When I first saw the headline about the optimised USA road trip route created by Randy Olsen I was excited to see the article and map. I have spent considerable time planning a family road trip to the USA for a few years time which has required a lot of time and research. So I had high hopes that a Randy Olsen’s map would provide a great insight into a workable route to travel around the USA lower 48 states.
Limitations of Randy Olsen’s Road Trip Maps
On first viewing Randy’s maps show a lot of promise, however as I looked at the assumptions he used and the level of detail I quickly realised that his maps are only a starting point to plan your road trip.
If you look closely at his maps he has literally only selected one or two features in each state or country as being ‘the places to visit’, based on other people articles. In my road trip and itinerary planning experience I would never do a trip as he has described – the length of trip between each point is too long, and I am sure that there are more than three points of interest in France…
What they are good for is as a starting point to envisage a bigger road trip to each of these areas and then use it as a basis for your more detailed trip planning.
How to Take Randy Olsen’s Maps and Transform Them Into a Real Road Trip Itinerary
Before you start planning any trip you first need to consider how much time and money you have available. If you can only travel for two weeks then Randy Olsen’s maps won’t help you much, apart from providing some possible points of interest to research further to decide where to visit. If you are travelling for a month or more then you may be able to use part or all of his routes as a basis for research and further planning.
Sometimes when you start planning a road trip you have a clear vision of what you want to see, and all you need to do is to fill in the gaps to make a logical route. Other times you only have a vague idea to start with and you need to do much more research before a reasonable itinerary starts to form.
Randy’s maps provide a good option to start doing some research, along with a heap of other online resources. I also often look at tour operator brochures to get some ideas of the key highlights for a destination.
Road Trip Route Planning Principles
Good road trip route planning requires optimisation of many more factors. My key road trip planning principles are as follows:
- Start with a clear understanding of your available trip length, time of year you can go on holiday and your trip budget – there is no point even starting to plan a trip that is unfeasible.
- Only plan to drive, fly or travel via public transport for a maximum of four hours each day, and if you HAVE to do a longer drive, then you should plan to stop in the same area for at least two or more days afterwards. This approach enables you to recover from the long trip which can be exhausting in its own right.
- In each week plan at least 1-2 days as rest days – otherwise you will exhaust yourself. If you are travelling with children and / or grandparents also plan most days to be half day activities where possible – if you still have energy after a half day that activity that is fine, but if you need a break then you can go with that option.
- Don’t try to do too much – if you visit a place allow enough time to properly explore it rather than moving to a new place every day. Transport is expensive so if you are on a budget plan to do less of it and compromise.
- Consider entry and exit points and transportation options to determine a logical route.
- Mix up different kinds of experiences depending on your personal preferences – countryside and small towns versus city, shopping versus museums, castles versus churches and temples.
- Carefully consider the climate and weather to determine the best times to visit.
Then balance all of these factors to determine when you can visit, and then determine the best route to follow. Sometimes it takes multiple versions of an itinerary to come up with your final optimised trip plan.
An Example Optimised Road Trip Route Plan
We are currently planning to do a large road trip to the USA in a few years and I have done a lot of route research and planning. The first map below is Randy Olsen’s map of the similar area:
The second map is my optimised route plan for that part of our planned route – you can see a much richer level of detail than in Randy’s maps. After all, if we are travelling that distance we definitely want to make the most of our time and opportunities in the areas we plan to visit.
Road Trip Planning Requires Optimisation of Many Factors
I understand why Randy took the approach to optimise the road trip routes that he did, as published lists of major attractions and road distances are relatively easy to model. But good travel planning is all about optimising ALL of the factors including the quantitative elements, and finding the interesting places to visit along the way in between the major attractions.
So sure, start planning your trip using Randy’s maps as your initial inspiration – but don’t stop there – go a step further to create your personal optimised route plan.
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Have you planned a road trip lately? Please leave a comment below to let me know if you agree with my comments.