Planning for a vacation is the next best thing to actually going on said vacation. I love opening hundreds of tabs, reading dozens of “must-do” listicles, bookmarking fun and odd things to do, and readying a half-rigid itinerary made of scheduled activities with room for on-the-spot whims. What I don’t love is that there’s no way to really tie all of this research together. Chrome bookmarks, Keep notes, Gmail, and Maps lists only go so far — I always end up going back and forth between them, fighting against this fragmented approach. Then a few weeks ago, I ran across Wanderlog and let me tell you one thing: If I was to build my ideal travel planning app from scratch, it would be pretty darn close to Wanderlog. Actually no, scratch that, I’d build something similar, but I’d fail to think of at least a dozen awesome extra features that the service already offers.
The web interface is beautifully designed and offers the same breadth of features.
These are my most basic requirements for a travel app and, believe it or not, many services I tried before didn’t check all these boxes. Either sharing was impossible or they didn’t have web or iOS clients, and those that did showed more ads than a Google Discover feed or had an outdated UI. Beyond these requirements, the app has nearly everything I’ve wanted in a travel, road trip, and itinerary planner… and more. Just let me walk you through it.
First, I create a trip. It can be something specific like my past weekend in Reims with exact start and end times, or a vague plan like a general list of things I want to do in France. With my trip created, Wanderlog opens up three tabs for me: Overview, Itinerary, and Explore.
Let’s be a bit unorthodox and start with the last one. You know those listicles of 10 things you should see in [city-name] that every travel blog has? Wanderlog aggregates a few of them (for larger cities), but it goes the extra mile of parsing the list and finding the places on a map for me. Mind.
Blown. Shattered. No more copying and pasting foreign names of places, no more flipping and flopping between each article and Google Maps to figure out if a location could fit with my schedule. Every place has a photo, tags, a short description, Google Maps details (star rating, opening hours, website, phone number). I can immediately see if it’s open on Sunday or go to its site, add it to my trip in general or a specific itinerary day, view it on the map, or get directions to it.
I know I will always do my own research later and find other unique and less generic places to visit, but these parsed lists are a fantastic fool-proof way to get started with any trip planning.
Now, let’s go back to the first tab. Here, I can plug in my reservations: flight, lodging, and rental cars. These can be automatically imported from Gmail (which, honestly, I wouldn’t recommend — don’t let any app read all your emails, period) or forwarded manually from your mail box (better). You can also type the details by hand if you prefer that. For lodging, Wanderlog can also search on Airbnb and Hotels.com for you, helping you plan that as well. There’s no flight or car search, though. If I were to make one change to Wanderlog, it’d be to add support for importing train/bus reservations too. These travel methods are widely used here in Europe and it’d be nice to have them fully integrated in the app.
Below that is a box for personal notes. This can be anything I want it to be, and like all note boxes in the app, it supports formatting with bold, italics, underline, bullets, and numbered lists. On the web, you can also indent and add links. So neat.
Then we get to the lists. Places I saved from the Explore tab show here, but I can also make more lists and manually type the name of places. The data comes from Google Maps, so whatever you can find there is available here. In my experience, only a few characters are necessary to pinpoint any place, and Wanderlog is smart enough to search in the city you’re looking at instead of the entire world.
I could spend hours waxing lyrical about how powerful these lists are, but let’s just summarize it to a few things: short descriptions, data from Google Maps, custom photos, personal notes (with all the formatting), links to search on Google, Trip Advisor, and Maps. But above all, list icons can be customized, so I can have a green mountain for lists of parks and outdoor places, then a blue shopping bag for stores, and a red cup for cafes. Compared to Google Maps, which gives a blue icon for everything, this visual differentiation makes Wanderlog so, so, so much better.
And finally, there’s my itinerary. If I know that I’m going to visit a place on a specific day, or when I have a reservation somewhere, I can move it out of the regular lists and assign it to a day. Better yet, I can add a specific time and a personal note. This gives me the flexibility that I’ve always wanted when trip planning: two distinct sections for things that are booked and immutable (itinerary) plus other interesting places that I might visit or not (lists).
Itinerary, maps view with different colors and icons, and maps layers.
On top of all of this, Wanderlog has a map view that shows my hotel(s), lists, and itinerary places with their respective color and icon coding. And I can export that as a Google Maps list and follow it from my main account there. The icon shapes and colors revert to the blue pins on Google, but that’s Google’s fault, not Wanderlog’s. Then when I’m done with the trip, I just unfollow the list and it’s gone from Maps and no longer visually crowding it.
Trip exported to Google Maps.
With every trip planning app I had tried before, I always came to the same conclusion: “Just use Google Maps, Rita, it’s not worth it.” But as I roamed around Reims last weekend, I was surprised to notice that I was still hopping between Wanderlog and Maps, because everything was laid out much better in the former and I needed the directions from the latter. I really loved seeing my plan so neatly organized and it was a joy to use such a simple-looking but also very powerful app.
A few years ago, I had resigned to the fact that the perfect travel planning app for me doesn’t exist, but well, here we are. If I were to be very picky, I’d love to have train/bus bookings, to get an itinerary that syncs or exports to a Google Calendar, and to see weather info and currency conversion for the city I’m going to. Being able to share places from Maps or other apps to Wanderlog would be cool too. But these are all extras that would be the cherry on top of a very delicious cake.
My only real wish is for Wanderlog to remain as awesome as it is. I’ve seen so many services rise and fall, and it would be a heartbreaking shame if this one did too.
Alternate title: The perfect travel planning app doesn’t exi-