The Best Online Organization Tools for Your Travel Research

How do you collect travel research? Some people research a location only when they know they have a trip planned there. Others constantly gather travel ideas and information from websites, magazines, social media, articles or friends, whether a trip is planned or not. These are my people – the travel research ‘gatherers’. 

How do you organize your travel research? In the ‘old days’ we gatherers would have a ‘travel’ file folder, or the more dedicated of us might have a whole file drawer, with folders for different locations we might possibly visit in the future. 

These overflowing travel folders were crammed full with ripped out magazine articles, dog eared restaurant reviews, AAA maps, and sticky notes. Some would be pulled out later for reference, and many were not likely to ever see the light of day…but they were still on hand…just in case!

A friend recently sent me a photo of her travel files that are in need of an update. Look familiar?

As I considered how to advise her on what online organizational system to transition her travel research to, it forced me to examine my own ‘best practices’ as well as reach out to trusted traveler friends to see what systems were working for them. 

First, let’s define where most travel research information is gathered from today:

  1. Online: This includes anything that you read online that you want to ‘clip and save’ – it could be an entire article, it could be a blog, it could be a paragraph of an online newspaper article. This also includes info you receive via social media online – Pinterest, Instagram etc. This information is accessed via your computer or your phone.
  2. Emails: These could include newsletters from travel companies that catch your eye or emails from friends that have travel info you want to be able to refer back to later.
  3. Word of Mouth: A friend tells you of a great restaurant for the next time you are in New York City and you don’t want to forget it.
  4. Newspapers/Magazines: Some of us still read paper, and what should we do with that we want to save?

Next, decide how you want your info to be organized into folders. I recommend sorting the following way:

  1. By country (Egypt, Morocco, Japan etc) when you don’t have specific plans within that country as of yet
  2. By specific city (Florence, Los Angeles, Hanoi etc) when you know that the city is of particular interest to you 
  3. By broad multi-location categories (Safari, European Cruise, Western Road Trip, Asia) when you are interested in the general topic but haven’t zeroed in on a specific location, or you know that a trip will include multiple locations within that category.

The important thing in creating folders is that you create a system that is logical to YOU as you’re the one who will be using it, and if you can’t find something then the system has failed you.

Now to determine which technology is the best one for you to organize and store your travel research. There are a variety of tech options available but these are the five primary ones I and my trusted group of traveler friends utilize the most, followed by an overview of each:

  1. Email folders
  2. Google Keep
  3. Notes
  4. Evernote
  5. Google Folders
    Plus Pinterest…
  • Email folders

What: Within your email account you can create separate folders (just think of them as replacements of your paper file folders) for each location/destination/category you want to organize by. Each email client varies slightly, but do a quick online search to get specific instructions on how to create your folders (ie search ‘how do I set up folders in Gmail’). 

How: Whenever you get an email containing travel information you want to save simply transfer that email into the correct folder (or create a new folder if one doesn’t currently exist).  Should you want to use email folders to organize the info you get via non-email sources (ie via online or word of mouth) you will need to send yourself an email with the info/URL, and then file it. Tip: You can also email yourself a screenshot of an article to save time.  Here are links to learn how to screenshot on a mac or on windows – screenshots are a tool I use EVERY DAY). 

Good For: If you want to use just ONE file organizational system, and don’t mind sending yourself quick emails, email folders can be a system that incorporates all sources of your research gathering. Just make sure you know how to cut/paste and how to take a screenshot.  If you solely use this method you will be able to quickly access your data when you need it.

Pros: Everyone has an email account so the folders are always handy and top of mind. If you have only one system this is a good one.

Cons: This system is more cumbersome than others to file things like social media posts, as they involve cutting/pasting and sending yourself emails. So it requires an extra step or two – and thus more dedication if this is your sole system.

  • Google Keep:

What: Keep is a note-taking app from Google. Download it onto your phone, laptop or any device, and any note you write in Keep will automatically be updated across all your devices. Think of Keep as a big notebook and each ‘note’ within it as a separate sheet of paper. You can type on each note, add photos to it, add URLs that are linkable (AND the links will show a preview of what the link is to – a huge plus).  A great advantage is that you can share your Keep notes with others.

