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  >  Blog   >  How to Plan a Trip in Excel – Part One: Excel Basics
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    If you’re new here, let me quickly introduce myself by telling you that I’m in graduate school right now for Chemistry. Science-based studies use Excel for a multitude of things, like graphing and interpreting data. I learned how to perfect Excel when I took analytical chemistry and then went on to teach the lab and class! I taught students who had never used Excel, so if this is you, you’re in the right place! In this post, I’m covering Excel basics designed for beginners.

    Once I understood how to use Microsoft Excel, it was a short jump from using it for science to using it for trip planning. But first, we need to cover the basics of Excel. If you’be never used it there’s some jargon that you need to learn. It will help me explain things better and it will help you navigate Excel menus if you know what you’re looking for. So, stay with me!

    If you're dreaming of far off places but don't know how to plan a trip, let me introduce you to Microsoft Excel where with these basic tools, you'll be able to plan the trip of your dreams without dealing with math!
    Excel Basics

    First, you have rows designated by numbers and columns with alphabetical labels. Each individual rectangle that you can type into is called a cell. A sheet is the actual page that you are working on. Having multiple sheets is like having multiple tabs open. When you save the one document you save all the tabs with it. So when I plan a trip, sometimes it can get difficult to do it all on one sheet so I can have separate sheets for each location, for example.

    Formula Bar and Builder

    Another super important thing I use to plan trips in Excel is the formula bar/builder. This turns Excel into a calculator so that it will do my math for me! This helps me so much when I plan out a budget for a trip. It lets me break everything down as I do my research then add everything up at the end or in parts as I go. I’ll help you with the actual formula’s you’ll need for trip planning so don’t get math-ed out and quit just yet!

    How to use excel formula

    In the formula bar you can type an = sign and whatever function you want Excel to do for you. By function, I mean the math. Do you want it to take a sum and add a bunch of costs up? Do you need to take a price and multiply it by how many people you have in your group? or maybe divide to get a cost per person? Again, I’ll help you with this part later.

    If you double click the fx on the formula bar, it brings up the formula builder. This is a database of the functions that Excel can do. If you click on those, it will tell you what it does. In my screenshot, I have “sum” selected and it tells me at the bottom that it “adds all the numbers in a range of cells.” The syntax listed there just tells you exactly what you would need to type in.

    how to plan a trip

    Doing Some Math

    If I want to complete a sum I type in =sum() and in the parenthesis, I highlight the cells I want to sum up. When I hit enter (or the green check next to Fx), it automatically calculates the sum for me. To double check what you’ve just done, you can click on the cell and the formula bar will show exactly what was calculated.

    Let’s run through this example. Below, I typed in the numbers 1 through 5 in cells B2 through B6. In the cell B7, I can type in =sum() then highlight cells B2 through B6. When I hit enter, the equation in B7 changes to the answer, which is 15. Now, if I click on cell B7, I can see my equation in the Fx bar at the top.

    Highlighting Cells in Excel
    How to do Math in Excel

    Some other ways to do the same thing

    For a sum in between the parenthesis, you can manually type in each cell you want to include and separate each one with commas. In the previous example, I would type: =sum(B2,B3,B4,B5,B6).

    Note: If you actually want random cells, you can either type each one in OR you can hold down ctrl and click each individual cell you want to include in the sum, which is shown in the figure below.

    If you want to include a range of cells (such as B2 through B6) you designate that with a colon, so you would type B2:B6. And, if you notice, that is what the equation looked like when you highlight the cells from above.

    How to select only some cells in Excel basics

    How to Fix Some Common Mistakes

    1. If you are trying to write an equation and you find that it’s stuck selecting cells, press ESC to exit out of the selection mode.The escape button works for a ton of moments when you get stuck.

    2. Sometimes Excel isn’t sure what type of input you are entering into a cell. It tries to figure it out for you. What I mean by that is that Excel can recognize dates and it can’t do math with cells that have both numbers and letters. In order to ensure that it’s seeing what your entering the way you want, right click on the cell (or highlight the cells you want to change) and select “Format Cells.”

    Here you can change the way Excel sees that cell. You can ensure it sees the cell as a number, currency, date, time, text, etc. Each one has their own options. For example, if you change the cell to be currency, you can change the symbol to USD, Euro, etc.

    How to format in excel

    Excel Shortcuts

    To highlight any (random) cells you are interested in:

    Ctrl + click cells

     

    To highlight a range of cells you are interested in:

    Click and drag from the middle of the cell (not the edge)

    Click starting cell + shift + click to ending cell

     

    To highlight an entire column (regardless of the length):

    Select top cell, then click: Ctrl + Shift + down arrow

     

    Inserting rows or columns:

    Highlight row or column by right clicking on number or letter, respectively. Click insert row.

     

    Deleting rows or columns:

    Same as above. Click delete.

     

    When you delete a cell, it will ask you how you want to shift your cells. It needs to know how you want to move the remaining cells. Do you want to shift the cells or the whole row up?

    I usually just shift cells up.

    Test it out!

    Now that you got some of the basics in Excel, try it out for yourself. See if you can input some numbers and take the sum. Try it with numbers you can easily sum up yourself so you can double check that you did it right in Excel.

    YES, YOU DID IT! Congrats!

    Stay tuned because I’m releasing part two very soon where I’ll cover exactly how to use Excel for trip planning and I’ll walk through my free Excel travel planning workbook. You can find it here!

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    If you're dreaming of far off places but don't know how to plan a trip, let me introduce you to Microsoft Excel where with these basic tools, you'll be able to plan the trip of your dreams without dealing with math!
    If you're dreaming of far off places but don't know how to plan a trip, let me introduce you to Microsoft Excel where with these basic tools, you'll be able to plan the trip of your dreams without dealing with math! This is for anyone who is completely unfamiliar with Microsoft Excel. This is an Excel tutorial for beginners.

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    Recent PhD graduate and hyper-planner of Periodic Adventures, my goal is to share travel inspiration, budget tips, detailed guides, and fun travel stories!

    Comments:

    • I have never actually thought of using excel to do my math for trip planning and usually do it all by hand. I am saving this for my daughter to use while she is planning a family trip she would like us to take. This will help immensely.

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