How we parents organize family travel plans

A common inbox, a shareable note-taking app, and cloud storage help us keep track of tasks across devices, continents, and big travel plans

How to organize family travel plans is one thing when you’re at home. Planning a trip while you are also traveling is another thing entirely. In addition to the ins and outs of being on the road, you have to stay in sync as a couple on plans, arrangements, activities, reservations, and so much more. If you get off the same page, or if you don’t know what each of you is managing, it can lead to frustrations, arguments, delays, or just sheer confusion.

Fortunately, all that is also easy to avoid.

Note: Naturally, if you don’t use Apple devices, you can apply many of the same ideas to other apps similar to Notes, such as Google Docs, Evernote, OneNote, or Day One.

Why it’s essential for couples to organize family travel plans and know what’s what

@learnersandmakers Our family of four is traveling the world! ❓ Who are we? We are the Learners and Makers, otherwise known as the St. Clair Family. 👋  Jodie = Mama, video editor, photographer, queen of social 👋  Anthony = Daddy, writer, negotiator, GoPro and be there 👋  Connor = Son, chief photobomber 👋  Aster = Daughter, in charge of capturing pretty much every photo of Jodie and Anthony kissing ❓ What do we do? We seek out ways to learn and make every day, everywhere, and every way we can. We worldschool Aster and Connor, and we parents are digital nomads who run our own business. ❓ Our biggest goal as parents? Instill in our kids the same curiosity and lifelong love of learning that fuels our passion for life, each other, the world around us, tasty food and drink, and everything we do. ❓ What are our travel plans? After years of planning and some intense months of preparing, in August 2022 we left our adopted home in the US Pacific Northwest. Building on our own international travels, we wanted to show the kids some of the world, while they are still kids. We figure we’re traveling for at least a year. But we have no set return date. ❓ What questions do you have for our world schooling, globetrotting, digital nomading family? #familytravel #digitalnomadlife #digitalnomadfamily #experienceoverthings #worldschool ♬ Northern Attitude – Noah Kahan

When you’re traveling internationally as a family, there is so much to keep up with. Different countries have different entry requirements. You both need to keep track of reservations, confirmation numbers, and other travel info. With different activities and ideas to choose from for parents and kids, everyone also wants to make sure that you know what you’re doing on which particular day.

Different families also tackle travel planning in different ways. In some families, one person takes care of everything. In other families, each parent takes on various tasks. For us, Jodie takes care of reserving flights, booking accommodation, and arranging rides in ride apps such as Uber, Didi, or Grab. Anthony comes up with overall activity idea lists for an area, stays on top of things like visas and immigration requirements, and balances the family budget.

Catching up on Facebook while in Thailand, we saw a post from a friend in the USA who said her 11-year-old daughter had discovered Apple’s Notes app. We started talking with her about how we use Notes. It helps us organize family travel plans and know what we each need to do. And that got us thinking that we could share with you some of the ways we stay organized and, more importantly, on the same page as busy globetrotting parents tending to our family’s travels, basic needs, and safety wherever we are in the world.

The challenge of staying in sync as busy traveling parents

Being on the same page isn’t a given. Whether you plan your travels in a paper journal or via an organization or task app, it can be easy for each person to do their own thing without keeping clear communication. Fortunately, today’s apps make it easier for each of you to know what’s been done and what needs doing.

Apple Notes: Our workhorse for how we plan our family travels together

Apple’s Notes app is our family workhorse for managing our travel plans. It’s included for free with every Apple iPhone, iPad, and computer. Apple’s cloud syncing makes updates virtually instantaneous across all our devices for any notes we share.

Here are some of the ways we use Apple Notes to help us organize family travel plans:

The “where are we” Note for friends and family

With so much happening as we travel, we don’t want our loved ones to wonder where we are and when we’re in one place versus another. So, we set up a note called “Where in the world are the St. Clairs now.” We’ve shared this Note with various loved ones. With the most recent or upcoming info at the top, this note lists the following in reverse chronological order:

  • The dates we are visiting a place
  • Transit days when we go from one destination to another
  • Where we’re staying

For example, when we were in Bangkok, Thailand, our loved ones knew at a glance where we were and when we were there:

“11/10 – 11/17 – Bangkok Thailand – BU Place Hotel,565 Ratchadapisek Road Soi 3, Dindaeng, Din Daeng, Bangkok, 10400, Thailand”

As we set arrangements for the future, we update the note with where we’ll be. However, we only do this once we have something confirmed, such as a hotel or rental for a range of dates, or a specific day when we are going from one country to another.

Destination and activity information

As our family travels the world, we set up a “Trip Info” folder in Notes. Inside that folder, each country gets its own individual note. All of our notes about Thailand, for example, are in a note called—and this might surprise you—“Thailand.”

That note typically begins with a broad list of potential activities we might be interested in. (This list is also always longer than what we could possibly ever do, but still, it’s a good starting point and gives us something to work with.)

As we get specific on dates, we’ll break that note down into a day-by-day list too. When something is scheduled with firm dates and times—such as a playdate/coffee meetup we did recently with various traveling families—that goes on the Google calendar we share. When we decide a day that we’ll do a specific activity, we make a list for the day and anything in particular we know we want to do on that day, such as:

TH 11/24, Thanksgiving Cooking Class

[ ] Cookventure Home Cooking Studio, cooking class, 3-8pm

When we made our plans for Bangkok, we had a really, really long list. And we knew we wouldn’t get to everything on it. The lovely thing? Anything we didn’t do, we simply left on the list. That can help us prioritize what we want to do on return trips.

