Although I’m a luxury traveler and flying in Business Class or checking into some of the world’s top hotels is something I truly enjoy, my favorite style of travel is the road trip. Maybe it’s the American in me, but there really is nothing better than exploring a new place with the unbridled freedom that only a car can provide. Remote spots, quirky sites and who knows what else are all available to us on a great driving adventure. We can stop when and where we want with nothing limiting us except our own free time. The road trip is an amazing way to explore the world, but not all drives are made the same. So today I thought I’d look back and share some of my personal favorite road trips from around the world and even add a few that I haven’t done, but would love to try some day.
Red Centre Way, Northern Territory – Australia
Australia is big, very big in fact and after a few trips Down Under it’s only now that I realize how long it would take to see and do even a small portion of what makes the country so great. I love visiting Australia though; it’s probably my favorite foreign country and that love affair all started with a road trip around the fabled Red Centre Way in the Northern Territory. The Red Centre is what we all conceive the Australian Outback to look like. Huge stretches of nothingness seem to go on forever, interrupted only by the odd rock or clump of trees. This is also where Uluru, known still by some as Ayer’s Rock, is located, making it also one of the most visited regions of the country. Sure, you can just fly to Uluru, but it’s a lot more fun to spend a few days exploring the Red Centre by car and really experiencing the country the way it was meant to be seen, on the road. It’s a lonely drive though, and safety is always a concern because if you get stuck out there, no one is going to come by anytime soon to help out. But the rewards are well worth the risk, whether it’s the quirky city of Alice Springs, the natural wonder of Kings Canyon or the major site in the Territory, Uluru itself. This was one of my first great, adventurous drives and I will always have a soft spot for it in my heart.
Road to Hana, Maui – Hawaii
Hawaii is one of my favorite US destinations because it’s so unexpected. Sure, there are those perfect beaches we have all seen on TV, but the state is so much more than that. Every island is different and they offer everything from rainforests to ranches to volcanoes and even pine forests that look as if they should be in Oregon and not on a Pacific island. One of the best surprises though is found on Maui, the Road to Hana. Technically a highway, the Road to Hana starts in the town of Kahului and although the end in Hana is only 52 miles away, the intensely winding road takes more than 2 hours to complete, and that’s not including stops. The road has 59 bridges and an incredible 620 curves, most of which are hairpins. While the trek isn’t necessarily for newbies, it is an amazingly beautiful drive and with Hana as the postcard-perfect reward at the end of the Hawaiian rainbow, this popular road trip is popular for a reason.
Wild Atlantic Way – Ireland
Stretching for more than 1,500 miles along nearly the entire coast of Ireland, the Wild Atlantic Way is the longest coastal driving route in the world and certainly one of the most interesting. I first experienced part of this massive driving route a few years ago as I explored the idyllic Dingle Peninsula in the southwestern part of the country. Grassy green cliffs that fall into the crashing sea, sprawling farmlands and some of the nicest people I’ve ever met were all highlights of my short time on the Wild Atlantic Way. More recently, I drove the northwest portion of the Way, from Sligo to Letterkenny. What I love most about the Wild Atlantic Way is that you really can’t do it all on one trip, unless you have a few months to spare. That means repeat trips to undertake different portions, finding new wonders each and every time.
Ring Road – Iceland
Iceland is one of the most popular tourist spots in the world, and with good reason. The level of natural grandeur in this small country seems otherworldly, which is probably why so many movies and TV shows use it as a filming location. Luckily, these incredible landscapes are easy for anyone to visit by driving along Iceland’s Route 1 otherwise known as the Ring Road. This national road circles the island connecting most of the key sights around the country in one easy to navigate drive. I’ve only done portions of the driving route, but from my own experience it really is an amazing place to drive around, car being the best way to see the highlights of this beautiful country.
Icefields Parkway, Alberta – Canada
Canada is a remarkably beautiful country but even within Canada, Alberta is well known for its unique natural landscapes. One of the best ways to see what is truly one of the most beautiful regions on the planet is by driving the Icefields Parkway. The entire Icefields Parkway is long, stretching from Lake Louise to Jasper it’s a 140 mile stretch of road that was completed 75 years ago. It connects two of the most popular regions of the Canadian Rockies, sharing with intrepid drivers many scenic spots along the way. Waterfalls, lakes, glaciers and virgin forests are all just some of the many highlights of this fun and memorable road trip.
German Fairy Tale Route
Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2015, the German Fairy Tale Route is a 370-mile route that starts in Hanau and ends in Bremen, featuring the cities, natural landscapes and landmarks that both celebrate the Brothers Grimm as well as inspired them. The German countryside doesn’t often get the attention it deserves, just one of many travel revelations I had during my week road tripping along the route. From small towns and villages to beautiful forests and mountains, discovering the more natural side of Germany was an unexpected pleasure. Add to that postcard-perfect villages, grand castles and some of the best food in the country and you have a road trip that’s fun and meaningful.