How: Create a new Keep note for each destination/location/category. As you get any information about that place that you’d like to add, just add it to the bottom of the note (or you can create subcategories within the note, such as ‘restaurants’, ‘activities’, ‘hotels’ etc. When someone mentions the great hotel they stayed at in London, open your London note and add it. When you read a great article on London, copy the URL into the note. Saw a Pin of a great store to visit in London? Copy the pin or take a screenshot and paste it into the note. When you are ready for a trip to London you’ll have all your London tips in one location. You cannot create folders within Keep (on Apple Notes you can). You can, however, view your notes in grid or list form, can mark on them, color code them, ‘pin’ them so that they stay at the top of your notes list, add voice recordings and more. 

Good For:  Keep is a great resource to keep a list of URLs in one place as well as to quickly type ideas you get from a friend etc. I feel it’s less handy for emails you receive unless you cut/paste the email into the note, which can make the note a bit lengthy. I think Keep is particularly handy when someone tells me something and I want to jot it down, not lose it and know where it is. Below is an example of when a friend told me a couple recs for London and I quickly jotted them down so I wouldn’t lose them: 

Pros: Keep is handy, fast, saves automatically, gives you a preview of URL links, syncs across devices (a big Pro vs Apple Notes), is easy to use and can be shared with others.

Cons: Keep does not offer text formatting (you can’t bold, italicize, etc), and has no folders. You need to have a Google account to use Keep and you have to scroll down to find your notes (which makes it better for shorter notes and not as convenient for longer ones).

  • Notes (only available for Apple products)

What: Notes is very similar to Google Keep in that it lets you easily create individual notes that act as ‘pages in a notebook’. The main difference is that Notes is an Apple product and thus must be used only with Apple devices.  The other main difference is that Notes lets you create folders in which to keep multiple notes in, thus letting you have a ‘Europe’ folder with notes for England, Slovenia, and Croatia, for instance. 

How: Download Notes onto your phone or laptop and create a note for whatever location/category you are gathering travel.  My very organized and well-traveled friend Joanne uses Notes (paired with her email folders) to keep track of all her travel planning. Whenever she finds something online she wants to file away, or a friend tells her a travel tidbit, she types it in her Note for that destination. When she is planning to go to that destination she then has all the info filed in one place for quick reference as she plans her trip.  Here is a sample of her Notes travel folder: 

Good For: Similar to Google Keep, Notes is a great way to keep a list of URLs in one place as well as to quickly type ideas you get from a friend, etc and is less useful for tracking info that comes via emails unless you are willing to cut/paste the email into the note. 

Pros: A benefit Notes offers over Keep is the option to have folders. 

Cons: Notes is only for Apple products and it doesn’t sink across all platforms like Keep.

  • Evernote

What: Evernote is a very robust cross-platform app that can be viewed as a digital file cabinet, a note-taking tool, a project management tool or even a place to keep your recipes. You can use it for a variety of purposes and the company has both free and premium versions, but a free version is a great tool (compare plans and see what each offers).   Given all the options they offer for ‘filing’, here is an article from Evernote that describes  11 Ways to Save Stuff In Evernote, which includes: drag and drop, clip from the web, take a picture, capture audio, sketch on a tablet or phone, send stuff from Gmail (and vice versa) and more. 

How: Sign up for an account – the free one is great. As part of your set up process BE SURE TO INSTALL THE WEB CLIPPER TO YOUR TOOLBAR and BE SURE TO CREATE AN EVERNOTE EMAIL THAT YOU CAN SEND THINGS TO. The Web clipper is my FAVORITE thing about Evernote. This is a browser extension that lives in your toolbar as a little elephant logo – see below. 

When you are on a website/article that you want to save you simply click on the elephant and you get a pop up that allows you to save the full page, or just a portion of it, to a folder of your choosing, and to create tags that will make it easy for your to look up the article or clipping later. See below.

I wanted to save an article on rafting in the Grand Canyon. I click on the ‘elephant’ in my toolbar and the Evernote window popped up. I selected the ‘travel’ folder and tagged it with anything I may use in the future to look it up easily (Grand Canyon, rafting, vacation, travel). But all the tags aren’t really necessary as Evernote is known for its amazing searchability. If I go into my Evernote account and search ‘rafting’ it will pull up anything I’ve saved that has that word in it – whether I’ve tagged it or not.  

