You probably had this problem before: going out on a trip with multiple stops, different hotels in each place, car rentals from different pickup points, and so on. And during the trip coordinating all the scheduled meetings and appointments, plus recording your expenses. Yep, not easy the life on the road.
Although you can use the Microsoft Outlook Calendar tool to enter information about these events and synchronise this information to your Pocket PC, it's still a problem. For example, when entering the flight details on your Calendar, you are faced with problems like the How to record the arrival time? Yes, because most airlines print your itinerary using local times. Take for example one of my trips: a flight departs Auckland (New Zealand) on Sunday 07:45pm, and arrives in San Francisco (USA) the same Sunday at 10:45am! Now, this is impossible to enter in the Outlook calendar, so you'd have to calculate the arrival time based on the New Zealand local time plus the flight times. Even more strange is the flight on the way back: it leaves Los Angeles on Thursday 09:45pm and arrives in Auckland on Saturday 10:00am. No, it's not that long, but we come back the plane crossed the date line and the almost twenty hours different will actually make us lose a day.
Other interesting thing is how the Microsoft Outlook calendar and Pocket PC synchronise their data. All information is entered in the user's local time, but the data is actually stored using the UTC time. Based on the current computer or Pocket PC's timezone the correct date and time is displayed.
What does it mean? It means that entering your appointments while using the New Zealand time zone will safely move then to the correct date and time when you change the device's time zone after arriving on your destination. But how to enter the appointment using the New Zealand time zone when you only know the destination time zone?
Managing this can create lots of confusion. To make things easier in my next trips I've looked in Geekzone Software Store and found 61285 TripTracker from Two Peaks Software. How exactly can this software help the traveller? TripTracker is very handy if you have multiple flights in different time zones, or even multiple appointments. It will take the hassle out of managing all this information.
The software comes with two components: a Windows based application and a Pocket PC application. Information can be transferred between these two applications, and at the same it's entered into the Microsoft Outlook calendar (which is synchronised to the Pocket PC anyway). It means that the Pocket PC part of it is not required - but it is still very useful as we'll see later.
On the PC TripTracker has a clean interface. You'll see a space for all your trips, another area for frequent flyer account information, a list of all events related to a trip, and a series of clocks in different time zones. Each trip is created individually, and it'll have it's own collection of events. For example flights, hotel check-in and check-out, car rentals, meetings and expenses. Using the configuration options we can set the Home town, default time zone, time format to use and whether we want this trip and events associated entered into Microsoft Outlook calendar. We can even determine what kind of events should be entered into the calendar.
We start by creating a new trip. We enter the destination point for this trip (or the final point before we start the return home), including start and end dates. We can then enter the events. For example creating a flight will require the air line information, including your frequent flyer number, flight number, confirmation and even seat number. The really neat thing here is that time information are entered in local time, as printed out on the itinerary. So in my case I really enter the odd information AKL-SAN leaves at 7:45pm and arrives at 10:45am on the same day. When hitting the OK buttong the program we ask for a return flight or continuation flight. So I just keep entering the next flight, and so on. The program will assume the next flight starts from the last airport you arrived, but you can always change this (handy for places with multiple airports).
The cool part is that TripTracker will accept the information with local event times, but it will correctly enter it with our current time zone into the Microsoft Outlook calendar. No more worries about time zone calculations, daylight saving times, etc.
Likewise, we can enter car rental information, hotel check-in check out dates and appointments. Like on the flight dialog when entering these events you will specify where this is taking place, and all these dates and times should be entered using the target date and time. TripTracker will make sure this is correctly entered on your Microsoft Outlook calendar using the appropriate format.
After you have entered all this data, we're ready to transfer this information to the Pocket PC. The easiest way is... doing nothing. If you have configured the program to create calendar entries, these will be copied during the next ActiveSync. But TripTracker for Pocket PC will do much more than tracking these appointments. It is actually a fully functional version of TripTracker, and you can enter new trips or events directly on the Pocket PC.
The important thing to note is that there's no synchronisation between the two versions. There's an information transfer but changes can be only made in one point. You can't change a trip on your Pocket PC, change it on the desktop and have this synchronised. Synchronisation in this case is more like a file copy - only one will take precendence.
Once your trip started, using the TripTracker on the Pocket PC is easy. On arrival, change the Location on your Pocket PC to the destination. Do this by tapping the Start | Settings, changing to the System tab and tapping the Clock. Change to Visiting and select the destination time zone. All your appointments will automatically shift to this time zone. All the data entered through TripTracker will then automaticall shift to the correct local time.
The TripTracker application on the Pocket PC also provides some other handy tools, like Currency Converter, Distance Calculator (miles and kilometers), and Time Calculator - making it easy to answer questions like "What time will be in ... when it's 9:00am in ...?" kind of questions. Great for conference calls, or just when calling home.
Last but not least important is the expense tracker. During your trip it's easy to keep an eye on expenses by entering the receipt information directly into TripTracker. This way the information is tied to a specific trip and easy to track later. When this information is copied back to your PC later it'll be easily exported to a Microsoft Excel file - ready to be used with other tools.
The PC side provides a few other tools: backup and restore will allow you to copy all trip information to another file, while Print will give you the paper trail needed (yes, sometimes important in case you lose your Pocket PC), and Export will create files for use with Microsoft Excel or Word.
Using this software is quite easy, and the only thing I could suggest to improve the application would be a better synchronisation support. If possible at record level, and managed through ActiveSync. Otherwise TripTracker performs really well, managing all entries in both its own database and Microsoft Outlook without problems. A great example of cross platform software.