Thursday, December 29, 2011

Planning a trip to Marin County

In between Christmas and New Year this year, we decided to escape for a few days to Marin County. It is only a short two hour drive from where we live. While we've visited some areas (e.g., Muir Woods, Sausalito, Stinson Beach and Bolinas - one of my favorite towns along the coast), there is plenty more to visit.

We had some ideas in general of what we wanted to visit in Marin County, but the evening before we left, my wife and I opened up our laptops and put a quick plan together. It became clear to me that a simple travel planning tool was missing. There are great travel websites which point you to the pletora of hotels in the area, or provide a list of things to do. But that's not a travel plan. That's just access to information. It takes time to stitch it all together into a trip. 

Wouldn't it be a great to have a Travel Notebook web application, which could assist you to plan your travel. Here's an initial list of its functionality: 
  1. Browse around the web and each time you find something interesting in the area you can tag it for your notebook. It could keep track of the URL, phone numbers and location to put ithe place on a map. This should work for anything and everything: restaurants, wineries, cheese factories, beaches, musea, historic monuments, national or state parks, vista points, images, etc. 
    • A map provides you simple overview of all the areas you tagged. Icons indicate the type of place. 
    • A directory provides you a list of all locations and phone numbers. 
  2. Based upon the weather forecast and opening hours of various sites, Travel Notebook would suggest a particular itinerary, or you could assemble one yourself and Travel Notebook would highlight which places are closed. 
    • E.g., we found out too late that the Point Reyes light house was closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. Sure it is listed on the website, but it does take a lot of searching around to figure out all the places. 
    • Similarly it could indicate recommended times to leave to drive to the next site and arrive on time. Although if you wanted to stay longer it will easily adjust. It will help with the simple question: what time should we get up so we can shower, have breakfast and drive to the place to be on time for a 10am Safari? 
  3. Since you may be going off the grid, the entire Travel Notebook can be easily printed or downloaded for offline use on your iPad, smartphone or laptop.
There are a couple of crude tools which can help you with this: we started with a custom Google MyMaps (how-to video). Each time we found a place, we googled the location in Google Maps and it provides a link: "Save to Map". Later on you can adjust the icons if you like. Both of us could be editing the map together, each from our own laptop. This was handy to have an overview of all the sites we wanted to visit. (Note: I did find it buggy in that sometimes not all icons showed up, or that the Save to Map either worked only in the left side and not in the pop up balloon, or vice versa.)

View Exploring Marin in a larger map

With this overview, we planned our trip in 3 pieces: 
  1. Mount Tamalpais / Muir Woods / Mill Valley
  2. Point Reyes
  3. Safari West (in Sonoma County) / Sebastopol / Cheese tour and Sausalito. 
We'll continue our trip next time with a visit Angel Island

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