It’s not really a secret that I am an obsessive planner. Just ask my friends about going camping with me. A month before we even set foot in the bush guaranteed I will have already inquired about where people plan on setting up their tents, will we be cooking together or just taking care of our individual families, if we are cooking together what is everyone bringing, do we all need to bring dishware or can we consolidate, when is everyone planning on arriving at the site etc etc. The idea of showing up somewhere and “winging it” causes me an insurmountable amount of stress.
As a result of this, it’s no surprise that a giant dustyAmerican cross-country roadtrip, no matter how badly I want to do it, has never been something I’ve attempted with any real seriousness. I could never just drive until I was tired and then pick a random place to crash. What if it’s awful? What if the place you pick ends up being 10 minutes from something amazing and you totally miss it cuz you didn’t bother to research it ahead of time? If there are cool things to be seen, I’d need to make sure I was seeing them and the amount of nerdy planning that would have to take place for me to be a willing and happy captive passenger for weeks on end is just not capable by the normal person I fear. Not even by an obsessive planner like me.
Well didn’t I just about fall over when I stumbled across the genius that is Randal S. Olson. My new best friend Randal is a 4th year Computer Science major at Michigan State University. Every week, as a lark, he tackles a new data analysis problem and he even posts 2 new data visualizations every day on his Twitter account. Asleep yet? Hang in there, this gets better really soon.
His biggest “claim to fame” so far has been creating an optimal search strategy for finding Waldo in the “Where’s Waldo?” puzzles. I know right? Super nerd. I’m crushing so hard though. (Sidenote: if you totally DO want to know the optimal search strategy for finding Waldo you can find it here).
But blowing his Waldo strategy right out of the water is his algorithm that has planned the most optimal road trip across the continental United States, thus removing all the guess work from figuring out how to see everything worth seeing without back-tracking or criss-crossing all over the place. He even had rules! The trip must make at least one stop in all 48 states in the contiguous U.S, the trip would only make stops at National Natural Landmarks, National Historic Sites, National Parks, or National Monuments, and the car must be taken by car and never leave the U.S. (Honestly, rules for a fictitious trip? Amazing.)
Now there’s a ton more stuff he took into consideration and a bunch more techy mumbo-jumbo involved (obviously) and if you want to read about every last detail you can find it all HERE. In the meantime, here is the graphic illustrating what his algorithm came up with once he took all that aforementioned mumbo-jumbo into account.
One of the coolest parts about this is that it is designed not to have a specific starting point! So you could pick this up from wherever you happened to be and travel in any direction. The only downside I guess is that the timeframe on a trip like this is about 2-3 months and I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that kind of time. Maybe this could be my “Retirement in an RV” end goal or something.
Then, if stopping at landmarks and points of interest doesn’t turn your crank, he’s EVEN done a similar plan for visiting all the most popular US cities.
He’s totally done all the work for you. As in, you could leave tomorrow. Just in time for the start of roadtrip weather!
Continental U.S not your thing? He totally did one for Europe too (which if you’ve ever spent time driving the highways of Italy makes this option sound infinitely more appealing than the North American highway offerings, at least for me anyway). Want to try your hand at South America? Here you go.
Want to customize your own roadtrip? He’s given you all the nerdy nerd tools to do it yourself here.
See what I mean? This kinda thing is what gives me a big ol’Type A, super planning nerd-gasm.
Finding someone I want to spend that much time trapped in a car with though (or someone who wants to be stuck with me)? That's something no amount of computery computing could help me with.