Map Where You’ve Been (And Where You Want to Go)

Are you going to travel to any new countries, states, or cities this year? How many have you already visited? Many people have goals to visit a certain number of new places every year, or a big total like 50 or 100 countries in their lifetime. Now is a great time to make such a resolution—and there is no better way to track it than a map.

View Which Countries Have I Visited? in a full screen map

Take the example above, which shows the countries I’ve visited in green. The nations I want to visit are in red. You can make your own map almost entirely from your spreadsheet. That way, you can easily update it every time you visit a new place. Follow the steps below to create your own “been there, not done that” type of map. Or, get really creative and plot anything that fits the pattern.

How to Map Where You’ve Been

Creating a map of the countries you’ve visited is as simple as making a list. In fact, you don’t even need to use a spreadsheet unless you want to (though it will make the next step easier). Just start your list with “Country” as the heading and put each country on its own line.

Spreadsheet of countries visited

I put mine into Excel, and then highlighted the entire list. Don’t worry if you forget one—you can go back and edit it later. Copy your list and head over to the mapping tool on our homepage. Just paste the list into the big box at the top of the page. To get going quickly, just click “Map Now.” We’ll show some other cool settings in the next step.

Faster than it likely took you to remember the countries you’ve visited, you now have a map. The marker pin is plotted into roughly the center of the country, based on the coordinates we get back from the Google Geocoder we use. When you visit another country (or realize you forgot one), just add it to your list, then copy the entire list into this map (we’ll email you a link you can use to edit the map).

How to Map Where You Want to Go

Maps get really fun and useful when you have multiple types of data represented on the same map. Let’s make that map show not only where you’ve been, but where you want to go.

Now is the time where it’s useful to keep this data in a spreadsheet. If you haven’t already, copy your list of countries visited into Excel, Google Sheets, or a similar program for storing data as a table. Now add a second column, just to the right of the country column. Let’s call it Type.

Spreadsheet of countries visited and those I want to visit

We’ll have two types for this map: Been and Want. You can name them whatever you want. You could even add other types to describe how much you want to go, or maybe to list places you don’t want to go. That’s up to you, but we’ll stick to the simple two type map for this example. Write “Been” in the Type column for all the countries you’ve visited. Now add some countries you want to visit in the Country column, and write “Want” in the Type column for each of those.

Now take those two columns, including the headers, and paste them into BatchGeo. This time, instead of simply making the map, click Validate & Set Options. Make sure the Region is set to International. Set the Country to your country field. Group By may already be selected as Type, but you can double check, then click Advanced Options. In the Marker colors section you can choose from the colors to represent each of your marker types.

Click the Make Map button and away you go. Now you have a map of everywhere you’ve been… and everywhere you want to go! You can also use this same process for many different types of maps, like the one below that shows where the Olympics have been, as well as where they will be going in the future.

Where Were the Olympics?

View Olympics Locations in a full screen map

For over 100 years, the Olympics have brought the world together to compete in many countries. Above you see a modification of the visited countries map to show where athletes have competed in the Olympics. You’ll also notice a handful of markers representing the cities that are to be homes of future olympics.

What other data do you have—perhaps sitting on your hard drive as spreadsheets—that would be better represented as a map?

How to Format Your Addresses for BatchGeo

Part of the magic of BatchGeo is that we create maps from your existing Excel files and other spreadsheets. Just copy-paste and you’re done. That said, there are a some simple things you can do to increase the accuracy of turning that list of addresses into a fantastic map. Some recent changes to the geocoder we use makes formatting and arranging your data even more important.

BatchGeo relies on Google Maps for the visual maps platform, as well as the geocoder, which we use to convert addresses and other locations into coordinates to plot on your maps. A recent update from Google is more strict with what they call “ambiguous addresses.” The change promises better performance, which could mean your data is mapped even faster. For this benefit, you’ll want to pay closer attention to your formatting, so we’ve compiled a few tips for making better map data.

Identify Your Location Columns

Validate and Set OptionsWhen you paste your data into BatchGeo, we attempt to guess at the structure of your location columns. Using your header names, we take a stab at the address, city, state, and postal code. In fact, you can use the headers from our Excel Spreadsheet Template to ensure we’ll get it right.

Of course, you don’t need to change your column names just for us. As you create a map, you can choose Validate & Set Options to see our guess. You also have the opportunity to override our guesses. Just match each dropdown to the field in your spreadsheet. If you don’t have a postal code, for example, just choose “none.”

