City map

I challenge you to find me a project manager who could not have a successful side job as a travel agent.

From my experience, project managers are excellent trip planners. The PM mindset and skill set lend themselves nicely to the organizing and executing of a grand travel plan:

  • Research
  • Considering different personalities and preferences
  • Weighing different options before selecting the best course of action
  • Documenting decisions and purchases made
  • Setting a budget and sticking to it
  • Thinking through all possible issues, risks, and tiny details
  • Developing a detailed itinerary
  • Communicating the plan to all parties
  • Getting everyone on board

As a professional project manager, I planned several travel ventures for my project teams — and, let me tell you, planning a multi-person business trip is an extremely detailed process.

Perhaps this project management training is why I’ve been having so much fun planning an international vacation for later this year. A normal, non-PM-minded person’s head might spin when considering international train schedules, nonsensical museum hours and holiday closings, hotel prices and locations in alien cities, and a million different flight options … But not me! This is where I thrive.

Although, even I must admit that sometimes there just seem to be too many choices nowadays. Here are a few tools I’ve used to help make sense of it all:

  • TripIt: TripIt has been a godsend for planning this particular trip, though you can use it for much smaller travel plans, as well. You just forward your flight/hotel/etc. confirmation email to them, and it “automagically” creates an online itinerary. You can add maps, images, notes, contact numbers, and anything else you might need during your trip. They’ve got some great apps for your phone and iPad, for easy access while you’re on the road.
  • Expedia‘s multiple destinations flight booking: We plan on flying into one major metropolis and then flying back to the US from a completely different country, so a round-trip fare wasn’t an option. One-way tickets aren’t always cheaper — and, when they are, they’re often on low-cost carriers with crazy baggage restrictions and fees. We also plan on taking trains and cars, instead of a flight, to make our way from our original destination to our final destination. This unfortunately ruled out several flight aggregator sites, like Kayak and Orbitz, whose multiple destinations booking requires you to purchase a flight from your first city to your last. Never fear, though: Expedia to the rescue! Expedia was the only major aggregator I found that easily let you book two one-way trips (without also booking a flight between those two airports) and still get the discounted package rate. We got two one-way flights, 3 nights at a hotel in our first destination, and 5 nights in our final city … All for way cheaper than if we’d bought through a different site.
  • Google Maps: This one should go without saying. Google Maps (admittedly in conjunction with a host of other review sites and travel guides) helped us figure out ideal hotel locations. Google Street View even lets you check out the surrounding neighborhoods. In keeping with the Google family, I did a lot of preliminary comparison shopping, budget planning, and scheduling in a Google spreadsheet.
  • European travel sites: If you’re traveling to “the continent,” these sites are clutch — Via Michelin, Eurail, and Bahn (the German train site that has everything you need in English).
  • There are a million sites you can use to book hotel rooms — but for this particular voyage, seemed to have the lowest prices. I can’t vouch that this is always true for any type of trip, but it’s at least worth a look when you’re price shopping.

These are only a few of the hidden secrets of the project manager/travel agent. Let me know your favorite tips and tricks in the comments below!