Where am I and What do I do Here?
October 18, 2008 9:04 AM   Subscribe

Looking for suggestions to help keep all my travel materials organized while traveling so that I do, in fact, see/do/smell/hear all of the great things about a particular place.

I suspect that I am like many MeFites: we browse and scour the 'net looking for cool and out-of-the-way places to go, see, and experience when we travel. We get emails from friends telling us that we must do this/go here/see this/eat here; We collect all kinds of tips, hints, maps, itineraries, places to see, and other scraps of information about a particular place. That's all and great, but when I actually get there, I need a better way of keeping it all organized/collated/indexed/whatever so that the information is actually put to use.

My current approach is to print out everything I find or people send me about a particular place into a folder and try to keep it loosely organized by topics (i.e., restaurants, museums, trains, etc...). The problem with this is that when I'm in a BIG city, like London, New York, Berlin, etc... and I'm not totally familiar with the various neighborhoods within the city, the information tends to become somewhat useless to me as I never know what I have that's in my stash that also happens to be in the area where I'm at that particular moment.

I'm looking for analog (paper-based) ways of how good MeFite travelers organize their stuff. I'm all for the web and electronic means of organizing this stuff is OK, but the end result must be a take-with-me paper-based system as I really don't like hauling electronic gear around with me whilst traveling (iPhone excluded).

So, what's your travel organizing system look like?
posted by webhund to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
My biggest improvement over the folder system was using a three-hole punch and getting a small flexible binder to store papers in. It makes flipping through the pages much easier, and I don't lose anything. I generally organize the papers chronologically, although if you're staying more in one place you may want to organize more thematically.

(Because I'm quite bad about losing things, I also make a packing list containing literally everything that I'm bringing, and print out multiple copies -- one for every location I'm staying in. Then when I'm leaving any place, I go through and physically check off every item on the list. This works very well for me.)
posted by wyzewoman at 9:32 AM on October 18, 2008

Before I go, I plot out all of the tips and destinations on a map. Then I can see, "oh this museum is right near this dinner place a friend recommended, and it's only open from 5-10, so let's hit the museum in the afternoon, then wander over to dinner!" The key is actually printing those maps out too, or plotting them on a physical map that you're taking. Then if you end up in a neighbourhood and want to check your list/recommendations, you can do so visually. You can still keep the emails or information printed out in your little binder, but it seems critical to me to have the groupings visualized. You can even do this on the maps in a guidebook if necessary.

I've long thought an awesome service would be somewhat customized guidebooks. Then you could include the things you're most interested in, a few side trips that look interesting, and upload whatever other tips you'd like onhand. Then you wouldn't end up with these monster guidebooks, especially in places where you're only going to a few places in the book. Seems like it would be so easy to do online.
posted by barnone at 9:40 AM on October 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah - some friends LOVE the Moleskine city notebooks just for this purpose. Check out the link for more info - doesn't work for every location, but for city tourism they're really cool.
posted by barnone at 9:44 AM on October 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

My technique is relatively simple. When I arrive in a city or area where I've taken notes of certain places, I usually spend a night with a phonebook and all the local tourist pamphlets, I'll get the exact addresses of places of interest and plot them on a map, usually with just a little number. Then I'll base my walk the next day on an area with a high concentration of dots. You can complement the phone book with internet and advice from locals. Local advice (from hotel receptionist, waiters, guy sitting next to you on the bus/train, taxi drivers, etc.) are all important.

My other (not always popular) strategy: Go through The Lonely Planet guide for wherever you are going, then avoid like the plague as much of the stuff that you can (especially restaurants and hotels). If you need a travel guide to find a restaurant, then you're hopeless already :-)
posted by furtive at 10:02 AM on October 18, 2008

google maps.

When travelling if i get tips about things to do, to see, good bars, good cafes, the good areas for shopping, a particular shop: before I go I stick it all on a google 'My Map' (you can select an icon for each item and add descriptions) and then I print out the Map in A3, with the legend on the back.

Thats then generally all i need, it has all the info on it relating to a particular city.

if you don't collate it all before you go, you will probably never look at it when you arrive - or as said above - could be quite near something else - that you don't realise because you don't know the area.
posted by mary8nne at 10:40 AM on October 18, 2008

We took a five week road trip this summer, from Los Angeles to Boston and back. Early on, I started a bookmark bar folder in Safari with sub-folders for each state and major city we planned to travel through. That way, each time I found a nugget (many from Metafilter), I could just drop it into the proper slot and know that it was safe. I refined it as time went by to include links to my Twitter account, my blog, any blog tools that I knew would be handy etc. We had booked a couple of places to stay in advance, and that info went in there as well. I synced this to my iphone so I had access to it at all times while we were traveling and it worked out pretty well for us.
posted by jvilter at 10:43 AM on October 18, 2008

I maintained a google map as we went along this summer. I started one before we left and ended up modifying it based on our reality. It was really fun to be able to set a mark for some tiny but significant part of the trip. Makes it really easy to go back and retrace our steps too. I just now added something I'd forgotten about. They are easy to update. Also, I Twittered. As it turns out, that was very beneficial for my MIL, who is a worrier. She was able to check our progress several times a day and not worry so much about us being dead in a ditch somewhere. Much easier, and less pressure than trying to keep a blog while traveling. Free to do from my iphone, but I have a friend who liked reading mine so much that she just got a month of unlimited texting on her cell phone so she could do her trip to NYC.
posted by jvilter at 12:25 PM on October 18, 2008

We've planned a road trip in France for the last three years and have been refining our technique. The latest version involves a homemade map and an Excel file.

The working file has the following columns:

An attraction starting with name of town followed by one or more particular features (possible or actual B&B name & phone #, restaurant ditto, market day, museums, special pastry shops, other good stuff). Any town worth its salt will require several lines.
Post code (to enable sorting by departement and town)
Page in Michelin road atlas
Map coordinates
Days open or closed, hours
A column to note whether I've marked this place on the map
A column to indicate our top picks.

This is info I've picked up over the years, and it covers all of France. When we narrow down where we've going, we sort by map page and print out only where we're going. At this point we drop the columns for post code and marked-on-map.

This year's version was 23 pages. We printed one set for each of us and consulted them constantly.

Along with this goes the sloppily custom-made map. To cover the top half of France, I copied atlas pages at 80%, taped them together horizontally, marked each town on the map, and rolled each tier up like a scroll.

I wish I could say this covered it all, but no, we lugged along real maps, B&B guides, a rough daily schedule, hiking guides, dictionary, and more.

We still go nuts each night planning the next day, but this way we don't overlook something that would be within our range.
posted by sevenstars at 3:07 PM on October 18, 2008

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