With the rise of artificial intelligence applications like ChatGPT, there’s been plenty of discussion about what jobs and human functions may be rendered obsolete someday soon. Naturally, we wondered: Can AI plan a great cross-country road trip?
Technically, yes, it can plan a cross-country road trip. Can it plan a great cross-country road trip? Not really. Can it plan a feasible cross-country road trip? Perhaps.
In some ways, Chat GPT understood the assignment, as the kids would say.
Clearly the computer had gleaned that no great cross-country trip is designed to go from coast to coast as efficiently as possible, or in a straight line as the proverbial crow flies. It had ascertained that you’re going to want to go off the beaten path a bit. Some days you’ll want to be in the big city, and other days you’ll want to be at one with nature.
However, the devil would prove to be in the details, as the trip it planned—while not impossible—would provide crazy challenges along the way. The itinerary included no routes or directions, just bullet points for each day. It also “assigned” two tasks for each day and things to do in each location that would most certainly pop up if you did a quick Google for each stop along the way. In some ways, the query returned what could become the crude framework for an epic road trip, but you’d need to do a lot more work and research to bring this trip to life.
With the query “Plan a cross-country trip for me” entered into ChatGPT, it only took about 45 seconds for our somewhat sentient travel agent to spit out a 17-day itinerary that weaves through major cities, historic landmarks, and a few National Parks. It was fascinating to watch as my web browser offered up, in sequence, over half a month’s worth of travel across the United States in a mostly logical manner.
What follows is a transcript of the trip it planned, along with color commentary, additional tips, constructive criticism, important safety warnings, and of course, a few laughs.
A cross-country road trip can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, with the opportunity to see some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes in the United States. Here’s a sample itinerary for a cross-country road trip from the East Coast to the West Coast:
Day 1: Start in New York, NY
You’ve got to admit, that first paragraph reads like the intro to a 7th-grade essay about cross-country road trips. New York is an obvious place to start an East Coast to West Coast journey. Not a bad start, computer.
- Visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
- Walk along the High Line
- Explore Central Park
So, when it comes to things to see in New York City, our binary buddy got at a few obvious things right, as Central Park and the Statue of Liberty are about as iconic tourist destinations as they come for the Big Apple. The High Line may not be as well-known as the two former locations, but it’s a great choice if you’ve got a day to spend in Manhattan. If you’d like more ideas, our tourist’s guide to New York City has a few other possibilities as well. Beyond that, there’s a million other things to do in NYC.
Day 2: Drive to Philadelphia, PA
- Visit Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell
- Walk along South Street and see the street art
Day 2 starts with an easy drive from New York to Philadelphia, just under 100 miles and roughly two hours of drive time — depending on what time of day you’re driving, anyway. The computer is once again offering up two prime tourist attractions with Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, which are just steps away from each other. And while South Street’s bohemian atmosphere, street art and artsy shops are certainly worth seeing, many would tell you the vibe isn’t quite the same along this thoroughfare as it once was.
There’s a lot more to do and see in Philly. Clearly our AI tour guide has never tasted a cheesesteak or seen any of the Rocky movies. Perhaps we’re expecting too much from such a nascent technology.
Day 3: Drive to Washington D.C.
- Visit the National Mall and see the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and the White House
- Explore the Smithsonian museums
It’s the third day of the trip, and the computer wants to take us to the Capitol and make our junior high Social Studies teachers proud. We must admit, this feels like the itinerary from our 8th-grade field trip down I-95 so far. But you can’t argue with these historic locations. Maybe letting the computer plan a road trip isn’t a bad idea after all. Let’s see what it’s got cooked up for tomorrow.
Day 4: Drive to the Blue Ridge Mountains, VA
- Stop at Natural Bridge and hike to the top
- Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway and take in the views
Well, computer, you never mentioned we should pack hiking boots. But we’ll let that minor detail slide. The first stop at Natural Bridge State Park in Virginia is about three hours and change from Washington, D.C. and we’re finally starting to make moves westward. However, you’ll want a few hours to enjoy the park and take in a hike.
Here’s where things get tough – the next part of the plan involves driving the Blue Ridge Parkway. Depending on how far you go, you could be looking at a five-hour trek from Natural Bridge. And that’s not really accounting for any stops.
Day 5: Drive to the Great Smoky Mountains, TN
- Visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Hike to Clingmans Dome for panoramic views
For arguments sake, let’s just say you stop in Gatlinburg, TN in the seat of the Great Smoky Mountains. That’s nearly 300 miles from Natural Bridge. Coupled with the drive from D.C., your hike, and then the second leg, that’s a long day of driving and hiking, especially if you do hike to Clingmans Dome. We’ve done many days like this on road trips, but it’s taxing. Our laptop must be banking on riding in your backpack and not doing any climbing itself.
