Itinerary planning 101: my system for keeping track of bookings

Hi Frugalistas!

Once you’ve decided on an itinerary how do you go about booking the individual components?  How do you keep track of what is booked and confirmed and what you are yet to organise?


Obviously, you’ve got a number of options.  Going through a travel agent definitely makes life easy – you tell them exactly what you want and they do it for you.  Presto, finished!  Even if you do it yourself, some trips don’t require complex booking tools – a simple resort holiday or package tour for example.  But if you are planning anything more complicated involving multiple flights, locations and reservations a system really is necessary to make sure you don’t miss anything.

This is the system I use:

It is a simple Excel spreadsheet, that uses two basic business project planning principles – a simple Gant chart used by project managers everywhere, and an even simpler dashboard colour coding system based on traffic lights.  These two tools combined make a simple tool that enables me to see exactly what I’ve booked and what I haven’t.

My whole itinerary at a glance. Colour coded so I can see exactly what tasks are outstanding

My whole itinerary at a glance. Colour coded so I can see exactly what tasks are outstanding

So, here’s how I go about booking my trip, regardless of its complexity:

1.  The first thing I do is put each day of the trip by date across the top of the spread sheet. Then I put each item I need to book down the side in a vertical column.  Think carefully as you do this to make sure you don’t miss out on anything.  Don’t worry about things you don’t need to book – for example, if you already know you are going to get into town by taxi, bus or train you don’t need to book that.  In my particular example, I am using airlines that provide chauffeur transfers for First and Business Class passengers.  I need to book those transfers myself, so I include them.  You could also include prebookings for specific sites or activities you want to see or do.

The basic outline of dates and activities

The basic outline of dates and activities

I also add in a separate section at the bottom for extra things I need to remember to book or buy – such as travel insurance.

2.  Then I highlight the dates that each activity needs to occur and mark them in red.  This allows me to see at a glance what activity is happening when and therefore when everything needs to be booked for.

Plotted out and ready to start booking.  This also allows me to see that I haven't missed a day, and that travel and accommodation are scheduled for the right dates

Plotted out and ready to start booking. This also allows me to see that I haven’t missed a day, and that travel and accommodation are scheduled for the right dates

3.  Once I’ve marked them in red, I then type in the details such as the flight numbers and names of the hotels I am planning on booking.  Because I am planning on traveling about by train, I have numbered each train trip – then when it comes time to book I can easily compare the price of a Rail pass with individual point to point tickets.

4.  Once I’ve started requesting my bookings I move that activity to yellow – booked, but not confirmed.  Sometimes it takes 24hours for a hotel to confirm.  Similarly, if you are getting a travel agent or other third party agent to organise something for you, you don’t get an immediate response and confirmation.  So anything I’ve requested, but I haven’t got written confirmation for, goes yellow.

Once I start requesting bookings I move those items to yellow

Once I start requesting bookings I move those items to yellow

5.  Things that are confirmed, I highlight in green, so I know I can forget about those.  I type in all my booking reference and flight numbers, so I can see at a glance exactly where everything is up to.

Confirmed flights with flight numbers, and other activities with booking references

Confirmed flights with flight numbers, and other activities with booking references

6.  The confirmation emails go into a separate folder I keep in my email account.  This keeps them all in one place.

7.  When every highlighted area is green I know I am done.  I’m ready to go!

Everything booked, so I'm ready to go!

Everything booked, so I’m ready to go!

So, even if you’ve never used an Excel spreadsheet, or never heard of a Gant chart, this is easy, so have a go!  I’d love to know how you get on.

Related posts:

This is part of a series of posts on Itinerary Planning:

Part 1 – Designing the outline of your trip

Part 2 – Getting around and paying for your trip

Part 3 – The final details

Any itinerary regardless of your budget


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15 Comments on “Itinerary planning 101: my system for keeping track of bookings”

  1. josh 13/07/2013 at 3:41 pm #

    Best post yet Jo regarding planning! I’ll be using this tomorrow to ensure we are all fully booked!

  2. Pretraveller 13/07/2013 at 7:57 pm #

    Jo, I thought I had a good travel planning spreadsheet but I am definitely impressed with yours and may borrow a few ideas! I really like the idea of using traffic lights so you can easily see what is left to complete.