Packing list and inventory

@learnersandmakers Is worldschooling different than homeschooling? #worldschool #homeschool #homeschooling #worldschooling #nomadfamily #travelfulltime #familytravel ♬ original sound – Gabriele Rossi 🎹

Our family of four is traveling the world with four backpacks, two carry-on-size rolling suitcases, and one small duffel bag, for Jodie’s crutches and her supplies for her prosthetic leg. These seven pieces of luggage contain just about everything we own. When we arrive somewhere, we like to unpack and settle in.

However, we’ll also be packing up again, and it can be all too easy to forget how we packed a bag. When things go in the same place each time, it’s easier to pack and unpack. Plus, we’re more likely to remember where things are, know where to look for something, and we are less likely to leave an item behind.

Our “St. Clair Big Trip Packing List” note helps us keep track not only of what we pack, but how we pack it. It’s not actually enough to say simply that something goes in a particular bag. All of our luggage also has different pockets and compartments. We don’t want to have to think about which pocket of the blue rolling suitcase the collapsible pourover coffee cone gets packed in. We know that every time we pack, the pourover goes into the bottom pocket on the front of the blue rollie. Period.

For Anthony’s backpack, for example, our packing list breaks things down like this:

Main Compartment, Right Side

  • Camera bag
  • GoPro accessory bag
  • Small Clothing Packing cube
  • Blue daypack
  • Orange and black toiletry bag (kids’ toiletries, toothbrush body, heads, and toothbrush charger)

Having that in our list helps Anthony pack his backpack the same way, with the same things, every time. It’s a big time save, and it gives us a lot of peace of mind to know that if we need to find something, we can just check our list and know exactly where it should be.

Email: All reservations go to one shared inbox

We adults each have our own personal email, but we also have a shared email account. Whenever we make some sort of reservation for our travels, we forward the confirmation and any other supporting emails to our shared inbox. That way, we know exactly where to look for the details on any of our travels, from flight confirmation numbers to accommodation details.

To keep things straight, we also use a couple of email labels. Our shared email is a Gmail address. Overall, our travel details get stored with an “Upcoming Trips” label. As we get underway in a destination, we shift anything relevant to that place to a “Current Trip” label. Then, we remove those labels and archive or delete the email once it’s no longer needed.

Cloud storage: Digital copies of our travel documents, covid vaccination cards, and more

@learnersandmakers Have you cracked a coconut with your bare hands? #thaicooking #nomadfamily #digitalnomad #familytravel #travelfamily #chiangmai #travelthailand ♬ Taste It – Ikson

We use both Apple iCloud and Dropbox for various shared personal and work storage. We also maintain digital copies of our travel documents in each service. If something did happen to, say, our passports, we could easily access digital versions, which could help us get our passports replaced.

We keep various documents scanned and stored, such as the ones below. Each document for each person is scanned as its own PDF (eg, Connor’s passport page is a PDF, and Aster’s passport page is a separate PDF):

  • Passport information page
  • Driver’s license
  • Covid vaccination card
  • Birth certificate

Prior to leaving for our family travels, we scanned some other important documents for digital safekeeping, such as the deed to our house, our marriage license, our travel insurance cards, and our voter registration cards.

Some documents we store both in the cloud and on our phones. Even if we’re offline, we can still access them.

Bonus: Apple Notes Bullet Journal

Starting when Anthony was 17 years old, he carried a notebook everywhere. A couple of years ago though, he ditched the paper notebook and went all digital. Now he uses Apple Notes for his digital bullet journal too.

  • A Smart Folder in Apple Notes automatically pulls in any of Anthony’s notes with the #journal hashtag
  • Since Apple Notes syncs across all Anthony’s devices, he has his updated journal on his phone and computer automatically
  • Each day gets its own note, titled with the day’s date
  • A high-level list at the top of the note specifies anything noteworthy about the day, such as “Chiang Mai, Thailand,” “Aster’s Birthday,” or “Thanksgiving Day Thai Cooking Class with Cookventure”
  • A “Spending” list tracks the day’s out-of-pocket cash expenditures, in local currency and USD (eg, “Things on sticks ฿37/$1”)
  • Each journal entry must have at least one photo
  • Anthony uses each day’s note to keep track of what we do, snippets of conversation, and anything else that he wants to record or prompt him for ideas later

Apple Notes has become a really powerful journaling tool for Anthony. He draws on it when putting together our weekly travel diary, and it gives us something we can all look back on for our many family experiences.

Shared digital tools help us have smoother family travels

Busy parents normally have a lot to keep track of. Managing travel tasks adds a whole new dimension. Easy-access digital tools like email, Apple Notes, and cloud storage have been essential to us helping us organize family travel plans, but we each know where different tasks are and who needs to do what. These tools help us meet the challenges of travel planning, so we can be fully present for experiencing the joys of family travel.

About the author
Learners and Makers
We are the St. Clair Family: Anthony, Jodie, Connor, and Aster. As Learners and Makers, our family of four slows down, connects, and enjoys the world and each other's company. We have been traveling full time since 2022.

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