Trip planning gets easier

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I just returned from a three-day trip that required three booking engines (one for my flight, another for the rental car, a third for the hotel), seven Mapquest routes, and a flurry of e-mails to my travel partners and hosts about flight times and dinner plans. By the time I'd finished printing out all my confirmations, routes, itineraries, and restaurant reviews, I had no fewer than 37 pages of information.

Had I taken this trip a week later, I could have saved time—and more than a few trees—by using TripIt, a free online travel organizer that launches today. Dreamed up by founder Gregg Brockway, TripIt compiles all the many pieces of information that go along with any given trip, so you have it all in one place. Best of all, it extracts only the relevant information (i.e. none of the mystery codes or extra blank pages), so everything prints out on just a few pages.

I did a trial run and found that the process is easy. Once you've created your trip on TripIt (just a matter of naming it and plugging in your travel dates), forward all your confirmation e-mails from travel providers to the site, and its "Itinerator" will create a master itinerary. Based on the information you forward, the site adds information that could be helpful: maps of the area, a list of events going on during your travel dates, background info about your destination, and photos....

Recognizing that most trips involve other people, TripIt includes a feature that lets you add friends to your account so they can see information about (and, if you choose, collaborate with you on) your upcoming trips. (You decide how much info about each trip you want to divulge, and to whom. If you want your mom in the loop on your trip back home but not your trip to Vegas, no problem.)

As of right now, the flight information on TripIt's main screen is static; no matter what happens with your flight (departure time change, cancellation, etc.), the details on TripIt reflects the information from the original booking. There is a "Flight Status" button, however, which takes you directly to whichever travel site you booked your flight with; clicking that should show you if anything has changed. In the spirit of the website's mission—keeping all the information together for the traveler—TripIt is considering changing the setup so that all updates are automatically reflected on the main page.

It's also thinking of alerting site you whenever a friend or family member changes something in his or her trip profile. So, for example, if one of your TripIt friends decides to postpone his San Francisco trip, you would be alerted.

Up-to-the-minute information and travel alerts would be great. Even without them, though, TripIt is a worthwhile tool, especially for people who use several booking engines, want maps for every mini-trip within the trip, and print reviews for every restaurant they hope to hit—in other words, people who, without TripIt's streamlining, manage to generate 37 pages of information for a weekend trip.

EARLIER: Here's an easier way to map out your road trips on Mapquest.

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