.  But it has happened to others and gives me nightmares nonethelsss.

The Carry-On Master Packing List includes the following categories:

  • photo identification: driver’s license/state ID is sufficient for domestic travel, valid passport required for international travel.  Kids under 16 don’t need to show anything, though the TSA folks usually ask my daughter what her name is to see if it matches the boarding pass.  A child traveling internationally with only one of their parents may need to show something stating that the other parent is aware of the travel- this letter or form may need to be notarized.  Check the entrance requirements for the country you are traveling to (I’m looking at you, Canada).
  • money & wallet: take credit cards with no foreign exchange fee if leaving the US, and ALWAYS have merchants run the charge through in the local currency to save on Dynamic Currency Conversion fees as well.  I like to start with a small supply of Euros or whatever to use on the public transport right when I get somewhere.  Plus, bring any membership or affiliation cards you need to prove you are indeed eligible for that fabulous discount-remember, that info in your Details tab.  Forgetting your health insurance subscriber information is courting disaster, so include that card as well.
  • confirmation information, tickets, hotel reservations, etc.  For me, this means just chucking the Trip Planning Binder right into my bag.  I take out the documents I need within the first hew hours of traveling, like flight information and boarding passes, and put them in an easily accessible pocket.  I wouldn’t dream of getting to an agent or kiosk and taking time to open my binder, take stuff out, put it back in, etc.  Gah- that’s like when people stand in a long food line and only start deciding what to order once they’re at the cashier!  Have some consideration, people.  So, I keep my documents handy, and just put them back in neatly when I’m on the plane.
  • phone!  Put it on Airplane Mode though, please.  And also lower the volume, I don’t want to hear “Kung Fu Fighting” alerting you of your missed calls the moment the airplane lands.
  • entertainment options: I like a good crossword puzzle book, and my iPod/headphones.  My husband brings Sudoku.  The tween brings her Kindle Fire.  I bring coloring/activity pages and crayons for the little guy.  We always have our headphone splitters in case the kids want to hear or watch something at the same time.  And depending on how long of a flight/car ride/train trip it is, we’ll bring magnetic chinese checkers, a deck of UNO cards, or a Disney Road Trip game I found at Hallmark once and never saw for sale again.  Don’t forget to bring something to write with.  I like a pen/highlighter combo myself.
  • snacks & water: the kind and amount of snacks you need is determined by the length of your trip and the ability to stop and buy food.  But you need something with you to avoid blood sugar lows.  For trips < 3 hours, I eat before I leave, and take some protein-rich stuff like nuts to keep me full in case of delays, and also some candy, because…I like it.  For longer trips, I like to have the equivalent of a full meal, but eat it in shifts.  More on that in another post.  Re: water- I hate the flavor of bottled water with the fire of a thousand suns, and really dislike drinking water in general.  I much prefer juice or milk.  Due to liquid restrictions from the TSA, I bring my own empty reusable water bottle, fill it up at a water fountain after security (I love the one at SEA that makes a babbling brook sound when you use it), and then add a flavor powder to it.  Instant no-calorie ” juice.” Just be careful opening any sealed containers with spouts after take-off; the pressure builds up under the spout, and if you don’t release it slowly, you’ll have a geyser on your hands! And likely, all over your clothes.  Which brings us to….
  • spare change of clothes: you never know when something will spill on you.  “Juice” or otherwise.  Those with motion sickeness-prone kids or potty-training kids know what I mean.  And change of clothes means everything, down to socks and undies.  Take very light-weight stuff: ladies, that usually means a sports bra.  We wear our sneakers or other heavier shoes onto the plane, but have our rubbah slippahs in the carry-on for bathroom trips or as a spare pair of shoes. Also, bring something in case it gets cold and you can’t change the temperature yourself.  I use a wonderfully soft pashmina, and the kids use lightweight hoodies.
  • medicine: common sense, folks.  Meds never go into checked luggage, and should be labeled properly or in their original containers.  You should also have a list or some other reference document of your medicine name, dosage, and precribing doctor should you need an emergency refill while away.  When traveling outside the US, knowing the actual name of the medicine as opposed to its brand name can also help, as the pharmacy may not carry Aleve, but they definitely have naproxen sodium. I carry a 7-day pill organizer, and have labeled the inside of the compartments with things I carry for each trip: adult pain meds, kids chewable pain meds, motion sickness meds, chewable Pepto-Bismol tablets, chewable Benadryl tablets, nighttime cold meds, and my prescription migraine meds.  Ear plugs fit into this category, and take up very little room.
  • makeup: We’re not talking pageant-level makeup, but a little tinted gloss keeps your lips moist, and keeps you from looking like death when you arrive.  Bonus: your compact’s mirror can come in handy when your child drops the emergency information card under the seat for the 40th time and you need to find it.  Ask me how I know.  Some people like to bring Evian mist or some other moisturizing lotion to guard the skin against dehydration.  I like to save one of my 3-1-1 for travel-sized toothpaste.
  • a timepiece: your phone or iPod touch can work for this if you don’t wear a watch anymore.  Nothing worse than not knowing how many hours are left.
  • cameras & memory cards (or film!), plus chargers: trips must be documented, and these are the tools of the trade.  Do not put them into your checked luggage under any circumstances.
  • comfort items: eye masks, neck pillows, blankets, compression socks to promote circulation, etc.
a glance at my in-process Disney trip carry-on list

