There may be no better way to travel than a road trip. I’ve taken (too) many flights over the years, and each time I opt for a road trip instead of flying, I’m delighted with the experience.
I’ve road tripped in Chile, Thailand, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Tanzania, Rwanda, New Zealand, Mexico, Tahiti, Iceland, Germany, Greece (really glad I wasn’t driving there!), Ireland, and probably more I’m forgetting, but my hands-down favorite is the American West.
The diversity is astounding, though I end up feeling that way after every road trip, everywhere. They can be cheap, they give you ultimate flexibility, and you can really get to know a place on the ground level.
So how do you plan the ultimate road trip? You’ve come to the right place, friend.
Step 1: Pick a Timeframe
Whatever road trip I pick usually has to fit into certain time constraints first. If that’s not the case for you, awesome, that’ll be a siiick trip, but in most cases, there’s a finite end.
Step 2: Pick a Budget
Road trips can certainly add up, but they don’t always have to.
But right now, and at any time really, domestic road trips are the most logical. You use your own car, don’t have to board a plane, have a smaller ecological footprint, and get to know your own backyard – the place where you put down roots and live. What a beautiful thing.
My favorite local road trips were California deserts and American Southwest. I did both solo, and both gave me a chance to know me and my home area better. I feel more connected to it now and love it even more.
Step 3: Pick a Region
Once you’re clear on time and budget constraints, pick a region. Is it far or near? Is it the right time of year? (although I’d argue there is no wrong time). Do you know what the conditions are like there?
After driving in so many countries abroad, I can report that, for the most part, you drive carefully and learn the rules of the road and it’s fine. It’s not so different in Germany or Iceland, while South Africa and Northern Thailand required more learning, but ended up being enjoyable.
Big cities in most of Africa and the Middle East, and honestly in most of the world, can be full-on. I avoid those. But if I’ll be experiencing mostly small towns, then I often read up on it and go for it if it doesn’t sound too hairy. Message boards like Thorn Tree will let you know!
Step 4: Pick a Journey
Is there a classic road trip in the place you’re visiting? Like the Pacific Coast Highway or Road to Hana? Maybe you’re after Idaho’s hot springs and want to camp along the way. You might already have a mostly fixed itinerary in mind and that’s great.
If you can be talked into it, though, I love heading out with no set itinerary. I know my budget and time constraints, but I let the journey unfold. I’ve done that twice in Utah, and I discovered so many places that were off the beaten path.
States with lots of public land, like Utah, Nevada, and many others in the American West, are my favorite. You can camp anywhere provided you leave no trace, are not visible from the road, and can actually get to it. If you have a 4×4, all the better.
My Favorite Road Trips
I’ve written detailed itineraries of all of my road trips. Pick your favorite:
- Yucatan Peninsula
- Iceland’s Ring Road
- South Africa
- New Zealand’s South Island
- Northern Thailand
- Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way west, and Northern Ireland
- Provence Lavender Fields
- Bolaven Plateau, Laos
- Malaysian Borneo
- Chile’s Atacama Desert
A Few Considerations
Many of the places mentioned have terrible cell service. It’s prudent to have a local SIM if you’re road tripping abroad, but a backup is important, too.
I like Maps.me – a free, crowd-sourced offline map. You’ll need to download the app before you leave WiFi. Sometimes it gets driving times really wrong, so look at distance rather than time, but overall I am glad to have it as an option.
You need to be prepared as well, and be legal to drive in that country. Sometimes I’ve needed an International Driving Permit, and at times I needed a translation. Also, knowing how to drive stick (which I don’t) helps a lot. Some countries just don’t have automatic as an option.
When in doubt, pick the easy option and enjoy.