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Lets face it, traveling isn’t easy, especially if, like me, you’re not the greatest planner in the world. Thankfully I have a lot of really great folks in my life who are fantastic planners like my wife Cheryl, Kristen, Katie, and Doug. For me, just planning to show up can be the hardest part. So knowing there are people who have my back on this is fantastic. And after my recent Disney #crew trip, I was talking with my good friend, and mistress of travel, Kim, and it got me thinking about the tools I use to keep track of all this in a centralized location and ultimately in the palm of my hand.
So you’ve planned your trip (or in my case, had others do so for you), and the result is that you have several different reservations, itineraries, meet-ups you’d like to attend, etc. Some might have come in the mail, some in email, while others are associated with various online services. And you’re probably starting to wonder how to keep track of it all. Now I promise to get into some geeky tech stuff below, but before I do lets go low tech with a little something I like call my contingency plan: the hard copy.
Take paper copies of your reservations, fold up them up, and stick them in an envelope. Carry that envelope in a bag that will stay with you (as in not checked) when traveling, be it a pocketbook, knapsack, or briefcase. Seriously, you’re going to a place that is not home. Did you ever consider what might happen if you showed up at a hotel, knowing you have a reservation, only to arrive at that hotel at the appointed time to discover that they have no record of your reservation? I’ve had this happen to me before, and it can be quite a mess – the burden of proof is on you, the traveler, not the hotel. Now, when all else fails – phone battery is dead, cell phone network is down, Wi-Fi is nowhere to be found – just pull out the hard copies and you’re good to go.
Now on to the geek tech stuff. The simplest tool you can have for centralizing all your travel plans is your calendar. I’m not talking that thing hanging on your wall, or that black book you carry around. I’m talking about a computerized calendar that at a bare minimum supports iCalendar (iCal for short, but not to be confused with Apple’s iCal program) – the generally accepted format for computerized calendar events. While you could organize this all on a MacBook or notebook computer, I highly recommend doing this in the Cloud (a.k.a. the Internet).
My feeling is that you want your plans to be as portable as possible because you’re going to be on the go. So rather than have them scattered about several sources, you need to centralize them into a single location that is very accessible. This will make it easier for you to get at them in a quick, efficient manner, and through many different points of access . Putting your plans into the Cloud will help you do that. While you could use Yahoo to do this, I’m going to suggest Google, and I’ll tell you why.
These days many of us, especially in the Disney Online community, are getting one of two different types of smartphones: an Apple iPhone, or an Android phone. This could also be done for an Apple iPad or Android Tablet. Both types of devices are highly compatible with Google’s services – especially Google Calendar. I don’t personally own an Android phone, but from what I’ve picked up, when you turn the device on you’ll have an option to either create a new Google account, or connect to an existing one. At that point your Google account, including the calendar will be synced to your phone.
It’s a bit more complex for an iPhone, but not as hard as you might think, and Google has some really good directions for doing so here. Please, please, please read carefully before doing this. If you do this, you will be connecting your iPhone to Google using the Microsoft Exchange format. There is a chance you could lose existing Calendar and Contact info on your iPhone. However, if you follow the directions, especially Step 13, you should be able to get your existing information synchronized into your Google Account properly. I strongly suggest that before doing this that you connect your iPhone in your computer and use iTunes to back it up.
Once your Google calendar is connected to your device, you’ll notice that when you add calendar events to the device that the events will then sync to Google calendar, and vice versa. This is the crux of getting your planning into the palm of your hand (or palms if using a device larger than a phone). Now any computer or other device capable of connecting to Google calendar is a means for accessing your planning data. Welcome to your new connected world view.
You can start entering in your reservations as calendar events putting in as much or as little data as you feel is necessary. At a bare minimum I recommend including your reservation number along with the name, address, and phone number of the location associated with the reservation. The neat thing is that you don’’t have to stick to just vacation planning. You could schedule anything this way, from lunch, to an interview, to a PTA meeting. The Cloud’s the limit. I’ve been scheduling my life this way for the past few years now, and I really can’t recall how I managed it all beforehand.
Now for the fun part. For the recent #crew vacation, Kristen created a #crew calendar in Google that she then invited those of who requested it. Once my Google calendar was subscribed to Kristen’s #crew calendar, within minutes all of her plans for our trip were also on my iPhone. It’s that easy for one person to organize a series of events for another person, or an entire group of people. A calendar owner controls who can see and/or edit their calendars.
In Google calendar, you can subscribe to any calendar you find online, all you need is the iCal URL – often this will be denoted on a web page by a green icon. However, some sites may denote this with a text link to “export” the calendar. Once you have the URL:
- Open Google Calendar
- Under Other calendars, click Add
- Choose Add by URL
- Paste or type the URL into the Add by URL dialog
- Click Add Calendar
It’s even easier if the calendar is hosted by Google and you’re given an embed link for the calendar – this will take you to an embed page for the calendar. On an embed page you’ll be presented with a button – just click the button and you’ll be subscribed to the calendar.
But wait it gets better. If you’re a part of the Disney online community these days you’re likely subscribing to events and meet-ups. You know how it is, Lou Mongello schedules an event in Facebook, you hit Attend, and it’s in your Facebook calendar. Or Katie schedules a TouringPlans.com meet in Plancast, you choose count me in, and it’s in your Plan. It’s very easy to add either to your Google calendar.
For Facebook, go to your home page, and then click Events – this will bring you to the Events page. Scroll to the bottom of the page and chooseExport Events. This will bring up a dialog that displays the iCal URL. Simply right-click or command-click the link and choose to Copy link address. Then follow the directions above. Your Facebook events will now be listed in your Google calendar. Only events you have designated as Attending will be shown, birthdays will also not be shown.
For Plancast, I don’t recommend using your Home feed because it will also include items for which you have not chosen to count me in. Instead, use your Profile feed , this way you’ll only get items where you have selected count me in. This is much more manageable. From your Profile page, scroll down and choose Calendar Feed under Export these plans. Then on the Export plans to calendar dialog that appears, choose Google – you’ll be presented with a list of steps to add your Plancast Profile to Google calendar. Follow the steps, just like any other calendar the events you’ve planned will appear in Google calendar.
The final step is to get all these calendars you’ve been adding to actually appear on your phone. By default Google will only sync your default calendar. Directions for syncing multiple calendars on an Android device can be found here. There’s a bit more to it on an iOS device – you’ll want to use your Safari browser to http://m.google.com/sync. Log in as needed. Then select your device. This will bring you to a list of your calendars, just check off the ones you want on your device. Click Save. All the selected calendars will now sync to your phone – this may take a while depending on the size of the calendars. And you’re done.
If you’re having any problems with any of this, don’t hesitate to ask me here, or contact me on Twitter or Facebook. Thanks for taking the time to read this. Next week I’ll talk about some travel related apps I use on my iPhone as well as a fantastic service called TripIt that I think you’ll really like. Safe travels.