a glance at my in-process Disney trip carry-on list


The Master Packing List includes the following categories:

  • clothes: of course, you need clothes! Unless you are going to a nudist camp, and this is not that kind of blog.  I like to specify how many of each thing to bring, and then let my husband and daughter pack for themselves.  Sort of. They choose and fold, and then I review and maybe edit their choices before they go into the suitcase. A sample list might say, “T-shirts (5), dressy tops (2), skirt/slacks (1), shirts (4), long pants/jeans (2), socks (5), dressy shoes: low black heels (1), bathing suit (1),”  etc.  I include everything they might need, from a specific shoe like in the example, to a certain hat, like the visor I only wear in Disney World.
  • toiletries: deodorant, q-tips, razors, face lotion, hair gel, sunscreen, bug spray, and so on.  If staying in hotels, I bring my own high-quality conditioner.  I figure, whatever hotel shampoo is available is probably adequate, but the conditioner is bound to make my hair look like Kramer’s in the low water-pressure episode of Seinfeld:


  •  Miscellaneous: this is actually one of my favorite categories.  This is where you put the stuff that makes your life easy, and that you should consider taking on most any family trip.  A power strip that includes a USB charger.  A pop-up hamper to contain dirty clothes, and a small laundry detergent sample to clean them with.  Shout Stain wipes. Palmolive dishwashing wipes to clean out sippy cups and reusable water bottles in hotel sinks- as you can see, this item was discontinued.  I have carefully hoarded a supply.  I suppose you can make your own with some soft paper towels, diluted dishwashing liquid, and a watertight container.  A large photo mailer to keep trip keepsakes neat and flat.  Glow sticks to keep kids amused in dark places.  A large tote bag to use while shopping, and a carabiner to attach the bag to the stroller or suitcase- my sister raves about the Mommy Hook.  The luggage scale I never travel without.
packing list

Disney packing list so far

Once you’ve got your Master Lists in place, add items specific to your destination, and you’re all set!  I print out the Carry-On and Packing Lists on separate pages and tape them in a central spot in the house.  My crew can see what they need to prep and fold, and then bring it to me at Packing Central, aka, my bed.  Once everything is checked off the lists, I grab them off the wall to use as a Repacking List on the way home.

And now, some words about bags and suitcases!


Your carry-on bag should be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you.  Check the dimensions by airline: If you take a rolling case or duffle bag on board as well, make sure you’ve organized yourself enough that the things you need while in your seat are already at hand, and the rest lives in the overhead bin.  I personally think that if you are checking a bag, you don’t also need a rolling suitcase on board.

Parents, consider using a backpack or cross-body messenger bag instead of a shoulder bag as a carry-on  It’s nice to be hands-free, especially if you have a stroller.  I require my carry-on bag to have a secure water bottle holder, be big enough to fit my trip binder without bending it, and have an easy-to-reach place to stash my sunglasses and iPod.  Choose a bag you love.

