Does your heart beat just a little bit faster when you hear the words “road trip?” Is there nothing you love more than hopping in a vehicle and hitting the open road? Then you undoubtedly heard the news: Science has managed to calculate the ultimate United States road trip.

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In one giant, squiggling loop across America, you’ll be stopping at landmarks and historic sites in the lower 48 states. Tack on a stop in Washington, D.C. and an extra stop in California, and you’ve got an even 50 stops on a road trip that apparently ensures you get the most out of your mileage.

Yet this idea wasn’t without controversy – namely, if the “ultimate” road trip can really be calculated. When you start to take into account factors like personal preference for sightseeing, the belief that road trip stops ought to be random and spontaneous, and the notion that one route doesn’t fit all, then even data might be incorrect. Can you really use an algorithm to design the perfect road trip – and what constitutes “perfect” in a road trip, anyway? Let’s find out what both data and potential drivers have to say.

How It Was Calculated & Where You’ll Go

On a snowy weekend in February 2015, “data tinkerer” Dr. Randy Olson decided to undertake a fun little project: calculate a data algorithm that could quickly solve the puzzles in the Where’s Waldo books. By using an optimal search strategy, Olson managed to determine the fastest way to find the bespectacled cartoon, by taking the best solution and comparing it to all the other possible solutions. After Olson was asked by Discovery News to come up with the best road trip across every state in the U.S., it was a simple matter of applying the same algorithm to determine the fastest and most efficient way to see America. Armed with a list of 50 major U.S. landmarks (the process of choosing these was detailed on the Discovery News website), it was time to create the most epic road trip that data could produce.

“Olson set out to find the quickest driving route that would stop at a national natural landmark, national historic site, national park or national monument in all of the lower 48 states,” reports the Washington Post, adding that he made it an even 50 stops by including Washington and a second California stop. “Calculating the fastest way to drive between all 50 landmarks – 2,500 individual routes – could theoretically take forever by hand, but Olson used the same algorithm he used to find a search pattern for Where’s Waldo.” So instead of looking for a man in a striped shirt, you’re looking for national landmarks and monuments in every state – and you’re doing it by car.

Where does the data take you? “The result was an epic itinerary with a mix of inner city exploration, must-see historical sites, and beautiful natural landscapes,” says Olson on his blog. “All that was left was to figure out the path that would minimize our time spent driving and maximize our time spent enjoying the landmarks.” Once the ultimate path was determined, the curvy loop is shown to hit landmarks like The Alamo in Texas, the White House in Washington, D.C., the Liberty Bell in Pennsylvania, and the Fox Theater in Michigan, among many other stops. Be sure to pack plenty of snacks and pillows, though – as noted in the blog post, it’s not exactly a quick jaunt:

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Assuming no traffic, this road trip will take about 224 hours (9.33 days) of driving in total, so it’s truly an epic undertaking that will take at least 2-3 months to complete. The best part is that this road trip is designed so that you can start anywhere on the route as long as you follow it from then on. You’ll hit every major area in the U.S. on this trip, and as an added bonus, you won’t spend too long driving through the endless corn fields of Nebraska.

Olson’s blog post includes Google Maps links for the route in the event that you’ve got a few months free and want to try tackling it yourself. (But make sure your car is properly maintained first!) He also notes that the majority of the 50 stops are outdoors, and so he also calculated a bonus road trip that stops in TripAdvisor’s Best Cities to Visit across the United States. This one’s a bit shorter, he notes, but intrepid road-trippers can make up the extra time by stopping at multiple TripAdvisor-recommended cities in California and Texas. A truly epic undertaking, indeed.

Data Disagreements & DIY

So is a computer better than a human when it comes to planning out a road trip? This is where it gets a bit contentious. According to the comments on the original blog post, there are a number of oversights and errors when the data chose “optimal” spots to stop across the United States. Aside from loyal denizens of specific states arguing over what they would consider their best landmark, there’s also some debate over the fact that the data doesn’t appear to take tourist safety into account. (The blog post’s comments points out that the Washington state stop was once an atomic bomb processing site, and currently a potential toxic waste dump. Whoops.)

That’s why a lot of people are negating the idea of taking a road trip designed by data. Although a computer algorithm can create something specifically to a built-in set of parameters, it can also miss out on small nuances and tiny things that make a trip personal. If you’re planning a road trip yourself, why not get out the maps and plot your destinations based on landmarks that you’d like to see, and roads that you’d prefer to drive? It’s also easier to take into account things like additional passengers – children wouldn’t fare too well on a two-month road trip – and budget. (Also, it’s good to consider that Olson may have designed the road trip for fun, not entirely intending it for serious use.)

Would You Take A Data Designated Road Trip, Or Pick Your Own?

If you’re looking to undertake a road trip that could make you the darling of the travel blog circuit, the massive 50-state trip could be your ticket to viral. Just think about the social media opportunities for Instagram photos and Facebook updates! However, it’s worth keeping in mind that if you’re either new to road trips or have a very particular set of preferences when you’re driving across America, the data-calculated “ultimate road trip” might not be for you. Whether you prefer someone else to pick your journey or you’d rather jump in the car and choose your trip yourself, it’s always better to be happy where you’re going.

Would you attempt the ultimate road trip? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments.


In 2003 Jack’s son and daughter, Jasen and Jasmine Powell, joined the family business, now into its third generation. As the current owners and operators of Jack Powell Chrysler Dodge Jeep RAM, Jasen and Jasmine acquired the Jeep Franchise in 2009. Following this important addition, the two spent four years planning the complete remodel of the facility, which celebrated its Grand Opening in 2014.

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