This Map Shows the Ultimate U.S. Road Trip

The concept of a road trip is as American as apple pie, and yet, devising the “best” U.S. driving route is a bit of a head scratcher. Much depends on time parameters, personal preference, and frankly, how long you want to spend behind the wheel.

Tracy Staedter at Discovery News decided to take on that challenge, enlisting Randy Olson—Michigan State University doctoral student and the man behind the famed (and super helpful) Where’s Waldo algorithm—to devise what you might call the platonic ideal of the United States road trip. The parameters were: It had to hit all of the 48 continental states, every stop had to be a National Natural Landmark, a National Historic Site, a National Park, or a National Monument, and of course, had to be confined to car travel and within U.S. borders.

With a stop in Washington D.C. and two in California, the result is 50 points of all American awesomenesss.

Here are the destinations:

1. Grand Canyon, AZ
2. Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
3. Craters of the Moon, ID
4. Yellowstone National Park, WY
5. Pikes Peak, CO
6. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
7. The Alamo, TX
8. The Platt Historic District, OK
9. Toltec Mounds, AR
10. Elvis Presley’s Graceland, TN
11. Vicksburg National Military Park, MS
12. French Quarter, LA
13. USS Alabama, AL
14. Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL
15. Okefenokee Swamp Park, GA
16. Fort Sumter National Monument, SC
17. Lost World Caverns, WV
18. Wright Brothers National Memorial Visitor Center, NC
19. Mount Vernon, VA
20. White House, Washington, D.C.
21. Colonial Annapolis Historic District, MD
22. New Castle Historic District, DE
23. Cape May Historic District, NJ
24. Liberty Bell, PA
25. Statue of Liberty, NY
26. The Mark Twain House & Museum, CT
27. The Breakers, RI
28. USS Constitution, MA
29. Acadia National Park, ME
30. Mount Washington Hotel, NH
31. Shelburne Farms, VT
32. Fox Theater, MI
33. Spring Grove Cemetery, OH
34. Mammoth Cave National Park, KY
35. West Baden Springs Hotel, IN
36. Abraham Lincoln’s Home, IL
37. Gateway Arch, MO
38. C. W. Parker Carousel Museum, KS
39. Terrace Hill Governor’s Mansion, IA
40. Taliesin, WI
41. Fort Snelling, MN
42. Ashfall Fossil Bed, NE
43. Mount Rushmore, SD
44. Fort Union Trading Post, ND
45. Glacier National Park, MT
46. Hanford Site, WA
47. Columbia River Highway, OR
48. San Francisco Cable Cars, CA
49. San Andreas Fault, CA
50. Hoover Dam, NV

That list starts with the Grand Canyon, but you could theoretically begin anywhere as long as you drive in sequence after that. Staedter guesses it would take a little over nine days of driving straight through, but more realistically is a two- or three-month trip.

For the nitty gritty on how he came up with the route, check out Olson’s blog. After determining the stops, the main goal of the algorithm was to find the shortest distance between points.

Olson wrote to Staedter: "Instead of exhaustively looking at every possible solution, genetic algorithms start with a handful of random solutions and continually tinker with these solutions — always trying something slightly different from the current solution and keeping the best one — until they can’t find a better solution any more."

And whether or not you understand the specifics of how it was created, the map is truly a marvel and the kind of itinerary you'll probably spend all winter dreaming about. See the full, interactive map here, and for additional #travelgoals, check out Olson’s road trip maps for U.S. cities and Europe.

Want to Buy a House? This Is How Many Hours You Need to Work to Afford One in Your State

iStock.com/jhorrocks
iStock.com/jhorrocks

How much people need to work to afford what is perhaps the most iconic aspect of the American dream—their own house—varies drastically from city to city and state to state. Just as real estate values change with ZIP codes, so, too, do income levels. (Not to mention tax rates and the price of common goods.) To see how attainable owning a home in different cities across the U.S. really is, the cost information site HowMuch.net mapped how many hours someone earning the median income in the country’s biggest cities would need to work just to pay the average mortgage.

To crunch the numbers, the site used Census data to figure out the median hourly income for people in the 98 biggest cites in the U.S., based on the idea that everyone is working 40 hours a week. (Which isn’t very realistic, but still provides a rough estimate.) Then, HowMuch.net used data from Zillow on the median housing prices to calculate the median monthly mortgage price in each of those cities, estimating that people typically get a 30-year mortgage.

Here's the breakdown for the country's most expensive metros:

1. New York, New York: 113 hours
2. Los Angeles, California: 112 hours
3. Miami, Florida: 109 hours
4. San Francisco, California: 107 hours
5. Boston, Massachusetts: 95 hours
6. Oakland, California: 83 hours
7. Long Beach, California: 78 hours
8. San Diego, California: 77 hours
9. Santa Ana, California: 74 hours
10. San Jose, California: 74 hours

California is just as expensive as you thought it was, and that applies to more than just L.A. and Silicon Valley. Long Beach and Orange County's Santa Ana make the list, too, as does sunny San Diego. Those cities pale in comparison to Miami and Boston, though. Someone living in Santa Ana would be able to afford the median mortgage working a full 35 fewer hours than someone in Miami—basically a whole workweek. Of course, that seems much less affordable when you consider that someone in Memphis only has to work 18 hours to afford their mortgage, about a fifth of what someone in San Jose does.

Obviously, there are aspects of this data that don't entirely capture the reality on the ground. Many people work more than 40 hours a week. Interest rates can vary a lot based on credit score, when you took out your mortgage, and other factors. Many households have more than one source of income, and those incomes may not be equal, which change the figures quite a bit. Most importantly, this only reflects the cost of housing. While a mortgage payment is a huge chunk of most people's expenses, this graphic doesn't reflect the cost of other necessities like food, insurance, transportation, and all the other things we have to pay for to get by in any given month.

So, before you plan your move to Memphis, bear in mind that these are just rough estimates. That said, if you do want to move to Memphis, we wouldn't blame you.

America's Most Charitable States, Ranked

iStock.com/Steve Debenport
iStock.com/Steve Debenport

It may be the season of giving, but some people continue to spread cheer long after the holidays have ended. We’re looking at you, Minnesotans. As Thrillist reports, a new analysis by WalletHub ranks each state by its altruism, and Minnesota comes out on top, followed by Utah and New York.

Each state was awarded up to 100 points depending on how well it met 18 criteria in two main categories: volunteer efforts and charitable contributions. Doing a favor for a neighbor, donating money to non-profit organizations, or searching for “charitable donations” on Google were a few of the actions that landed certain states more points. Other factors taken into account were the number of public charities and Feeding America food banks per capita.

The results revealed that charitable giving doesn’t necessarily correspond with income. West Virginia’s residents, who have the lowest median household income of any state, are the 35th most charitable. Compare that with Hawaii, which has the third highest median household income but comes in at 46th on the list of charitable states.

Hover your cursor over the map below to see how your state ranks.

Source: WalletHub

No matter what state you live in, you should still give yourself a pat on the back if you’ve done a good deed recently. The U.S. is the fourth-most generous country in the world (after Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand), according to the World Giving Index [PDF].

Feeling inspired to give back? Use the Charity Navigator to research your options, and check our these six items you can donate, aside from cash.

[h/t Thrillist]

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