    And I definitely agree with waiting until you have the confirmations to turn them green – we have previously had a situation where we thought we had booked some accommodation and when we got there our booking wasn’t in their register – and when we checked we only then realised that we had never received a confirmation.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 14/07/2013 at 7:46 am #

      Hi Anne, thank you very much. Coming from the queen of spreadsheets your feedback means a lot! The other thing I do as a double check on the accommodation is go through all my confirmations to check that I have every night covered, with no gaps and no overlap. Saves last minute juggles and trying to change dates.

  3. Aubrey 22/07/2013 at 7:08 am #

    I love hearing how people organize their trip planning. I tried using tripit but found it just didn’t suit my needs. I use pinterest a lot for brainstorming and visually organizing. I haven’t used spreadsheets but might have to give it a try for my next trip! I really like your system of changing the color to show that its been confirmed.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 22/07/2013 at 2:57 pm #

      Yes, I’ve used Tripit and find it doesn’t suit my needs either – particularly for hotels. That’s why I started doing this – I find my methodology has two advantages: I can check that I’ve got every day covered, and got my accommodation booked on the correct days etc. The other big advantage is the colour coding – saves having to rummage through all the confirmation emails to check what is missing.
      Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment.

  4. Anita Mac 02/08/2013 at 4:29 am #

    Absolutely brilliant Jo! I have a simple system that has worked well for me in the past, but as my life moves more on the road, will need an upgrade! I have a basic wall calendar that I write on, update and scribble. Once the trip is happening, I photocopy the final product and slip 2 copies in my book – pretty archaic (but functional). I like this online version – it can be emailed to myself and a family member to keep track of my wanderings! May try setting this up for the last quarter of the year as my wandering feet have me moving about some more!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 03/08/2013 at 8:15 am #

      Thanks Anita! I’ve also had to evolve into this sort of system as my arrangements seem to have got more complicated. While this upcoming trip isn’t terribly long, it’s got a lot of individual components that I’ve had to book separately.

  5. Fantastic. I’ve been using a spreadsheet for years too but never thought to do it up Gantt style. Great idea. It may be time for an upgrade for this gal. Mine is fairly simple: one overview then a sheet for hotels, flights, day-by-day itinerary where I put prices and booking confirmation beside. But I like this idea. 🙂

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 27/08/2013 at 12:02 pm #

      Even though I’d used Gantt charts and spreadsheets at work for years, it took me ages to realise I could use them for travel planning as well. I’m finding it really helpful doing it this way.

  6. Heidi (@WagonersAbroad) 24/03/2014 at 5:39 pm #

    Okay, I love spreadsheets and it is so cool to find someone else that does too! This is great.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 24/03/2014 at 7:09 pm #

      Thanks Heidi. It took me ages to realise that some of the basic business processes I was using at work could be applied to travel planning. Now I’d never do it any differently

  7. akcuisine 31/03/2014 at 8:04 am #

    Is there a reason you prefer a spreadsheet to the free version of a travel itinerary program such as TripIt? At any one time I usually have at least a dozen business and leisure trips on the books. I find that TripIt is quite easy to use and it helps me keep multiple travel plans on track.

    Most confirmations from airlines, hotels, car rentals – even OpenTable dining reservations – are automatically integrated into an itinerary simply by forwarding them to TripIt. I can also add notes and reminders to an itinerary, or manually add items that can’t be integrated via email. It’s easy for me to scroll down through the days and see what remains to be booked – I can see at a glance what’s been booked and what still needs to be done.

    And perhaps one of the best features about TripIt is that it can be used via web or one-the-go as a phone app. Having all of my travel plans in one place, viewable on my phone (even when I’m in airline mode) is a life saver.

    (Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with the TripIt company, nor do I use their subscription Pro service. I’m just a regular consumer with frequent travel plans.)

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 31/03/2014 at 7:34 pm #

      I like to book a lot of hotels and other activities that don’t display the information in the format that Tripit seems to need. I have a Tripit account, and do use it, but just don’t find it does everything I need. I think Tripit works well for airlines and for chain hotels etc, but not for small, local independents that I prefer.


  1. The Cat Herder and the Organised Holiday | Journeys of the Fabulist - 07/08/2013

    […] uses spreadsheets to plan out her holidays. So does Jo, of Frugal First Class Travel, who gives us a beginner’s guide to Gant charting, complete with a traffic-light colour-coding system. I can do this, I thought, several hours ago. […]

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