Since the 1960s, the humble road trip has been a popular way of traveling and exploring near and far while still being affordable. Remember the road trips from our childhoods? The car bursting full, and trying to keep busy by counting cars while stuck in the back with all the suitcases? Quite honestly, that road trip is still relevant to my travels today.
Road trips are the perfect way to explore a region or a country, giving you flexibility and independence while saving money along the way. There is nothing quite like the freedom of the open road stretching to the horizon, with every sign you pass a potential adventure. No wonder On the Road by Jack Kerouac has become a classic.
Wherever you live, there is a great road trip on every continent, bar one: Antarctica. Sadly, ice, snow, and the lack of available rental cars are not favorable for a good road trip. But all other continents have a plethora of options.
I have experienced many road trips myself, and after asking other enthusiasts, I have compiled this list of epic road trips on (nearly) every continent. There are some continents, such as North American and Australia, where the great driving routes could fill entire books, but I tried to pick and choose some that suit locals and visitors alike. Here are some favorites.
Editor’s Note: According to AAA, 97 percent favored cars as modes of travel transport, and even during the pandemic, numbers were only slightly down.
The Great River Route: New Orleans, Louisiana To Wyoming, Minnesota
While Route 66 is still the classic road trip in the States, Highway 61, also dubbed in parts the Great River Road or the Blues Highway, makes for a superb alternative. Taking in cities such as St. Louis, Memphis, and Clarksdale, with a slight detour to Nashville, it crosses eight states, following the mighty Mississippi for a good, long stretch along the way. Thanks to 1,400 miles of four-lane paved road, pretty much north to south or vice versa, the drive is easy. The side trips and stops along the way suggest that you take at least a week to enjoy it.
Pro Tip: This is the route to indulge in a classic car to drive along in. Style over comfort certainly wins along the Blues Highway.
Other Must-Do Road Trips In North America: The Overseas Highway across the Florida Keys, the Pacific Coast Highway in California, and crossing the Rockies between Calgary and Vancouver, Canada.
Pan-American Highway: Cartagena, Colombia To Ushuaia, Argentina
This trip is epic. If you were to follow the Pan-American highway all the way from Alaska to the tip of Argentina, you would cover an astonishing 30,000 miles and drive all the way, bar one little spot of rainforest in Panama called the Darian Gap. But the good thing is that you can break this ambitious road trip into bite-size chunks and eventually join the dots.
This section stretches all along the western side of South America, covering Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Argentina, having the Andes on one side, and the Pacific on the other. More or less. Officially 15,000 miles long, with many side trips, the mileage can easily double and will take several months to do properly. Buying a sturdy and comfortable RV is the best approach, as there are long stretches without easy access to hotels.
Pro Tip: Connect with fellow enthusiasts to get tips and tricks.
Other Must-Do Road Trips In Central/South America: The Seven-Lakes circuit in Argentina, Costa Rica’s Coast-to-Coast Pacific to Caribbean route, and Mexico’s Coastal Route 15 are good choices.
Iceland Ring Road: Reykjavik To Reykjavik, Iceland
This 830-mile road leads you once around Iceland because Route 1 stretches around the island state’s entire perimeter. This convenient roundtrip leads you straight back to the place you set off, most likely the capital, Reykjavik. The route allows you to take as many inland trips along the way as you have time for, as most inland routes lead off this one main road. You can either rent a car from the airport, organize the roundtrip yourself, or book a pre-organized tour package.
This is a two-lane road, in some stretches even just a single lane for both directions together, with a speed limit of 55 miles per hour, so even if you were to motor on without stopping, this drive would take you some 15 hours. Most visitors take at least 3 days, but you have access to all spots of Iceland with this offering. The longer you have, the better.
Pro Tip: The weather here can be treacherous, so keep up to date with daily forecasts and avoid traveling during winter unless you are a skilled driver in the snow.