I love shopping eBags for any and all bags. They have a great eBags brand line as well.  We’ll be taking this baby out for her 1st ride on our trip to Ecuador.

A tip regarding checked bags: if my itinerary includes small airports, I sometimes lay a sheet of plastic, such as a dry cleaning bag or trash bag, over the top and sides of my packed items before closing the suitcase.  Your luggage may be left out on the tarmac in the pouring rain before it gets loaded onto the plane.  This is less common in large airports, but still possible.  Better safe than sorry.  This can also be solved by using Space Bags or those Ziploc Big Bags for most of your packing.  Also, I make some Outfit Bags for small children to protect and organize those items.  More on that in a future post about Traveling with Toddlers.

Pro-tip regarding repacking to go home: I pack dirty laundry into the suitcase inside out to clearly distinguish it from clean stuff.  Or you can designate one of the Space or Ziploc Bags, because most clothes are not helpfully labeled like this:

clean shirt


The next post in the Spreadsheet Tutorial will be The Itinerary 🙂


Travel planning for dorks- spreadsheet tutorial part 3

Please see Part 1  and Part 2 here.

After the Budget and To-Do Timeline tabs, we can move on to the Details tab.  The Details tab contains just that- details.  Here is where I like to fill in the nitty-gritty, the kind of stuff that needs to be recorded somewhere but would clutter up the other tabs.

  • A section for the flight details will contain the departure date, flight #, departure time, arrival time, and the name of the airline.  And the airport codes, too!  My daughter thinks I know them all by heart, because my screensaver for when we lived in Spain was our route there and back home, so HNL-LAX-EWR-JFK-DUB-MAD-SVQ-MAD-JFK-EWR-SFO-HNL would scroll across my little monitor several times a day.
  • A section for the hotel details will contain the name of the hotel, street address, phone and fax #s (these have come in handy more times than you can imagine), the type of room booked, included amenities like free breakfast, and of course, the reservation dates.  Sometimes I also include a note to remind myself what website I booked the hotel through (so I can be sure I was credited my miles or points appropriately after the fact).  I might also note if we used a special discount code such as AAA, Costco, or AARP, to be sure I have those membership cards handy in case they ask to see them.  Note: they NEVER ask to see them.  But as sure as the sky is blue- the time I don’t have them is the time they will ask for them.
  • Rental cars, ticket details, and other types of confirmed experiences also find their home here.
Details, details...

Details, details…

As I get closer to the trip, I usually add another column: Shopping!



The shopping list is pretty important to my planning.  I feel it important to have a souvenir from each trip.  Want to know what my fabulous memento is?  You sure you’re ready?

It’s a magnet.

Yup, a magnet.  A good, old-fashioned, refrigerator magnet.  There’s something about them that appeals to me- they are easy to find, don’t fade the way clothing does, and aren’t dust catchers like figurines.  And they’re usually pretty inexpensive.  I also like jigsaw puzzles, but that souvenir is reserved for my very favorite places, especially if I’ve been there many times.  For certain VERY special destinations (hint: they usually begin with the word “Disney”), I get a year-dated photo album and at least 1 photo frame.  Here are some of my magnets:

My freezer door, displaying 10s of dollars worth of memories

My freezer door, displaying 10s of dollars worth of memories

Of course, I don’t impose my souvenir rules on the rest of the family.  My husband always finds the perfect T-shirt, and the kids get several items, some of which will be forgotten as soon as we get home.  Such is the way of the world.

But anyway, back to the spreadsheet.  In addition to the Shopping list, I usually have an Eating list.  Doesn’t everybody travel with the intent to stuff their faces with regional delicacies?  And I’m not talking fine dining.  I make sure to eat greasy, delicious street food that you just can’t get in Honolulu.  On our recent trip to the East Coast, pizza was #1 on the list!  I’ve tasted most of the pizza on Oahu, and…it’s just not good enough for me (who grew up in NJ) or my husband (who was born and raised in the Bronx).  But the Boston’s pizza in Kaimuki gets an honorable mention for the Meatzilla and Spinach/Garlic/Mushroom slices.  Mmm.  So the Eating list might contain a type of food, a specific restaurant, or sometimes even a recipe request if we are visiting family.  And…now I have a craving for my mom’s Sopita de Queso.

