Utah - Geoff Llerena (flickr)

Utah – Geoff Llerena (flickr)

Have you ever dreamt about doing the perfect road trip across the United States? Taking a car and go on the roads to visit the whole country, just like in the movies? It sounds great but it’s pretty hard to undertake, United states are very large, with a huge lot of things to visit, monuments, landscapes and city to see…

This is exactly the reason why Tracy Staedter from Discovery News  asked Randy Olson a research assistant from Michigan State University, to create an algorithm that would solve this problem. He had only three rules to start:

  1. “The trip must make at least one stop in all 48 states in the contiguous U.S.
  2. The trip would only make stops at National Natural Landmarks, National Historic Sites, National Parks, or National Monuments.
  3. The trip must be taken by car and never leave the U.S. “

(excluding Alaska and Hawaii for obvious reasons)

After choosing the 50 places that would correspond to these criteria, Randy used Google’s API to get the necessary informations, and then created some code to get the exact distance between the chosen destinations. Why using some code when you can easily find it on Google by yourselves would you probably wonder? To find the true distance between the different destinations, and then try all the different roads possible, which means according to Randy 2500 different roads.

Randy also explains how hard it was to find the best path to follow in this quest : “We needed to order the list of landmarks such that the total distance traveled between them is as small as possible if we visited them in order. […] If you read my Where’s Waldo article, you’re already aware of how difficult it can be to solve route optimization problems like this one. With 50 landmarks to put in order, we would have to exhaustively evaluate 3 x 1064 possible routes to find the shortest one.”

After only a minute, the route was all chosen, a total of 22,046 km, which means 224 hours of driving, and would take approximatively 2-3 months to complete, according to the author.  He adds “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.” which sounds like a cool advantage for sure !

Map of the best road trip across the USA - source : randalolson.com

Map of the best road trip across the USA – source : randalolson.com

here is the map with the interactive result, you can clic on the different pins to discover the destinations. The other good news is that Randy also started others roads trips maps with all the main US cities, south America, and even Europe !