Saturday, March 23, 2013

You need an assistant, but don't have one: apps for travel and organization

Nowadays sometimes there is so much to do, that I don't have the time to think, let alone get organized in my life. There are days when I would really love to have an assistant. Since I do not have the money for an assistant, while trying to keep it all together, I looked for the next best thing....apps and websites.

When I travel my new best friend is Tripit ( It checks your email for you for trip reservations (flights, hotels, buses, you name it) and nicely organizes everything. It even calculates the trip between the airport and your hotel and maps it for you. You can input the location of meetings and it will show you where those are also and it will tell you by when you need to check out of the hotel to get to the airport on time. The smartphone and iPad apps are great and have all information you need right at your fingertips, so that you don't have to fish around for pieces of paper or email to figure out where you are going. If you need to coordinate with other people you can just email Tripit their plans and it will include them. I'm moderately addicted to the Stats where you can keep track of miles traveled and cities visited. I logged more than 60,000 miles last year.

When I'm looking for the best and cheapest options for flights, I just discovered Hipmunk (, a great site with a very nice visual interface organizing flights based on price, stops, times or "agony", which is a fun algorithm computing stops, layovers and price and deciding which flight would be less painful for you. On shorter routes, it even inserts the Amtrak timetable and price so that you can decide whether a train would be preferable. Then to watch fares, I still use Yapta (, which I have used for years as it was recommended by multiple travel sites. You pick the flight and the airlines you want and then you watch them. Every time the price drops you get an email, and after you purchase the site still tracks the flight for refunds in case the price drops even more.

For conference expenses, I discovered ExpenseCloud (, a site (and apps) to keep track for all receipts. You email registrations and travel receipts to the website and upload pictures of any random receipt on your smartphone and the site organizes a report. If you are in a company that actually uses ExpenseCloud then you would just need to send it out for approval, but even having all the numbers together in a neat report without having to organize and find all the receipts is really helpful.

Finally for everything else there is TaskRabbit ( where you can pay someone to do stuff for you: go get your groceries, help you find a new apartment, bake cookies, organize your bills, you name it. You post your task and your target price or let people make a bid, and you'll likely have a host of TaskRabbits ready to work for you. Virtual tasks are available from everywhere, in person tasks are only in New York, Boston, LA, SF Bay Area, Portland OR, Chicago, Seattle, Austin and San Antonio. One friend was wondering whether they'll count synapses...I haven't asked, yet.

Hope this helps some overworked scientists.

Image: By Aaron Logan (from, via Wikimedia Commons

1 comment:

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