Using Trello to plan your next vacation

Power users have been hacking it for ages, but with new Skyscanner and maps integration, the productivity tool is courting travellers directly


IN THE perpetual, impossible quest for work-life balance, it makes sense to banish office productivity tools from home use. Or, at the very least, to restrict them to the company laptop.

Using them to plan a vacation? It probably sounds like heresy.

Enter Trello, the project-management dashboard that’s been adopted by 35 million-plus users (including Bloomberg Media Group) since its founding in 2011. The company isn’t just betting that its professional users will find utility in the tool to organise their social and personal lives, but also that it can change the way we think about brainstorming and booking travel.

In recent weeks, the company has released new features in partnership with Skyscanner, the popular airfare booking engine, as well as Google and Apple Maps. Add them to already existing, travel-friendly features, and Trello manages to offer a legitimate platform for collaborative itinerary-building.

A Trello board purpose-built for an upcoming trip to Paris


A Trello card showcasing the Skyscanner Power-Up


Checklists, a function created for the office environment, also apply readily to travel planning


Trello Travel Planning 101

For the uninitiated, Trello “boards” use a combination of “lists” (or columns) and “cards” (expandable pieces of information) to help streamline complicated projects across team members.

The functionality is simple and intuitive: You can tag people to delegate tasks, add due dates to cards, sort cards on a calendar, and even upload images to yield a Pinterest-like effect.

There’s no one correct way to organise a Trello board for travel planning, but when you sign up for a new account, you can select “travel” as your primary purpose and get directed straight to a relevant template that sorts your vacation planning into sections such as “to do before trip”, “to eat and drink”, and “done”.

A better approach might be to sort activities and restaurants onto lists that are organised by date; others might break down experiences by type (outdoor adventure, museums, food and drinks) or by neighbourhood. Select “Change Background” from the menu options on your board and voilà: You can pick a wallpaper to evoke your trip’s destination, making it feel less like work and more like play. Then, add your travel companions to the board and assign them responsibilities such as having your foodie friend pare down the restaurants list, or getting the entire group to vote on which museum to prioritise by using the built-in polling tool.

Adding photos to Trello cards gives your board a less work-like feel

The New Features

All these functions have been possible on Trello since the start. But now, a pair of new features make these travel boards more dynamic, serving up flight and mapping information in a highly visual way. (Find both of them through the Power-Ups menu in each card.)

The Skyscanner integration, for instance, lets you run a search for flights within a card that then gets populated with personalised pricing analytics.

Want to go to Vegas? Select your airports of choice and a drop-down menu will offer you varying insights, such as daily pricing, typical trip price, or best days to travel. With three

clicks, a graph gets added to your card telling you that Tuesdays are often the cheapest day to fly to Sin City, that US$270 (RM1,104) is considered a good deal if you’re leaving from New York’s JFK airport, or that Friday is the most popular (therefore, probably the most expensive) day to depart on this route.

“The idea to contact Trello’s team came from a casual conversation with a coworker,” says Tom Dror, Skyscanner’s director of partnerships. “He mentioned that he was planning a trip to visit his friends in New York and sent them all a Trello board to collaborate on their daily itineraries.”

For mobile users, there are also new partnerships with Google and Apple’s mapping tools — they allow you to add location data to individual cards, and then synch all that data to a common map for the entire board. It’s all highly intuitive, but users of Google’s My Maps tool — which allows you to plot points of interest and download them for offline reference — will also find it a bit limited. For one thing, it’s impossible to colour-code pins or visually sort them in any way, and offline access is not yet an option.

Why It Makes Sense

“We knew vacation planning would be part of the vision from the very start,” says Justin

Gallagher, Trello’s head of product management and one of the company’s earliest employees. “But we also realised early on if we were to build features for every use case, we’d end up with a cluttered and bloated product.”

Travel planning has always been a common use case for non-professional users of Trello, according to Gallagher. “It’s right up there with wedding planning and home renovations.”

Simply Google “Travel Planning with Trello” and it’s easy to see that this isn’t just corporate messaging; travel bloggers and tech junkies have all proudly shared their methods for creating the perfect vacation boards, some of them with years of experience.

“I use Trello for everything. It has completely changed the way I organise myself and get things done,” writes Mackenzie Jervis, a Texas-based travel blogger who’s used the app to streamline trips to 65 countries and counting. Josh Wickham, an engineer for the location services app Life360, says he uses non-travel-specific Power-Ups, such as the calendar-based Planyway and calculator-like Number Stats, to budget vacations in both hours and dollars.

“We knew travel was becoming an increasingly common use case, based on feedback from social media,” says Gallagher. “It was coming up again and again.”

As for what might come next, a hotel-booking partnership seems ripe for potential; so does integration with an activity-finding engine such as Viator or GetYourGuide. “We just don’t want to go overboard,” Gallagher says. “We try to be judicious and see what people are asking for, rather than just throwing anything and everything at our users.” — Bloomberg