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De-clutter: How I used my iPhone and Evernote to travel light


Recently I spent a few days in Paris, France. I travel light: One bag (pro tip: Roll your clothes), one jacket and one hat. I love getting my necessities down to a single carry-on bag. What I hate is all the paper. Airline confirmation receipts, bus schedules, relevant correspondence from family and friends, etc. Not to mention lists of restaurants to try, sights to see, etc.

This time I went nearly paper-free (I'm sticking with paper boarding passes for international flights, although iPhone scanning has been done and is now officially supported by some carriers), thanks to my iPhone and 2 applications. Here's how I did it.

Tracking flights

Of course, the first thing I've got to do is line up all of my flights. I typically go from Boston to Newark when I'm traveling internationally, which means there are several connecting flights to manage with Flight Update and Evernote.

Flight Update [App Store link] is among my top 5 iPhone apps. Here's how it works and why I love it. First, add a trip and then add your flights. You can designate a preferred airline if there's one you use often. Enter your flight number and date (or search by route if you prefer) and Flight Update fills in an incredible amount of data as if by magic.

You'll get airtime, departing and arriving airport, terminal, distance, scheduled meals and so much more. It even identifies the type of plane and offers a color-coded seating chart (the colors rate the seats by desirability). You can even search for alternate flights should a problem arise.

What I really love about Flight Update is that it consistently beats the airport at dispensing timely information. For example, the flight I took from Newark, New Jersey to Boston, MA this past Monday was listed as delayed on my iPhone before the announcement was made at the gate. When the delay was later lifted (thank goodness), my iPhone let me know before the airport did. That's awesome. At $4.99US, you simply can't beat Flight Update. Every iPhone-toting traveler ought to own it.

Eliminating paper

With Flight Tracker handling the airplanes, I turned to Evernote [App Store link] to handle the paper. This is straightforward: I made a notebook called "Paris" and filled it with:

  • Confirmation codes for each flight, including the original emails as PDFs
  • Hotel information
  • Correspondence from family members I'd be traveling with
  • Special instructions
With each one tagged "Paris," I simply created a saved search. Here's how. First, enter your search term. Next, click the little blue arrow, scroll down and select "Save Search." From then on, you can access all documents that meet your criteria (in my case, a single tag) by hitting the bookmark button. In fact, I just left it there for the duration of my trip.

When I checked in at the airport kiosk, I simply grabbed my confirmation number from Evernote. Same with the hotel. When I found the restaurants and other points of interest that I wanted to explore, I snapped a photo note and applied the "Paris" tag. Back at the hotel, everything was sent to the Evernote servers via the free WiFi.

This has been said before, but Evernote (free from the App Store, basic and premium plans available) is awesome. Human beings have short term memory, long term memory and now, Evernote.

Keep in mind

Going paperless isn't without risk. There's a good chance that your airport will have a lousy cell signal and no free WiFi. Having to pony up $5 or so just to get a code is a hassle if you forgot to sync before leaving the house. Additionally, not all ticket agents are tolerant of kids these days with their fancy smart phones, and may give you an odd look (or a hard time) when you say, "I don't have the printout, but I have my iPhone!" Hence my hesitation to abandon paper boarding passes.

Finally, Evernote displays PDFs as attachments, meaning you can't view them without an internet connection. If you think that might be an issue, copy and paste the text itself into a note.

In the end I had a very enjoyable travel experience with just a small bag, my wallet and my iPhone. Here's a huge thank you to the developers of Flight Tracker and Evernote. Your apps are awesome.

As noted by our commenters below, you may also get a travel boost out of the Tripit app, which Steve reviewed not long ago.

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