BatchGeo uses these location columns to prepare a formatted, unambiguous address to send to the Google Geocoder. Here’s how the recent update describes address formatting:

Compared to other Google APIs, the Geocoding API provides the best quality matching of addresses globally for these types of complete, unambiguous queries. However, Geocoding API is not recommended if your application handles ambiguous or incomplete queries, such as “123 Main St”, or if it handles queries that may contain non-address information such as apartment numbers or business names.

Since the majority of BatchGeo customers are mapping full addresses, we anticipate few issues, as long as your data is properly formatted. If you’ve previously mapped business or landmark names, you may see an increase in un-mappable locations. We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on it and also welcome your feedback.

Beware Numeric Postal Codes

In addition to identifying columns within your data, you should pay close attention to one field in particular. Postal codes that contain only numbers, such as Zip codes in the United States, can sometimes be misinterpreted. If your postal code starts with a zero—as is the case in seven northeastern U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and Virgin Islands, plus European military and diplomatic mail—Excel needs to treat it as text, not a number.

Consider this data for three baseball stadiums in the US:

Team Stadium Address City State Zipcode
Boston Red Sox Fenway Park 4 Yawkey Way Boston MA 02215
New York Yankees Yankee Stadium One East 161st Street Bronx NY 10451
Philadelphia Phillies Citizens Bank Park One Citizens Bank Way Philadelphia PA 19148

If you copy and paste that into a spreadsheet, you’ll find Fenway Park’s Zip code will go from five digits to four. What’s the difference?

Zip code in Excel

The leading zero, of course. When treated as a number, 02215 becomes 2215. If you copied that spreadsheet data into BatchGeo, it would come without the zero, which could cause issues with the geocoder.

The solution in Excel is fairly simple:

  1. Select the entire postal code column
  2. Choose the Format menu, then Cells
  3. Click Text for the category of the field

You should be able to make similar formatting adjustments in other spreadsheet tools. One quick way to spot a numeric field: it’s right-aligned. Once you make your postal code into text, it should be left-aligned.

Now when you copy your spreadsheet to BatchGeo, the entire postal code (including any leading zeroes) will come along for the ride.

Better Performance Through Formatting

Now that your columns are identified, your addresses are complete, and your postal codes aren’t dropping zeroes, you’re ready to make some maps. With the latest Google changes, they promise to be even faster than our already fast geocoding.

We’ll naturally be watching these changes to see how our service and customers are affected. If you notice anything you think we should check out, be sure to let us know.

5 Excel Tips From the Guy Who Built It

Microsoft Excel, and similar spreadsheet software, may be the most used application beyond word processing. Certainly, Excel has a diverse user base and laundry list of use cases, which probably even includes actual laundry lists. Many of us are casual Excel users, and it seems there’s always a new feature to learn.

In a 45 minute video originally shared with his internal teams, former Microsoft Excel Program Manager Joel Spolsky drops gem after gem of Excel knowledge. You can watch the video above and find the top five insights we’ve already put into action in our spreadsheets.

1. Use Tables For More Than Just Pretty Formatting

Excel table sortingYou have probably noticed the table feature in Excel. It’s really useful for quickly switching style templates and implementing banded data, where rows alternate in color. In addition to borders and other stylistics, tables also come with some powerful data manipulation abilities.

When you use tables, it becomes really easy to sort, sum, and add new data. The formatting is useful for end users, but also helpful in that it signifies to Excel where certain types of data begin and end. Each field in the header row of a table has a dropdown that gives you quick access to sorting and filtering. Fields in the total row let you select from SUM, AVERAGE, and other common Excel functions.

The best part of using tables is how easy it is to add new data. If you include a formula within one cell of a column, it will optimistically be copied throughout the rest of the column. Or, need to add new rows? Simply tab from the last field of the last row and a new row is added above the total row. Sort by a column and the header and total rows stay put. Also, the sorting doesn’t interfere with any other data on this sheet. Everything is contained in its own little world in the table. This becomes especially useful once you name columns and look up data with INDEX, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

2. Paste Values to Remove Formatting and Formulas

Copying and pasting is the Excel user’s best friend. It makes some powerful assumptions about cell references that make it incredibly useful. However, there are times when what you see is what you want. That’s where Paste Values comes in, a little trick used by Spolsky throughout the session.

Paste Special menu in Excel

For example, you might generate a full name field by using a formula to combine first names and last names (don’t forget the space between). If you later want to remove the first and last name columns, your full name column will disappear… unless you replace it with the values created by your formula.

Try it out:

  • Select an entire column that was generated by a formula
  • Copy the column to your clipboard
  • From the Edit menu, choose Paste Special, then select Values

You can now remove the first and last name columns (or whichever extraneous columns you used to create the column whose values you’ve just pasted). Note that you can also paste formulas, formats (including conditional formatting), and more. Paste Special is, indeed, special.

