How to Create the Ultimate Travel Spreadsheet (and Why You Need One)

How to Create the Ultimate Travel Spreadsheet (and Why You Need One)
Photo: Worawee Meepian, Shutterstock

Organisation can make or break any travel experience. Sure, it’s tempting to romanticize the life of the rugged backpacker, but there’s probably room for a laptop or phone in that backpack. And if you have a laptop or phone, then you can and should make yourself an ultimate travel spreadsheet to help you manage your next adventure.

My own travel experiences have run the organisation gamut. I’ve worked on the planning and facilitation side of college study abroad programs. I’ve also found myself searching for lunch during Ramadan in Egypt, or in the middle of a six-hour bus ride in the wrong direction in Vietnam — you get the picture. In terms of time, money, and peace of mind, I can assure you: The organised traveller is the happier traveller.

From excruciatingly detailed journals to extremely elaborate to-do lists, I love spreading the gospel of using spreadsheets to hack every corner of your life. Even if you don’t have any upcoming trips, you can save this template now and experiment with planning the dream vacations in the future. So let’s dive into the hows and whys of storing all your important travel information in one nifty spreadsheet.

Why you need an ultimate travel spreadsheet

There’s no shortage of reasons to create a spreadsheet every time you need to travel.

  • Accessibility. If you choose an online option like Google Sheets, you will always have access to your itinerary via your phone.
  • Collaborating and sharing. If you’re going on a trip with a group, you can all view and work in the spreadsheet together.
  • Built-in templates. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel! We’ll list some easy-to-use templates at the bottom.
  • Personalisation. It’s easy to format your itinerary for each individual journey (and to make each one visually appealing). I’m a sucker for colour coding.
  • Adaptability. As plans change, you can edit your spreadsheet on-the-go. Even before you book anything, you can tally up and compare costs of different travel and lodging options row-by-row to make decisions more easily.

Why you don’t need an ultimate travel spreadsheet

By engaging in such detailed planning and doing it all in one place, you’ll sacrifice your self image as a spontaneous wind-child who can’t be tied down to any one destination. Sorry.

How to build the ultimate travel spreadsheet

Now that you’re fully on board, here’s how to get started creating your own all-encompassing travel spreadsheet.

Choose your preferred platform. I’ve made it clear that I’m most accustomed to Google Sheets, but these tips will work with whatever spreadsheet software you like best.

Create tabs. Every journey is different, but the following tabs are safe bets:

  • General overview itinerary: The basics of where you’ll be on what days.
  • Detailed, master itinerary: All the information in one place, links to different tabs, (all the information in one place, can link to different tabs as needed?)
  • Packing list: Don’t find yourself at the airport with plenty of socks, but no passport.
  • Transportation: Flights, trains, car rentals, etc.
  • Lodging: Hotel location and costs, Airbnb contact info, etc.
  • Budget: Use simple formals to add up all your costs across tabs.
  • Day-by-day itineraries: Make sure you don’t miss anything for when you have conferences, site tours, dinner reservations, and so on.
  • The fun stuff: Keep track of links to different restaurants, night life ideas, and all the other miscellaneous fun stuff you don’t want to risk falling out of your brain.

Fill in your info column-by-column. Now that you’ve divvied up the different broad categories of your travel, it’s time to fill in the nitty gritty. For instance, it’s useful to input all your airline ticket information into individual cells so you can easily double-check your terminal location or copy/paste flight numbers while checking in.

Customise as needed. For me, this primarily comes down to colour-coding. In addition to inputting all my travel information, I like to throw in highlighted to-do items, e.g. a designated spot to check off once I’ve actually checked into my flight, checked out of my hotel, and so on.

Online templates to get you started

There’s no need to start building a travel spreadsheet from scratch. Here are some resources to get yours off the ground:

  • Johnny Africa, which includes a fantastic explainer and itinerary template for Google Sheets
  • The Travel Itch, similar to the above and includes Excel-specific tips
  • Travel Mapper, the Google add-on that includes a ready-to-use customisable template

And if you still aren’t sold on spreadsheets, you can stay organised with apps like TripIt, Tripify, Wanderlog, and plenty more.

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