Lonely Planet Writer

Around the US in 8 ½ days? Researcher uses algorithm to plan a very efficient road trip

If a lack of vacation days is holding you back from that summer road trip across the USA, Randy Olson is here to make your hyper-efficient travel dreams come true.

The most optimized road trip around the US.
The most optimized road trip around the US. Image by Randy Olsen

Olson, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania Institute for Biomedical Informatics, used Google Maps data and an algorithm to plan a road trip that will take travellers to visit the state capitol building of the 48 contiguous states in 8 ½ days of driving – though it’s up to you to find the energy to actually do it.

Olson, who runs a website where he writes about data visualisation and machine learning, has already created some ultimate road trip itineraries, such as the best way to see 50 historic sites around Europe. But, in his most recent post on road trips, he describes some of his previous plans as ‘grandiose’ and notes that most people have limited time and money for travel.

Texas State Capitol Building in Austin, TX.
Texas State Capitol Building in Austin, TX. Image by Shutterstock

So Olson decided to further optimised road trip planning. In his example, he proposes a trip that would allow the traveller to take a picture at as many US state capitol buildings as possible in every state but Hawaii and Alaska. Assuming there is no traffic, you could hit up every building in 8 ½ days of driving, starting from anywhere on the route. But, Olson notes that this trip is also fairly ambitious, which is why he has developed a way to plan a route based on how much time the person has available – a parameter that could extend to budget. He even posted the code online with instructions for anyone interested in trying out his intense trip planning system.

Olson told Lonely Planet in an email that while he wishes he could head out on one of his routes right now, work keeps him too busy. But, he notes, that’s why he added the feature to plan for shorter periods of time, and he is continuing to think of other ways to expand the algorithm to help decide where to stop for gas, plan the most optimised walking tours, and more.

If you want to understand how Olson plans these efficient trips or start mapping your own, read the full post on his website.