3. Provide Your Data Room to Breathe

Look at the breathing roomYou may notice what first appears to be a strange habit as Spolsky adds data to his spreadsheet. He always leaves Row 1 and Column A blank. Why do cells need room to breathe? Is it just his fastidious need for margin? Nope, it turns out there is a more functional reason: selecting and sorting.

When you leave space around a table of data, whether it’s an official table or not, Excel is able to make intelligent assumptions about what goes together. When it comes time to sort data, for example, Excel automatically constrains itself to the “island” of data surrounding the selected cell(s).

One of the reasons this habit may seem strange is if you don’t already put your data in tables. But you’ll probably do that now after reading the first item in our tips from Spolsky’s presentation. If you aren’t already convinced, the next two tips should make you a believer.

4. Give Names to Columns and Cells

Column named StateHave you ever found yourself including a value in a function, copying the function down an entire column, only to have to change the value in the function later? Take the example Spolsky uses in the video: he multiplies each employee salary by a fixed tax rate. A better method is to include that value somewhere in your spreadsheet and reference the cell. That way, you can alter the tax rate and all the data that relies upon it will update.

It’s great to pull repeated values from other locations in your spreadsheet, but then you need to memorize the cell value. Worse yet, when someone attempts to understand your formula later on, they have to figure out where the cell is and what it represents. If you declare a name for that cell, you’ll be able to reference it not as J2 (or worse, $J$2 to create an absolute reference), but as TaxRate.

Similarly, you can name entire columns or other ranges of data. Spolsky named the Salary column, so that his formula could be simply =Salary*TaxRate — Excel took care of the rest, intelligently calculating the correct values.

5. Superpower Your Spreadsheets With INDEX and MATCH

Things really got interesting when Spolsky added multiple tables to the same spreadsheet. By using official tables, giving them room to breathe, and naming columns, you can perform some powerful lookups on your data.

First, create a lookup table. Spolsky used city names and tax rates for a simple two column table. His main table also had a city name field, so he used the MATCH function to find which row of the lookup table’s city column matched the city for each employee. Like so:
=MATCH([@Location], TaxRates[City])

Then, he used INDEX to find the tax rate based on the matching city:
=INDEX(TaxRates[TaxRate], MATCH([@Location], TaxRates[City]))

Finally, as shown in the image below, Spolsky multiplied the tax rate he looked up by the employee’s salary.

INDEX and MATCH example

Be sure to sort your lookup table alphabetically by city name (or whatever value you are using MATCH on), otherwise it won’t know how to find what you’re looking for. But that prep is minimal when compared to the time these functions save you.

6. BONUS!

While not part of Spolsky’s video, one of our favorite uses of Excel is to store geographic data like addresses and postal codes. Selfishly, the reason we like it for location data is because of the really cool mapping application we’ve been building for the last decade. You can use all the tricks above to organize your data, then simply copy and paste into our mapping tool to generate a map.

Try BatchGeo for free right now!

Births and Burials of US Presidents

Many in the US are tired of arguing over the future of the presidency, so we decided to take a look back at the past. There have been 44 US Presidents, required by law to be born in the United States. Of those, 39 have been buried, often in their home state—either by birth or adoption. The map below shows where each president was born and where each who has died is buried. You can use the BatchGeo Grouping feature to show only births or burials. Or, read on for our analysis of the story told by this map of presidential birthplaces and final resting places.

View US President Births and Burials in a full screen map

JFK gravesiteThe first thing you may notice when looking at the map: there is something in the water in Virginia! Eight presidents were born in The Old Dominion, which is incidentally also nicknamed Mother of Presidents. Additionally, seven presidents are buried in Virginia, so the state is tops for births and burials. Five of the presidents born in Virginia were also buried there, which helps with that total. Two non-Virginians are buried in Virginia, both at Arlington National Cemetery: William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy.

Ohio is one native son or daughter away from tying Virginia. Ohio’s seven presidents span the ninth, William Henry Harrison, through the 29th, Warren G. Harding. New York and Massachusetts (each with four) round out the only states with more than two presidents. In terms of burials, New York edges out Ohio, with six and five respectively. Tennessee is the burial place of three US presidents, despite not a single president being born in that state.

Ronald Reagan boyhood homeA president’s state of birth is not always the state we associate with that president. For example, Abraham Lincoln is claimed in Illinois as a native son, but he was born in Kentucky. Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, was born in Illinois. Due to his time in Hollywood, and as governor, we think of The Gipper as a Californian. Similarly, both presidents named George Bush are considered Texans. Yet, they were both born in the Northeast (Massachusetts for the elder and Connecticut for the younger).

