As much as I've traveled this year, I thought it might benefit many of my friends, colleagues and associates to share some of my favorite tips, tools and resources for traveling, whether for business, pleasure or both. In this post, I'll focus on a few specific web-based tools that have made my travels easier, more organized, and ultimately less stressful. In the near future, I will aim to catalog other tips and techniques that I've adopted over the years that further contribute to low-stress travel, and I would encourage and greatly appreciate contributions of any such tips and techniques from any of my readers!
In this post, I'll focus on three specific travel-related web-sites that I've found useful in preparing and managing my itineraries and organizing my travel, and in some cases coordinating meetings and events with other travelers along the way.
The first of these resources is a web-site that originally began as a tool designed to manage and organize itineraries, but has evolved over time into a social-networking tool that also encourages cross-coordination of travel. TripIt is a site (service?) that allows you to either enter your itinerary manually or forward your travel confirmation emails to automatically build and create nice, printable itineraries with all of your travel events categorized, organized and displayed chronologically (along with weather, maps, directions and in some cases, events for each of your destinations).
I began using TripIt around this time last year, and ignoring a few minor glitches, have become rather enamored with the service. What's nice about TripIt is that in most cases, creating your itinerary is no more complicated than forwarding a few emails and hitting print. In most cases, TripIt will automatically recognize and extract information from confirmation emails provided by most major airlines, hotel chains, rental car agencies and more. Further, early this year, TripIt added support for reservations made through OpenTable (which I mentioned in a recent blog post on low-cost dining for frequent travellers), which means you can now forward OpenTable reservations directly to TripIt to add dinner plans to your itinerary, a minor but effective organizational detail.
While I've managed to connect with a handful of friends using TripIt, I have also found many reluctant to sign up, due primarily to the site's new focus on social networking, and for those who are already inundated with requests to join MySpace, FaceBook, LinkedIn, etc., the thought of signing up for yet another social networking tools is daunting. IMHO, TripIt is quite useful individually, and if you never connected with a single person, it's still quite effective for managing and organizing your own itineraries.
For those less interested in itinerary management, but who are interested in the social networking / travel coordinating component of TripIt, a self-described luddite friend later directed me to Dopplr, another web resource that ignores the finer details of your itinerary and instead focuses simply on where you'll be, when, and who you know that might also be there. In fact, with Dopplr, all you need to do is specify a destination and a date, and you're done. Since I have friends that use one of the services but not the other, I've maintained a presence at both, though it was becoming a bit tiresome to maintain my schedule at both web sites on a regular basis. Fortunately, hackerjoe pointed me to the new Dopplr feature that allows Dopplr to be subscribed to calendar-based RSS feeds for input, and since TripIt provides such an RSS feed… all I have to do now is maintain my itineraries in TripIt and Dopplr automatically picks up on where I'll be and at what times.
Last week, as I began my migration from an old Nokia E61 to a new BlackBerry Curve (ick), I stumbled across another old resource that's been given a fresh new face, and a feature-set that virtually mirrors that of TripIt. For any of you not previously familiar with WorldMate, they've launched a new update to their service, now dubbed WorldMateLive. Previously, the service consisted of a smartphone client that allowed you to check flight status and weather, do currency conversion and a bit more, but the upgraded service now also provides itinerary management akin to TripIt. In a similar manner, you simply forward your confirmation emails to WorldMateLive, and they will automatically build your itineraries and keep them in sync with your smartphone.
While I generally prefer TripIt, due to its popularity and the number of friends and colleagues with whom I'm already connected there, WMLive is a compelling alternative, and with their very attractive smartphone client, it may eventually encourage me to migrate. Unfortunately, the “free edition” of WorldMateLive is largely an up-sell to their Gold Edition, which at $99/year is yet another travel expense I don't need for the simple privilege of being able to check flight status and book flights through their client (things I can already do quite easily with my existing travel providers' SMS and mobile web interfaces).
That's it for now! In point of fact, it's time for me to run upstairs and pack for my trip to Fort Lauderdale this week (you can find details at TripIt, Dopplr, and WorldMateLive if you also plan to be in the area :), so I hope you found at least one of the above resources to be interesting if not useful, and maybe I'll see you in one of the myriad destinations I have planned for this year and next!