The “Perfect” Road Trip, Broken Down



The “perfect” road trip map was created with a sophisticated computer algorithm.

BjornKochHeadImageIt’s the dream of most every uninhibited twenty-something, travel-savvy adult and explorational child around the nation: cruising the vast and picturesque vistas of the United States on a multi-month long roadtrip around the nation. And now, it could be a reality, assuming you can take some time off of work.

Doctoral student Randy Olson and Tracy Staedter devised a map that spread like wildfire on social media in the past year. Touted as the “perfect” United States road trip “according to scientists,” the cross-country trip would tack on about 14,000 miles to your car’s odometer and realistically take at least two months. And while the road trip was definitively called “perfect” by those on Facebook, it does leave a little to be desired in my opinion.


The Statistics


  • As all road trips should, Olson and Staedter designed this map to be explored in the classic manner: with a car (or van, that’s more up your alley).
  • It touches in every state within the US (except Hawaii and Alaska, as those are considerably less accessible via car) stopping at a major landmark in each.
  • The trip in total consists of 50 stops (two in California, and one in Washington, DC
  • Each stop takes place at a National Natural Landmark, historic site, national park or monument.
  • The trip is exactly 13,699 miles in total.
  • A cursory look through the internet signals that few, if any, people have completed the trip.


The Trip

Olsen used a genetic algorithm to map out the road trip, which he claims involves the least backtracking possible to touch on these major landmarks. So while the 13,699 miles might not be particularly light on your car, it’s as few as possible if you’re truly dead set on traveling the United States. But is it really perfect?

In my mind, the trip presented by the duo would be a fantastic way to spend a few months, but doesn’t quite reach the plateau of perfection. While the idea behind a road trip conjures up images of top-down convertibles with hair blowing in the wind and classic hits playing on the radio, the real thing doesn’t always pan out–especially if you’re spending two or three months on the road. Driving across the country–say, from Boston to San Francisco does present a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bond with some of your closest friends, but in my opinion three months of bonding might be a little on the steep side.


Though each of the 48 continental US states are included, the list is restricted to national monuments, parks and landmarks.

While the trip does touch ground in all 48 contiguous states in the US, it restricts itself to national landmarks, parks and monuments when in reality some of the best things states have to offer are excluded. Places like Breckenridge, Colorado or the Ozarks in Arkansas are amazingly underrated destinations that often fall between the cracks when destinations are examined on a grand scale.


Let’s get things straight though, none of this should reflect poorly on Olson and Staedter, the route they mapped out is as close to scientific perfection as a nation-wide road trip is ever going to get. Sometimes, though, if you’re seeking out perfection, you’ll do best to leave the algorithms behind.