TripIt: Your personal travel assistant

* TripIt makes travel less painful, it's sheer genius!

I am not a happy traveler. I have friends who treat travel as a great adventure and love every minute of their experiences, but not I. For me travel is a means to an end, something to be endured. There was a time - back in the 1980's - when travel was still reasonably civilized but now we have to tolerate endless queues, get crappy in-flight service (certain airlines now plan to even charge for pillows!), and if we're really lucky, have the TSA treat us like criminals, confiscate our laptops on a whim, and demand that we surrender our shampoo.

I am not a happy traveler. I have friends who treat travel as a great adventure and love every minute of their experiences, but not I. For me travel is a means to an end, something to be endured.

There was a time - back in the 1980's - when travel was still reasonably civilized but now we have to tolerate endless queues, get crappy in-flight service (certain airlines now plan to even charge for pillows!), and if we're really lucky, have the TSA treat us like criminals, confiscate our laptops on a whim, and demand that we surrender our shampoo.

That said, I have just found one small but brilliant light in this vale of gloom that actually does make travel less painful. It is a free service called TripIt that consolidates your itineraries, adds destination weather, maps and directions, allows you to share your travel plans with others, and adds a measure of social networking for good luck. It becomes, in effect, your personal travel assistant.

You can start to use TripIt by either registering online or by simply sending the service an itinerary from any of the major travel vendors such as airlines, car rental companies, and hotels. If you start by mailing an itinerary, TripIt sets up an account for you immediately, responds with an e-mail that includes a link to complete your registration (this is, by the way, a very clever technique), and parses the itinerary into its own internal format.

Here’s where things get really clever: When you send other itineraries, TripIt figures out the dates and locations (the company calls the software that does this job “The Itinerator”) and merges them into a combined itinerary.

TripIt then adds detail such as the predicted weather in each location, links to the airlines you booked on for flight status and online check-in, and provides travel guide information for your destinations.

TripIt also provides a bookmarklet, which allows you to go to any Web page, select content, and save it to one of your itineraries.

Through TripIt you can access your accounts on Gmail, AOL, Hotmail, LinkedIn, mail.com, and Yahoo to discover which of your contacts are using TripIt and invite those who aren’t to use the service. When contacts agree to link with you, you can see each other’s travel plans and TripIt notifies you when you are both in the same locale (these are called “closeness alerts”).

TripIt also supports searching for fights, hotels, and car rentals; allows you to publish your itineraries via iCal and an RSS feed; access the service on mobile devices (the Apple iPhone, Palm Treo, RIM BlackBerry, and mobile devices with Web browser support); make an e-mail request for your itinerary to be sent via e-mail; print itineraries; and e-mail your itinerary to others.

There’s even a TripIt blog badge so that you can show your current location, your upcoming trip destinations, and your travel stats to the world.

The company is well funded through several venture capital investments totaling some $6 million and plans to monetize the service through advertising and premium services.

This service is a work of genius! Being able to store and access your travel plans in one place, make your itinerary available for co-workers, family and friends, and expand the information about your trip is sheer brilliance! TripIt won’t make travel any easier or more pleasant, but at least you’ll be organized.

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