Other Must-Do Road Trips In Europe: The Atlantic Ocean Road, Norway, is the northern equivalent to the Florida Keys, connecting countless islands along a rugged coast; The Romantic Road in southern Germany takes in stunning landscapes and many castles, and then there is Tuscany, Italy, which is an ideal region for renting a convertible and enjoying La Dolce Vita.
Garden Route: Mossel Bay To Storms River, South Africa
Strictly speaking, the official Garden Route is a 125-mile stretch of coast, starting some 240 miles east of Cape Town. Most people fly into Cape Town and rent a car from there, taking in the sites such as False Bay and Hermanus along the way before setting off along the Garden Route proper. This more than doubles the drive time but is worth it. You will drive between mountains and vineyards on one side and the rugged coastline, interspersed by sandy beaches, on the other. Along the way, must-sees include the Addo Elephant Park, Tsitsikamma National Park, and Shamwari Game Reserve; the fabulous real estate around Plettenberg Bay, Bloukrans Bridge, and Storms River’s dramatic coastline.
Pro Tip: You can easily make this a one-way trip by flying into Cape Town and leaving from Port Elizabeth, making it into a 500-mile road trip over a suggested period of 1 or 2 weeks.
Other Must-Do Road Trips In Africa: Morocco is a perfect place for a road trip. You can even take your car across Europe by ferry and drive from the Atlantic Ocean across the mountains to the Sahara Desert. Another epic trip is along the Skeleton Coast of Namibia, staring in Windhoek.
Silk Road: Tashkent To Khiva, Uzbekistan
Setting off from Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, driving along the so-called Golden Road, part of the ancient Silk Road, via Samarkand and Bukhara to Khiva, is a true adventure. With a sturdy 4WD with good suspension and preferably a local guide or another vehicle going with you, you will experience the road trip of a lifetime, taking in ancient forts, bazaars, blue-tiled mosques, caravanserais, and so much ancient history. This is a roughly 1500-mile roundtrip if you drive back from the ancient fort city of Khiva to Tashkent, or 900 miles if you fly back. The road conditions are not what you are used to be, which explains why many visitors go on organized roundtrips and fly some sections.
Pro Tip: Prepare, read, and organize — and don’t drive at night.
Other Must-Do Road Trips In Asia: The Rustaq Loop in Oman is a fabulous introduction to that country; the Scenic Byways on the island of Hokkaido in Japan are gorgeous, and the road from Hue to Da Nang in Vietnam is an easy but spectacular drive across the Hai Van mountain pass.
Great Ocean Road: Torquay To Warrnambool, Victoria
The 180-mile-long trip encompasses some spectacular scenery, including the famous rock formations called The Apostles, secluded beaches and bays, some of the world’s best surf spots near Torquay, or the lovely Otway Lighthouse with its many koalas living nearby. This road trip is a must-do when in Australia. Be it spotting kangaroos on the greens of the Anglesea Golf Club, shopping in Lorne, or having fish and chips in little Peterborough, plan in a few stops along the way.
Pro Tip: Most likely, you will be setting off from Melbourne and want to return there. But, if you have the time, consider continuing westward along the coast toward Adelaide and to Kangaroo Island for an extended road trip. You can rent cars one-way and fly back.
Other Must-Do Road Trips In Australia: For very adventurous, there is the Trans-Australia drive, from Perth in the west across to Uluru, all the way to the east coast, taking in various stops along the way. Less strenuous is the highway that hugs the east coast all the way from Sydney past the Great Barrier Reef up to Daintree Rain Forest. There are so many options that the tourism board has issued a road trip planner for you to pick and choose from.
As with all travel that you organize individually, preparation and planning are key. Each country and region has different rules, demands, and safety issues. Check and check again; get your driving licenses, permits, passports, and visas in perfect order; and arrive in, rent, or buy, a good, solid car. Also, learn some basic car maintenance. You don’t want to find yourself in the middle of a scenic but isolated place with a broken car.