That’s all for the Details tab, folks.  Next up: Packing lists! Yes, that’s a plural.


Travel planning for dorks- spreadsheet tutorial part 2

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…




Travel planning for dorks- spreadsheet tutorial Part 1

This post (and blog, really) assumes a basic knowledge of Microsoft Excel.  If the terms cell, value, formula, tab, column, and function mean nothing to you, perhaps look into one of those Office tutorials before diving in.  They’re kind of mesmerizing.

Not surprisingly, I am all about spreadsheets when it comes to organizing a trip.  Our June 2014 adventure was a trip to the East Coast, where we visited with various family members, attended an excellent Broadway show, road-tripped from NJ to PA to NY and back to NJ, attended a Yankees Game, and went to the Bronx Zoo.  On our road trip, we visited Hershey Park, went to State College (PA), and saw Niagara Falls from the Canadian side.  So…we were busy.

We stayed on course, on schedule for the most part, and mostly within budget due to diligent spreadsheetingOxford Dictionaries agrees that this is indeed a word.  Love it!  I wish it were an Olympic sport- this would be a collision of various things that I love.  I digress.

For this trip, my spreadsheet included 6 different tabs: Budget, To-Do Timeline, Details, Itinerary, Carry-on Packing List, and Packing List.  This post focuses on the first, and often most important planning tab, Budget.

Column headers include: estimated cost, actual cost, booking date, and confirmation #

Column headers include: estimated cost, actual cost, booking date, and confirmation #

I like to have a kicky font and fun name for the trip.  I can’t say this was my best work on the “trip name” side.  OK, I also need the trip dates to be nice and big at the top for easy reference.

The categories in Column B break down specific kinds of expenses.  This is the Transportation category:

Pro-Tip: I have 2 sections for Transportation, because some are Advance Expenses, and some are Variable expenses

Remembering the column headers I outlined above: in the Advance (incurred before the trip) expenses, I estimated our airfare for 4 from HNL to EWR to be $2500, and wound up paying $2831.34.  Over budget, but this is an amazing RT price for 4 people, and it was all thanks to the Alaska Airlines Visa Companion Fare benefit.  More on that in another post.  Then of course I have the booking date, and the confirmation #s.

In the Variable (incurred while on the trip) expenses, my Actual Cost for luggage fees was $100, which was $50 over my Estimated Cost of $50.  I have the spreadsheet set up to highlight the cell if the value in the Actual Cost cell is higher than in the Estimated Cost cell (via Conditional Formatting).  This helps me see where we need to adjust budget categories for the next trip.  This particular expense was annoying, because all of my other airline cards have free checked luggage as a benefit, but the Alaska card doesn’t.  I knew that going in, but it still bugs.

My other categories included Advance and Variable breakdowns for the  Pennsylvania and New York portions of the trip, with specific attractions and Misc road trip costs.  You’ll notice no other lodging cost beyond our Seattle airport hotel, our Hershey Park Hotel, and our Niagara Falls hotel.  This is because we stayed with my fantastic parents the rest of the time.  They have a great view of the NYC skyline!

Each category has a subtotal in the Estimated Cost column (highlighted a mint green), which feeds into either an Advance expense Grand Total, or a Variable expense Grand Total (highlighted in light blue for Estimated Cost, and pink for Actual Cost).  Finally, those 2 Grand Totals feed into the GRAND TOTAL at the top (highlighted in gray).  Below each GRAND TOTAL is a Variance, or the difference between the Estimated costs and the Actual costs.  Whew!

Close-up of Advance expenses section

Close-up of Advance expenses section

If you’re still reading, congratulations on your excellent attention span!  I arrived at this method of budget planning long ago, and it works for the way my brain processes information.  Feel free to customize to your heart’s content.  If there are requests, I can make a sample spreadsheet on Google Docs with the formulas, etc. all ready to go, and folks can download and enter their own categories/amounts.  Just be sure to pick a better name for a NY trip than “New York, New York.”

The next post in this series will focus on the To-Do Timeline tab.