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With the list of landmarks in hand, the next step was to find the “true” distance between all of the landmarks by car.
Since we can’t just drive a straight line between every landmark — driving by car has this pesky limitation of having to stay on roads — we needed to find the shortest route between every landmark.
Thankfully, the Google Maps API makes this information freely available, so all it took was a short Python script to calculate the distance and time driven for all 2,450 routes between the 50 landmarks.
Now with the 2,450 landmark-landmark distances, our next step was to approach the task as a traveling salesman problem: 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.
Last week, Tracy Staedter from Discovery News proposed an interesting idea to me: Why not use the same algorithm from my Where’s Waldo article to compute the optimal road trip across every state in the U. The result was an epic itinerary with a mix of inner city exploration, must-see historical sites, and beautiful natural landscapes.
One of the hardest parts of planning a road trip is deciding where to stop along the way. To stand a chance at making an interesting road trip, Tracy and I laid out a few rules from the beginning: With those objectives in mind, Tracy compiled a list of 50 major U. landmarks — one in each state excluding Alaska/Hawaii and including D. Tracy wrote about that process on Discovery News here.
All that was left was to figure out the path that would minimize our time spent driving and maximize our time spent enjoying the landmarks.
Out of the top 400 recommended cities to visit on Trip Advisor, none were from North Dakota, Vermont, nor West Virginia.
This is especially interesting because Trip Advisor reviewers recommend cities like Flint, MI — the 7th most crime-ridden city in the U. — over any city in North Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia.
I’ll leave the interpretation of that fact to the reader.
Here’s the Google Maps of the route:       Here’s the full list of cities in order: If you’d like to customize your own road trip, I’ve released the Python code I used in this project with an open source license and instructions for how to optimize your custom road trip. I’ve made another version for Europe here and for South America here.