Life is a Speedway: The Fastest Way to Hit The Best Landmarks on a Road Trip

Leave it to a mathematician to figure out how to hack the highways.

Data genius Randy Olson is known for developing an algorithm for the ultimate search path to find Waldo, the globetrotting star of the series “Where’s Waldo?” And last week, Discovery News’ Tracy Staedter encouraged Olson to take that same algorithm and apply it to the roads — and he did.

First, Olson decided he would use his math magic to determine the fastest route that would stop at a national historic site, park, monument, or natural landmark in all of the lower 48 states. Then, to even it out at 50 states, he added a stop in Washington D.C. and California. The result? This route:


If you are a robot who doesn’t require any sort of human sustenance, you can speed through this route in just under 10 days. (Photo: The Washington Post)

According to Olson, if you don’t sleep, stop, or hit traffic, you could technically do this trip in 9.33 days. But of course, since you are human and need to do such things as, oh, you know, go to the bathroom and eat food, the trip will likely take around two months. The route stops at the Grand Canyon, the White House, Graceland, the Statue of Liberty, and the Alamo, to name a few landmarks. The best part? You can start in any state you want, and then follow the path from there.

Related: 7 Most Amazing Under-the-Radar Road Trips in the U.S.

Olson also computed the best route for an efficient road trip through both South America and Europe.

For the South America route, Olson pulled recommendations from both Trip Advisor and the Huffington Post to create a list of destinations that are, in his words, “a nice mix between beautiful outdoor sights and lively cities across the entire South American continent.” The route, which is 18,148 miles, covers most of the South American coast. Olson claims that you should spend roughly three months following its path if you want to truly enjoy it.

Drive along this coastal route, and you’ll see all sorts of epic South American hot spots. (Photo: Randy Olson)

Olson also computed a path for an optimized road trip through Europe. Of course, your best Europe may be different from your friend’s best Europe, and so on. Knowing this, Olson decided to leave the destination deciding to someone else, and turned to a Business Insider story that lists the “50 Places in Europe You Need to Visit in Your Lifetime.”

“These stops seemed like a nice mix of inner city exploration and outdoorsy fun from an eclectic collection of countries,” he writes on his blog. The result? The 16,287-mile route below, which Olson estimates will take 14 days of driving and roughly three months to enjoy to the max.

Europe fest 2015, here you come. (Photo: Randy Olson) 

So, how does Olson’s logic work, exactly? He came up with a bunch of different routes, and then his algorithm simply compared those routes against each other to determine the most efficient one. Sounds easy enough in theory, but of course, it is wildly complicated to actually program it to make it happen.

And that’s not all! The computing genius also came up with another route, this one based on Trip Advisor. The route takes you through all of the cities ranked on Trip Advisor’s “Best City to Visit” list (plus Cleveland, since it’s in such a convenient location). 


Seriously, how smart is this guy to be able to MAKE this map based off of real data? #Genius. (Photo: The Washington Post)

Now, just be sure you’ve got a sweet music setup and a bunch of these cool road-trip apps, and you’ll be good to go. 

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