Coastal Queensland – Australia
Australia exists on a scale unlike most other destinations and one of the best regions to visit in this vast country is Queensland’s beautiful coastline. Queensland has a lot to offer visitors including the Great Barrier Reef, impossibly beautiful islands and tropical rainforests the likes of which exist no where else on the planet. One of my favorite experiences though was driving along its sandy coastline, starting in Cairns and meandering up to Cape Tribulation. The Tropical North of Queensland is a vast area characterized by the state’s greatest attributes, the rainforest and the reef. The ancient Daintree Rainforest runs the length of the northern reaches of the state, right next to the beach in most cases. It’s from those beaches where thousands access the massive Great Barrier Reef every year, giving rise to the slogan Rainforest to Reef. It’s more than a clever tourism saying though; it’s the truth and is just one attribute that makes traveling around the Tropical North so much fun. For me that enjoyment started almost as soon as I left Cairns, passing by near perfect stretches of sandy beaches, stopping off along the way to pinch myself that these were just the “ok” beaches in the hierarchy of Queensland’s tropical retreats. Anywhere else in the world, and they’d be tourist destinations in their own right instead of rest stop backdrops. It was a peaceful and pleasant drive, and just reinforced my belief that renting a car in Australia isn’t just nice, it’s a necessity if you really want to get out and explore.
Causeway Coastal Route – Northern Ireland
Starting in Derry and ending in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the Causeway Coastal Route is a 120-mile drive that connects dozens of small coastal villages and attractions, including several smaller routes connecting inland sites to the main drive. It also takes much more than the 1-day I had to devote to it. I started early, ended late and raced along the way and was not able to even scratch the proverbial surface. Honestly, if you have a week to spend driving this impossibly stunning route, take it. Go slow, stop at everything and enjoy the almost otherworldly beauty you discover along the way. Some of the many highlights include the Giant’s Causeway, beach towns like Portstewart, Ballintoy Village and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.
Great West Coast Drive – New Zealand
This was one of my first big trips as a blogger, and the first time I ever had to drive on “the other” side of the car and road. In spite of the early challenges, tackling this stunning driving route on New Zealand’s South Island was one of the most remarkable experiences of my life. State Highway 6 is massive, extending from the northeastern corner of the South Island across the top and then down the length first along the West Coast and then across the Southern Alps. To complete the entire drive would take weeks, and I only had time for the West Coast portions, but even that brief encounter was enough to convince me that this truly is one of the world’s great road trips. The beauty of New Zealand exists on a scale unheard of in other parts of the world. Starting in Greymouth and following the coastline, it seemed as if there was another “once in a lifetime” view every few minutes. Whether it’s rainforests or glaciers, Hobbit country is just as amazing as it appears on the big screen.
Cowboy Trail, Alberta – Canada
Following the eastern slopes of the great Canadian Rockies is a north-south highway that ushers explorers through some of Alberta’s most beautiful ranchlands. Dubbed the Cowboy Trail, Alberta Provincial Highway No. 22 is much more than a simple road. It’s a route that takes you through shockingly gorgeous and at times wildly divergent terrain but it also introduces visitors to Alberta’s history and culture. If you allow it to be, the drive is an immersive experience and is frankly one of the best drives I’ve ever done. From flat open prairies, to the foothills of the mountains and even the badlands, the natural landscapes are stunning – gorgeous really. There’s plenty to do along the way as well including learning the ropes at a local ranch, visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, eating some amazing food and venturing further south to Dinosaur Provincial Park in the Albertan Badlands.
What’s not on the list and should be
Steinbeck once called it The Mother Road and from the Dust Bowl to the American Renaissance in the 1950s, this road has held a special place not only in the hearts of Americans, but of people around the world. It hearkens back to an era when anything seemed possible, when taking to the open road was an adventure and the fun truly was in the getting there. While Route 66 technically doesn’t exist anymore, it’s still possible of course to drive huge parts of it as you meander from Chicago to the pier in Santa Monica, California. Along the way are quirky roadside attractions, strange motels and national wonders that rank amongst the best in the world. Yes, I want to see and experience all of those things but I also want to reconnect with my own country, one I love dearly and of which I am fiercely proud. Just as people did in the 1950s and 60s, I want to experience a great American road trip and to discover aspects to the American experience that I don’t even know exist.
Nevada Road Trip
For years I’ve wanted to explore more of the American West, to explore the reportedly beautiful states and parks that are at the heart of the American experience. One of them in particular, Nevada, has long intrigued me thanks to the many driving routes that take visitors around the state. Whether it’s driving America’s Loneliest Road, tackling the Burner Byway or exploring the Extraterrestrial (ET) Highway, the options here are amazing for the adventurous traveler. Luckily I’m going to have a chance to see more of the state soon; in August I’ll be driving the ET Highway, experiencing some quirky sights and gorgeous scenery along the way.
California Route 1
The allure of California has been calling out to people for decades and one of the best ways (I’ve heard) to experience the width and breadth of the state is by driving California Route 1. This 655-mile route is known as the classic American road trip, taking visitors from LA to San Fran and experiencing the beauty of California along the way.
Amalfi Coast – Italy
While I have visited the Amalfi Coast, it was years ago and only as a day trip on a cruise. But that one day in the passenger’s seat tackling the winding coastal roads convinced me that I need to return and attempt my own road trip along one of Italy’s most beautiful coastlines. From my own experience, I know that this drive is not for the faint of heart with steep drop-offs and local drivers who think the road is a racetrack and not a slightly perilous highway. But the rewards are worth the risk, whether it’s spending some time in Positano or luxuriating in Sorrento, this isn’t just a nice place to visit, it’s honestly one of the best regions in the world.
Great Ocean Road – Australia
While I’ve visited a couple of spots along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia, I’d really love one day to drive the entire route. The natural highlight of the drive are the limestone pillars known as the Twelve Apostles, but there’s a lot more to see and do along the way including cascading waterfalls, rainforests and of course the amazing wildlife for which Australia is so very well known.
What road trips would you add to this list?