Good For: Evernote is great for saving online articles via the web clipper tool. It is also a good way to save emails with your travel info when you forward them to your Evernote account. If you hear something while chatting with a friend that you want to remember you can type in a note. And for paper items, you can snap a photo of the article and send it to your Evernote account – super easy (and it’s still searchable). This is a fast and efficient way to go through your old paper travel files and digitize what you want to keep.

Pros: The Best way to capture online items you want to save, plus it can also work to save emails and create notes.

Cons: You need to be dedicated and learn how to use it for all your needs. There are tons of articles and videos on Evernote and it’s worth investing the time if you plan to adopt it. It’s not hard, but there is a learning curve to really utilize it well.

  • Google Drive/Folders

What: As many of you know, Google Folders are like an online file system in the cloud. Within Google Drive, Google lets users store files in the cloud, sync files across devices, and share files. To store travel research you can create a folder for each destination/category and simply store any travel info within that folder. 

How: You have to have a Google account. Then you go to your Google Drive and set up your ‘file folders’. (There are numerous videos on YouTube and elsewhere on how to do this so I won’t go into the specifics here and will leave it to the experts to explain.)  For instance, you can create a folder for ‘Asia’. Then within this folder create a Google doc for ‘Vietnam’ and just add information to that doc on an ongoing basis so that you have all the Vietnam research in one place. As an added bonus, you can easily share any of your documents or folders with others, and give them editing privileges as well (which can be great for trips with friends or family).

Good For: Many of those I spoke to use Google Folders for their travel research. You can take photos and import those into documents as well as add URLs, create notes, share documents, etc.  If you are a strong Google user this can be a great solution for you. 

Pros:  For a Google Drive user it’s a great choice if you are constantly in your Google Drive then it’s a logical place to put your travel folders. 

Cons: If you aren’t a Google Drive user and don’t plan to be actively using it in the future, then this may not be the best choice for you.

  • Pinterest

Pinterest is a social media platform and not an organizational tool in the same sense as the others discussed above, but I want to include it as it has become such a resource for travel research. Type in any destination you are interested in and you will find a plethora of information – from full itineraries to packing lists to restaurants. You can create a ‘travel’ board, or specific ‘boards’ for countries, cities, etc (just as you would folders in email) and pin your findings accordingly. You can also pin information to your board from other sites, but you can’t include information you gather from emails, word of mouth, etc.

Time to choose, and use,  your file system(s)  

  1. Pick systems that work best for you and your workflow. If you already have a strong email folder system then that should be part of your new travel file box system. If you are a Google Drive person, then utilize folders for your travel research storage. 
  2. Look into things that may be new to you, such as Evernote, and try it out. But if you go to a new system, dedicate yourself to it. If you just dabble in a few different systems you’ll get confused about where things are located and it won’t be helpful. 
  3. I recommend picking no more than 2 ‘systems’ to use at your primary tools. Most people I know use two organizational tools for their travel files.

I personally primarily use Evernote for most of my travel research file needs, especially with the Web Clipper tool to save URLs. And when jotting a quick note I use Google Keep.  I move to Google docs/folders when I am actually planning a trip and putting an itinerary together.  

To show there is no one size fits all, here are some examples of systems used by other organized  travel friends of mine:

  • Combo of Notes and Google folders
  • Combo of Google folders and email folders
  • Combo of Google folders and Evernote
  • Combo of Evernote and email folders

So if you are a ‘travel research gatherer’ stuck in the past….it’s time to go through your paper files, toss out the restaurant reviews from the 90’s, take photos of what you want to save, pick an online organization system (or two) that will work best for you and just go for it!  

Happy Gathering!

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Picture of Chrissie Kremer
Chrissie Kremer

I am a mixed bag traveler - I go the budget route on some things and splurge on others. I love family adventure travel, trips with girlfriends, or solo trips with my kids. I like urban exploration but prefer it coupled with outdoor activity (and when traveling with my kids it's more outdoor activity coupled with a dose of urban). I have been to 62 countries... and counting.

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Picture of Chrissie Kremer
Chrissie Kremer

I am a mixed bag traveler - I go the budget route on some things and splurge on others. I love family adventure travel, trips with girlfriends, or solo trips with my kids. I like urban exploration but prefer it coupled with outdoor activity (and when traveling with my kids it's more outdoor activity coupled with a dose of urban). I have been to 62 countries... and counting.

JOIN THE COMMUNITY!

and receive the “Carry On Only Packing Guide”, free. 

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