How a Man Used An Algorithm to Create The Most Optimal US Road Trip

Travel Inspiration

Ever wanted to take the role of road trip planner to the next level?

Well, one clever road warrior did just that. His name is Randy Olson, and he’s created a unique approach to planning road trips based on a combination of computer algorithms and Google Maps technology. Using a specific methodology called multi-objective Pareto optimization, he was able to craft an optimized trip that would take viewers to 48 U.S. state capitols in just 8 and a half days. Sounds totally impossible, right? Well, his math-intensive approach proves it’s not… and honestly, it’s downright inspiring!

Although we don’t claim to be experts in algorithmic travel planning ourselves, we did want to write this post to tip our hats to Mr. Olson, whose optimized approach to road tripping is pretty darn awesome. Once we cover his best U.S. road trip route, we’ll dive into some other itinerary options if you’re not looking to perform calculus just to plan your vacation, offering a few of the tried and true best road trips in the U.S.A for your consideration.

Ready to dive in? Whether you’re feeling the math love or you’d much rather leave the algorithms to professionals, here are some of the very best U.S. road trip routes to consider.

Must-See Places in USA Road Trip

Let’s start by going over how Randy Olson came up with his optimal U.S. road trip route.

Although Olson has played around with many optimized road trip options before, for the purposes of this particular post, he was interested in seeing as many U.S. state capitols — that is, specifically the building at which state government concerns are taken care of — as possible. He stuck to the lower 48, ruling out Alaska as too far away and Hawaii since it would require a plane or (lengthy) boat ride.

Then, he had to consider what’s known as the “traveling salesman problem:” how to find the way to visit a given number of spots while driving the shortest total distance, and backtracking as little as possible.

Image via Randy Olson

This may sound like no big deal — after all, if you’ve ever spent an afternoon running errands, you know something about figuring out your route so as to maximize your time and fuel efficiency. Maybe you go to the furthest place first and then figure out the best way to hit the other spots you need to on the way home, or maybe you work your way out and then come back on an alternate route that has the other store you needed to visit… but you don’t just dart back and forth across the city all willy-nilly!

Of course, when you’re taking on a project like visiting *forty-eight* different cities, the scale is much, much larger… and the project is proportionally that much more difficult. As Olson himself puts it, “With 48 landmarks to put in order, we would have to exhaustively evaluate 1.24 x 1061 possible routes to find the shortest one.” Yes, that notation means the number has 61 place values — in other words, a whole freaking lot of zeroes!

He goes on to extrapolate on the absurdity of this problem. “If you started computing this problem on your home computer right now, you’d find the optimal route in about 3.98 x 1049 years—long after the Sun has entered its red giant phase and devoured the Earth.”

Yeah, you definitely don’t have that long… which is why he utilized a combination of genetic algorithms and multi-objective Pareto optimization to find the very best USA road trip route that would get him to all his sites in the shortest amount of total driving time possible.

We won’t pretend to fully understand how he does it, but Olson crunches some numbers on his computer and pops out a road trip route that hits all 48 capitols in only 13,310 driven miles — which would take about 8 and a half days to complete, not including traffic or stops for food, bathroom, and, you know, sleeping.

What’s even cooler? You can start the route at any city along the way and complete the circuit in the same distance and amount of time. We’ll let you click through to his original blog post to see the route for yourself… and what’s more, he’s even released the code he used to create the itinerary, so you can use it to optimize your own road trips!

Best American Road Trip Routes

Want to get on the road without having to do even a lick of math? Fortunately, many of the best American road trips are written into the annals of history and don’t require any fancy algorithms. Here are some of the best places to roadtrip in the U.S. — even if they’re not “optimized.”

1. Route 66

It winds about 2,000 miles from Chicago to L.A. — but you already knew that, since the song told you so. Either way, you really can get your kicks long this iconic American roadway, which runs through such all-star cities as St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Albuquerque, and Flagstaff before terminating in Santa Barbara. (You’ll definitely have earned a ride on that scenic Ferris Wheel by the time you’ve done all that driving!)

Want even more information on taking the perfect Route 66 road trip? Check out this blog post we wrote all about America’s favorite highway!

2. The Pacific Coast Highway

Another one not to be ignored or missed, the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the best scenic drives not only in the USA, but in the world. I mean, there’s a reason Big Sur has inspired artists and musicians to write some of the most beautiful books and songs about it.

Along with the stunning land and seascapes themselves, Pacific Coast Highway travelers will also get the opportunity to stop in scenic coastal cities, such as the quirky San Luis Obispo and the luxury-lined streets of Carmel-by-the-Sea. And, of course, there’s a whole bevy of beaches along the way, as well… not to mention those beautiful bridge!

Click here to learn even more about how to optimize your Pacific Coast Highway trek.

Even More USA Road Trip Ideas

Looking for the best driving roads in America? We’re not quite done yet!

3. I-95

Think all the best USA road trips are west of the Mississippi? Think again. This east coast road winds all the way from Miami to Maine, and you’re sure to encounter some stunning stops along the way — from Coral Castle all the way to Acadia National Park. Along with the stunning Atlantic coastline and the historic towns that line along its length, I-95 also runs smack into our nation’s capital… which is a worthy destination in its own right, especially considering the suite of free exhibits available through the Smithsonian!

Here’s where you absolutely have to stop if you’re taking an I-95 trip.

Most Scenic Drives in America

Whether it’s an epic cross-country journey or just a quick day trip somewhere in your area, venturing down the best driving roads in America is its own reward. From New Mexico’s stunning Enchanted Circle to the Seven-Mile Bridge down in the Florida Keys, here are the very best and most beautiful drives in every single state in the nation.

Whether you prefer to spend hours optimizing your road trips or just stick the key in the ignition and get on the road, an RVshare vehicle makes the very best home base for your explorations. You’ll get all the comforts of home combined with all the freedom and flexibility of the open road — and when you rent on the peer-to-peer market through RVshare, you’ll get it all at a drastically reduced price from what you’re used to seeing at the big box stores. It really is a win-win scenario!

What’s more, we here at RVshare have made it our mission to make adventuring accessible for people from every walk of life, and we’re here every step of the way to ensure you make the most of your vacation. From choosing a rig to booking your reservation to planning your itinerary and more, we’ve got the best customer service team in the business and tons of helpful content to get you started. In fact, here are a few more blog posts that may help:

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