Despite the split between birthplaces and burials, over half of US Presidents were born and buried in the same state. Six were even returned to their native city for burial: Martin Van Buren (Kinderhook, New York), Herbert Hoover (West Branch, Iowa), Franklin D. Roosevelt (Hyde Park, New York), Lyndon B. Johnson (Stonewall, Texas), Richard M. Nixon (Yorba Linda, California), and Ronald Reagan (Simi Valley, California).

It is interesting to note that no president has been born in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, or any of the top US cities by population. Further, most presidents were born in the eastern half of the country, which makes sense given that the US started with thirteen colonies and expanded westward. In fact, it wasn’t until after World War II that the US elected someone born west of the Mississippi River. Dwight D. Eisenhower was born in Denison, Texas. Only three other presidents have been born in the west: Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald R. Ford (Omaha, Nebraska), and Richard M. Nixon.

How to Plot Latitude and Longitude on a Map

For hundreds—maybe thousands—of years, it was hard to make maps. People dedicated their entire lives to the craft. While that’s still true today, now there are tools that enable cartographers to share their work so others can build upon their maps. Most importantly, there is a coordinate system that makes it easy for ordinary people to understand and describe points on the earth. While latitude and longitude points have ben around for centuries, GPS and web maps have greatly enabled our ability to use them.

A Quick Latitude/Longitude Refresher

X/Y coordinates graphBack in algebra class, you spent way too much time plotting points, lines, and expressions on a grid. These x/y graphs are a simple way to think of latitude (the y axis) and longitude (the x axis). Of course, the earth is not flat, nor even perfectly round, so the reality is more complex. But to make most maps, this is all you need to know.

Latitude of zero is along the equator. Using decimal notation, latitude extends north to 90 degrees and south to -90 degrees. Longitude doesn’t have an obvious zero marker, so the British made one up at the Greenwich Observatory in London. Everything due North and South of that point is zero longitude. To the east, the numbers increase until 180 degrees on the other side of the earth from London. To the west, the numbers decrease until -180 degrees meets 180 degrees in the middle of the ocean.

When we put latitude and longitude together, they form a pair of numbers that can be plotted on a map. For example, zero latitude and -78.455833 longitude is the Mitad del Mundo in Quito, Ecuador, a monument to “the middle of the earth.” If you go to 51.500833 latitude and -0.141944 longitude, you’ll find Buckingham Palace, across town from the Observatory (notice the near-zero longitude).

Often you’ll see decimal notation listed as a pair of coordinates separated by a comma. For example, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is at 37.819722,-122.478611. When working with coordinates, be sure that you know which number is listed first. You can do this by sanity checking a known location. In this case, you know San Francisco is in the western hemisphere and should have a negative longitude. Also, latitudes are never greater than 90, so that’s another hint here. We go into some greater detail on other ways coordinates are formatted in our latitude and longitude coordinates page.

Mapping a List of Coordinates

Now that you have the basics of latitude and longitude down, let’s make a map! If you know how to code, you could use the Google Maps API directly. But that’s the hard way to make a map. Let’s look at what it takes to build a map from a simple spreadsheet.

Let’s say our spreadsheet looks something like this (your own version probably has many more rows):
Example spreadsheet with coordinates

Due to potential confusion over the order of coordinates, it’s a good idea to separate them out. Here’s a quick way to do that using Excel-compatible formulas:

  1. Add two new columns titled Latitude and Longitude
    Spreadsheet, now with latitude and longitude columns
  2. To find the number to the left of the comma (latitude in our example), use the formula =LEFT(F2, FIND(“,”, F2)-1) where F2 is the first cell with the pair of coordinates. Then copy that formula down the column.
    Spreadsheet with Latitude column
  3. To find the number to the right of the comma (longitude in our example), use the formula =RIGHT(F2, LEN(F2)-FIND(“,”, F2)) where F2 is the cell with the first pair of coordinates.
    Spreadsheet with Longitude column

To account for the presence of a space after the comma, you can put a TRIM function around each of those formulas. But that’s optional. The important part is separating the coordinates.

View Example Latitude/Longitude Map in a full screen map

Now you can copy your spreadsheet rows, including the header, by highlighting and using the Ctrl+C command (Cmd+C on Mac) to copy it to your clipboard. Now, go to this map-making tool and paste (Ctrl+V, or Cmd+V on Mac) your spreadsheet data into the box. The result is a beautiful web map like the one above, ready to be saved and shared.

Use Geocoding to Find Coordinates of Addresses

If you don’t already have latitude and longitude points for your data, you can use our batch geocoding tool. You can convert addresses, postal codes, city names, and even some landmarks into coordinates and plot them on a map. Just copy and paste your spreadsheet data into the box.

Make your first map now for free.