Day 6: Drive to Nashville, TN
- Visit the Country Music Hall of Fame
- Take a stroll along Broadway and see the honky-tonks
Thankfully, Day 6 is a lot lighter on the driving end. It’s about 225 miles from Gatlinburg to Nashville, and almost all the drive is on Interstate 40. Once you’re west of Knoxville and out of the mountains, the driving gets easier and before you know it, you’ll be in Music City! NashVegas, as some call it, has no shortage of entertainment options, and amazing live music everywhere you turn. The computer recommends stopping at the Country Music Hall of Fame and sauntering down Broadway to take in the quintessential Nashville experience. That’s a basic plan, but it’s hard not to have a good time here. We’d also throw in the Johnny Cash Museum as a can’t-miss stop in Nashville. Homework for the computer: Listen to I Walk the Line, Don’t Take Your Guns to Town, A Boy Named Sue and, in the spirit of roadtripping, The Wanderer.
Day 7: Drive to Memphis, TN
- Visit Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley
- Take a walk along Beale Street and see the blues clubs
The plan keeps you on I-40, now bound for Memphis, and we’re playing the hits in the home of the blues. Graceland is a must-see for a glimpse into yesteryear’s pop culture and kitsch. Meanwhile, Beale Street isn’t anywhere near as crazy as Nashville’s main drag, but there’s plenty of culture and barbecue to be found, as well as nightlife. If you’re a music buff, we’d recommend at least adding Sun Studio to your trip as well.
Day 8: Drive to New Orleans, LA
- Visit Bourbon Street and see the jazz clubs
- Take a walk through the French Quarter and see the architecture
Over a week into the trip, the computer has decided to spring its first eight-hour driving day on us. After a few light days, we’re ready to hunker down in front of the wheel and head south for New Orleans. From country to blues to jazz, we’re getting the entire musical spectrum in 72 hours. Not a bad plan. It’s almost like the computer knew what it was doing, thematically. Did it? We’ll never know. But what we do know is that we’re going to arrive late in Louisiana.
The good news? The French Quarter stays open late. You probably won’t get a chance to get a good look at the architecture, but bar hopping around Bourbon Street seems like the perfect plan once you arrive.
Day 9: Drive to Houston, TX
- Visit the Space Center Houston
- Take a stroll through the Museum District
How’s that hangover? Did you get any sleep? Feel like driving for 6 hours? We knew you would.
Driving to Houston after a night out in NOLA is a tall order. There’s no way around it. It’s a monotonous drive across the bayou on Interstate 10, pretty much until you get within an hour or so of Houston. You’ll know when you’re close because traffic will pick up considerably, and the approach to Downtown Houston is a harrowing experience if you’re not used to driving in Texas amongst large pick-up trucks and aggressive drivers on massive, multi-lane freeways. You’ll want to be alert for as you close in on Houston.
But here’s where it gets tough. Unless you turned in early, it’s likely too late to visit Space Center Houston by the time you make it to town. Should you add another day here? Or just take the L and press onward? It’s probably time for some rest. It’s not to say that there’s nothing to do in Houston, but your extra day might be best spent elsewhere. Like the next stop on the trip, Austin, the state capital.
Day 10: Drive to Austin, TX
- Visit the Texas State Capitol
- Take a walk along South Congress and see the street art
Once you get out of the Houston metro area, the 2.5 hour drive to Austin is relaxing by comparison. While Austin has exploded in popularity and population in the last 10-15 years, it’s still small by comparison to H-Town or Dallas. Many would argue that Austin is the most fun of Texas’ major cities.
There’s all sorts of nightlife along “Dirty” 6th street and Rainey Street, no shortage of great restaurants, awesome live music venues, and a bustling yet walkable downtown. You’ll have plenty of time to explore the street art on South Congress just below the Colorado River, and the Texas State Capitol is just 11 blocks north of the River on Congress Ave.
We’ve got to admit, computer, we’re really impressed! This is a fun trip. What do you have in store for us tomorrow?
Day 11: Drive to the Grand Canyon, AZ
- Visit the Grand Canyon National Park and hike to the bottom
Um, what now?
Drive to the Grand Canyon? From Austin, Texas? Time to fire up Google Maps.
OK, Computer. This is a letdown. The tourists wanted no surprises, but we weren’t so lucky. Might be time for some exit music.
We’re not driving 17 hours in one day. Whose idea was this? It’s over a thousand miles to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. We’ve officially hit our first real AI snag. Time to recalibrate.
Even Austin to Albuquerque is basically 11 hours, without stops. Maybe we’ll stop in Lubbock instead? Yeah, let’s stop in Lubbock, pay homage at the Buddy Holly Center, and call it a night. That’s a six-hour shot north by northwest. We’re gonna need a few audiobooks for this drive. How about Ray Kurzweil’s The Age of Spiritual Machines for this trip?
So we’re adding an extra day in here. Actually, let’s take two more. The next day we’ll drive into the mountains, pick up old Route 66 and stop in Albuquerque. From there, we’ll head west to Flagstaff so that we can wake up early to visit the Grand Canyon and hike to the bottom.
Wait… hike to the BOTTOM? The bottom of the Grand Canyon? Did we pack camping gear? Or are we just going to hike back up to the rim in the same day? That seems like a lot of work.
