How to Use OneNote for Travel Planning

And now for a peek inside my inner geek – how I use Microsoft OneNote to obsessively organize my travel plans! Have you ever used OneNote for work or school? It’s great for that, but I find it incredibly useful for keeping all of our current and upcoming travel plans neat and accessible. And just one note (ha, pun intended) upfront – I’m not getting paid by Microsoft or anything; I just love OneNote that much!

So first, a quick introduction to OneNote. It’s an application within the Microsoft Office suite that allows you to capture and store notes from your ideas, websites, files, emails, and so on. It’s basically the digital version of a three-ring binder (or a Trapper Keeper for my fellow 80s kids). A notebook holds tabbed sections, and within each section you can have multiple pages.

01_onenote_travel_blogimage courtesy of OneNote

You can type or even write freehand notes in any of the sections of a notebook, and then add items like photos, spreadsheets or graphs to go along with your notes. There’s also an import feature where you can send emails or documents straight into OneNote. This feature especially makes it perfect for keeping track of travel documents. Plus, everything is stored in the OneDrive cloud so all the information in my notebooks syncs between my desktop PC, my Mac laptop, my iPhone and my iPad and that means I always have access to the information. I installed the free software on my desktop PC, and downloaded free apps for the Mac and iPad/iPhone. Oh and yes, I’m a Mac AND a PC! So it’s especially awesome that OneNote plays nicely across all platforms.

I have several notebooks created for various topics. For example, in my Health & Fitness notebook I keep workout ideas, meal plans, and favorite recipes, and in my House Projects notebook I have sections for each room of the house with to-do lists of upcoming projects. But my favorite use for OneNote is for travel planning. I don’t typically use it for small weekend getaways or for trips that we make repeatedly like Colorado, but here’s how I use it for our bigger trips that require more planning.

First, I create a new notebook for the trip and title it by destination and year. This just helps me keep everything for one trip separate and defined. In the photo below, you can see my notebooks along the left-hand side, and the sections for the current notebook (Iceland 2014) are across the top in little colored tab shapes just like sections in a binder.


Throughout my travel planning, I create section tabs to go along with the information that I need to organize. I develop our itinerary by creating a section with a spreadsheet page (I told you – so geeky!). When I receive emails with travel details such as flight info, hotel reservations, and car rental confirmations, those emails get filed away in the trip notebook. Since I use Outlook for email, I can easily organize those emails by clicking the Send to OneNote button and selecting the notebook and section in which I want a copy of the email to appear. If you aren’t using Outlook, check here for instructions on how to send emails to OneNote.

Here’s how it looks when I send an email from Outlook to OneNote (note that I’m “Mr. Susan Marks” for some reason in the email):


Sometimes I keep each of the trip’s confirmations in their own separate sections (e.g., flight, hotel, car rental, etc.), and other times it makes more sense to bundle it together into one section with a page for each confirmation. The organization possibilities are quite flexible, so you can do whatever makes the most sense to you. For our Iceland trip, I have a separate Hotels tab since we’ll be staying in several hotels. I gave each hotel its own page within the section so that I can easily find the information. The next image is an example of a section with multiple pages. Look on the right-hand side and you’ll see pages for some of our outings in Grand Cayman. Some of the sections are email confirmations from things that we booked, and other sections are just my notes on places we wanted to see. Oh, and the Port Authority page is just the cruise ship schedule for the week we were there so I’d know when the beaches might be most crowded.


Other sections I usually create: sites we want to see, website links or articles related to our destination, photo & video ideas, to-do lists, and packing lists. Pages within sections can easily be moved or copied into other notebooks, so I end up reusing my packing lists for trips with similar needs (e.g., beach, ski, adventure, etc.).  And when it’s time to pack, I can either use the app to check off the items as I pack, or sometimes I print the page and use it as a paper checklist. Speaking of printing, I’m a huge fan of technology obviously, but I also firmly believe in having a Plan B in the case of tech failure, so I do print several pages in my travel notebook before we leave. For that reason, it’s awesome to have everything gathered in one place so when I’m ready to print, I just have to select the sections or pages that I need to have in printed copy.

I’m admittedly terrible at budgeting, but OneNote could be useful for planning a budget in advance, and then updating an expense tracker spreadsheet while you’re traveling. Something else you can do on-the-road is snap a photo of your luggage claim ticket and attach the photo right into OneNote in case you lose the actual ticket.

And one last handy feature for travel – keeping emergency information all in one spot accessible by all of your devices. You can create a notebook for holding a scanned copy of your passport, emergency contact numbers and addresses, medical information, and insurance information (health, auto, and travel). Of course, just keep in mind that if this info is accessible to you on your phone or tablet it’s potentially accessible to anyone else who finds your unlocked device should you lose it, so you should definitely password-protect sensitive data, which is available as an option through OneNote. It’s comforting to know I could access my documents at a hotel computer or Internet cafe kiosk if I lost my devices on the road.


So what do you think? Will you try OneNote to plan your next adventure, or have you used it already? I’m a huge fan, even if it I can’t slap Lisa Frank stickers all over it like I did with my Trapper Keeper. Let me know if you have questions about OneNote, and happy planning!

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  • Obsessive-Planner-Spontaneous-Adventurer Combo » Susan Solo – VA/DC/MD Photographer - […] TripAdvisor gives me an idea of what restaurants and activities we simply can’t miss. I use OneNote to keep track of it all, including a day-by-day itinerary and packing lists made months in […]ReplyCancel

  • Faizal Razak - Dear Susan,

    I enjoyed your write-up. I’m a bit of a planner myself and on reflection, I do wonder if it’s not due to some “control” issues as you’ve hinted at. Made me chuckle.

    I travel overland by motorcycle wherever and whenever I can, so planning is quite essential to my mode of travelling the world. I know a lot of people, as you’ve mentioned, who would prefer to ‘leave it to chance’, thus adding to the adventure, so to speak, but I’d rather be prepared and informed. The less time spent being stressed out, is more time being happy on the road.

    Thanks again for the useful tips. And may all of your wishes on your Bucket List be fulfilled.

    All the best

    p.s – when you get to Indonesia, do visit and stay a few days in Ubud, Bali. It’s truly mystical.ReplyCancel

    • Susan - Hi Faizal! Thank you so much for the recommendation in Indonesia! I can’t wait to get there some day. Travel by motorcycle sounds like quite the adventure in itself.

  • Angela - Hi Susan, this is a great articlearticle but I’m just starting out with one note and cant figure out how to get the map on there as it shows on the sample travel page, can you advise please. ThanksReplyCancel

  • Susan - Hi Angela! I’m not sure which exact map you’re referring to, but you should be able to do a screenshot and just paste a map image into OneNote. Sometimes I do this with Google Maps where I’ve plotted out my route. I hope that helps!ReplyCancel

  • Desi - Dear Susan,
    Loved your article. I love OneNote too. I have used it for years. Did you use Excel to design your travel spreadsheet or was it a template?

    • Susan - Hi Desi – Thank you, and no templates were needed! I just used the in-app Insert Table feature to create the spreadsheets. Super easy!