Unless you’re a world class athlete, a very experienced hiker, and prepared for all types of weather and wildlife, you should not even consider attempting to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back in the same day. Hiking down, as you would imagine, is a lot easier than hiking back out. And hiking down is still hard. Depending on weather and the time of year, a better idea might be to execute a short partial hike down into the canyon and back out.
While we appreciate this chatbot’s hutzpah, this itinerary is suddenly not well thought out.
Day 12: Drive to Las Vegas, NV
- Visit the Las Vegas Strip and see the casinos
- Take a walk through the Fremont Street Experience
Ok, we’re on Day 15 now. But we’re re-energized. Vegas, baby! A four-hour drive into the desert brings warmer temperatures and higher excitement. According to our computer friend, we need to visit the Las Vegas Strip and “see the casinos.” Does that mean we just look at the buildings? Can we play some blackjack? Take a dip in the pool?
There are a million things to do on and around the Las Vegas strip. Mandalay Bay has an awesome aquarium. The Pinball Hall of Fame is just south of the Strip. The Stratosphere features a crazy thrill ride at the top and some amazing views. The Neon Museum has an impressive collection of retro Vegas marquees. Dinner and a show? Slot machines? What else?
The Fremont Street Experience is an outdoor arcade full of live entertainment, street performers and buskers, and attractions like zip lines and quite a few historic casinos. It’s not as polished or fancy as the Strip, but it’s worth the trip.
Day 13: Drive to Los Angeles, CA
- Visit the Hollywood Walk of Fame
- Take a walk along the beach in Santa Monica
Hey, we’re back to reasonable driving distances on Day 16. Nice recovery, ChatGPT.
Vegas to L.A. on the 15 is a delightful four-hour cruise, unless it’s a Sunday. Don’t go on Sunday. Trust us. Aside from Zzyxx, CA, there’s not much between the two cities.
And hey, guess what? You’ve made it to the West Coast once you get to the beach in Santa Monica! Nicely done. Check out the Santa Monica Pier to see the end of Route 66 and get the quintessential LA tourist experience. Not bad for just over two weeks, right?
But wait. There’s more!
Day 14: Drive to San Francisco, CA
- Visit the Golden Gate Bridge
- Take a walk through Chinatown and see the architecture
How about a trek up the California Coast? There’s three main options here; you can take Interstate 5 north, Route 101 North, or drive the legendary Pacific Coast Highway en route to San Francisco. You’re looking at 6 to 7 hours with the 5 or the 101. The PCH will most certainly take a lot longer as you’ll be getting out of the car early and often.
As for your stay in San Francisco, there’s plenty to see, but you’ll want to be careful about leaving anything in your car and particular about where you park. But hey, you came this far, you might as well see another iconic American city while you’re out in California. Our favorite views of the Golden Gate Bridge are from Crissy Field and the Golden Gate Overlook Park.
Day 15: Drive to Yosemite National Park, CA
- Visit Yosemite National Park and hike to the top of Half Dome
- Drive through the Tioga Pass and take in the views
Wait, so now we’re doubling back East? I mean, Yosemite National Park is amazing, and everyone should see it. (If you do go, you should read our guide to Yosemite National Park before you go.) So, we’re game. But are you sure this is the best game plan, computer? Who signed us up to casually hike to the top of Half Dome? I don’t think you know what you’re getting us into. Hiking to the top of Half Dome takes all day for even the best hikers, and it’s a major accomplishment to pull it off. People train for months to do this!
Also, Tioga Pass is closed like half of the year, generally from November to June or so. This doesn’t seem well thought out, computer. We’re starting to feel like Michael Scott driving into the lake just because the GPS told him to do it. “The machine knows!”
Day 16: Drive to Lake Tahoe, CA
- Visit the lake and take a swim or hike
- Drive along the Emerald Bay and take in the views
We’ve got to hand it to you, ChatGPT. You pushed us well beyond our own limits. We feel like conquering heroes having climbed Half Dome. And the Tioga Pass was sensational. It’s on to Tahoe. This mountain drive is gorgeous. We’ve always wanted to see Lake Tahoe. It’s probably too cold to swim in the lake, but we’ll snap some photos and hike around Emerald Bay State Park to catch the sunset. This was a much easier day.
Day 17: Drive to San Diego, CA
- Visit the USS Midway Museum
- Take a walk along the beach in La Jolla
If you’re counting at home, it’s Day 20. Why not finish the trip with a 10-hour drive to San Diego?
Computer, maybe if you’re driving. Is this thing a Tesla?
Route 395 is underrated and amazing, and there’s a ton of stops worth making on that state road. Why are we blasting through it? These last few days have made absolutely no sense, geographically speaking. Sure, we’ve covered most of California, but there’s way too much to see out here to just zig zag around it and only hit the major cities and one National Park. But we might as well enjoy San Diego. La Jolla Beach is spectacular, and the Gaslamp District is full of energy, dive bars and fancy restaurants.
This trip started out so easy at first, but we really got off track in the second half of the journey.
Instead of using ChatGPT to plan our next trip, we’ll probably do it the old-fashioned way: with Google Maps and a bunch of awesome ideas and real itineraries from Amazing America.