Becky Hart | Mar 22, 2023
For many travelers, it’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey. If that sounds like you, a road trip is your next vacation.
The United States is known for its road trip routes. It’s a big country, and Americans love their cars. There’s just as much to explore in other parts of the world, too (and isn’t that exciting!). This Seven Corners guide can help you plan your next road trip and find the top routes, no matter where you’re journey leads.
Step one is choosing where to go on your road trip. As you’ll see below on our list of tops road trip destinations, possibilities abound.
One way to narrow it down is to decide what you want to do on your road trip and then find a destination or route to match. Seeing epic scenery might be what’s calling you to the road. How about visiting kitschy roadside attractions like the world’s largest ball of paint (it’s in Alexandria, Indiana)? You could try something like the Mississippi Barbecue Trail and eat your way across a state.
When you plan a road trip, remember to be flexible. Choose a route and maybe a few checkpoints along the way so you have an idea how long your trip is and if you need reservations anywhere.
However, leave your itinerary open as much as you can. This lets you be spontaneous, take side quests as they present themselves, and discover something totally unexpected. Flexibility is one of the biggest advantages of a road trip, after all. You don’t have that kind of opportunity with a flight or a train ride.
Speaking of planes, trains, and automobiles, think about combining them all. The Great American Road Trip might be a dream for some, but if you’re in the U.S. dreaming of a European adventure, why not hop a plane across the pond and then road trip once you get there?
That’s exactly what a member of the Seven Corners team did. They got to see parts of the UK, including those that were only open to them through the spontaneity of a road trip.
“During our road trip through Scotland, we discovered the world's best fish and chips along with a must-have Fisher and Donaldson fudge doughnut for dessert after chatting with a friendly local in St. Andrews. And our distillery guide in Speyside invited us to a lovely afternoon tea with his kids, where we learned about lambing in the Highlands.”
Road tripping isn’t just for Americans. I have a Swiss friend, Thomas, who came to the U.S., rented a Mustang convertible, and drove across the American West simply because he can’t see that kind of expansive scenery in Europe. He's an experienced traveler who’s visited multiple continents, and he still loved every second of it.
The general rule is to keep your driving time to eight hours per day for a safe road trip. This varies by person, how many drivers you have, and what you want to do along the way.
For example, my mom could have been a long-haul trucker. She’s good to drive for hours on end. I, however, get sleepy very easily and should only be allowed to drive for shorter stretches. When we travel together, we can easily put in eight to 10 hours per day. On the other hand, when I road trip alone, I tend to keep my maximum at four to six hours with break time built in to walk around and wake up.
Road trips could cost as little as $50 per day or up to $400 depending on several factors. The cost of gas, for example, varies by location. At the time of writing, AAA reported the average gas price in California as $4.43 but $3.04 in Louisiana. That makes a road trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras sound a little more appealing than a Disneyland getaway.
Which leads us to our other variables. What you decide to do along the way can greatly impact the cost of your road trip — Disney will be more expensive than that giant ball of paint we mentioned earlier. Whether you decide to camp, stay in an economy hotel, or spring for a luxury suite will also affect cost, along with how often you prepare your own meals versus eat at restaurants every day. Peanut butter sandwiches are a budget-friendly, if not particularly exciting, road trip lunch.
Items to factor into your road trip budget include:
Road trips are generally less expensive than other modes of transportation, especially when you’re traveling with multiple people. Think of it this way: when you fly, you have to pay individual fares for everyone in your party. But when you road trip, the cost of the car is the same regardless of whether there’s one of you or four.
Who’s in the car can make or break a trip, so choose wisely. Tailor your trip to accommodate everyone’s desires and how long they can stand to be in the car.
One of the keys to a successful family road trip is keeping the kids occupied on the long drive. Phones and tablets with their favorite shows are the obvious choice these days, but don’t discount old school entertainment.
Build extra stops into your itinerary, or if you’re keeping your plan flexible, make peace with the idea that you’ll take plenty of detours. By breaking up the trip, you can give the kiddos a chance to stretch their legs and burn off some energy, not to mention take their minds off the monotony of the drive.
Do you have a teenager who’s of driving age (and has their permit or license)? Let them take the wheel. As a teen, my parents had me chauffeur them throughout the American Southeast one summer. By the end of the trip, I had all the requisite hours I needed to take my driving test when we got home. Plus, it gave me great experience on highways, winding mountain roads, and everywhere in between.
First, make sure you really like each other. If you’re married, great. You probably already have that part figured out. But if not, you’re about to spend a lot of quality time together in an enclosed space. You’re also about to find out how well the other person rolls with the punches, how spontaneous they are versus liking to have things planned out, whether they have terrible taste in music, if they leave crumbs in the seat, and more.
Before you leave, make sure you’re on the same page about road trip style. You may need to compromise. For example, if they’re a planner and you’re more "let’s see where the wind takes us,” let them make a few hotel reservations and ask them to leave a few nights open to decide in the moment.
Plan your trip together. Start by listening to what the other person wants. Decide on a destination you both like, and choose activities that interest both of you. Set a pace for your road trip that you’ll both enjoy. In other words, will you spend a few days at each stop or is about covering as much ground as possible?
Agree on a budget together, and be honest about what your finances can handle. Money is one of the biggest reasons couples fight in general. Don’t let it derail your road trip before it even starts.
Make your packing list together, too. This will help you pack light — you don’t each need your own bottle of sunscreen — and help make sure no one forgets anything important.
Once your trip begins, keep the lines of communication open. Resolve conflicts quickly so you aren’t stuck in a car with someone who’s questioning your entire relationship.
Recognize trigger points in your partner, and help them avoid and diffuse tension if you can. My significant other knows he can’t expect me to make a spur-of-the-moment decision if I haven’t eaten in a while. (He learned this on a road trip.) Now, he either makes the decision for us in those situations or makes sure I have a snack first. With this awareness, we both win.
Finally, play up to each other’s strengths. If one of you has a stellar sense of direction, you get to be the chief navigator while the other does more of the driving. If they're good at finding delicious restaurants off the beaten path, maybe put them in charge of meal planning while you manage hotel bookings.
Road tripping on your own can deliver ultimate freedom. You and you alone decide where to go, when to set out each morning, what to do, and what to spend.
Make some of those decisions before you leave home. While it’s great to be spontaneous and flexible, traveling alone can set some people up for extreme decision fatigue. It’s fun at first to make all the choices, but after a while, your brain gets tired of all the analysis. When you go solo, there’s no one to fall back on to help with those decisions. Planning ahead can reduce fatigue and let you enjoy what you’re doing more.
Traveling solo gives you the perfect opportunity to go local and have an authentic experience. And when you road trip, that opportunity is even greater. Road tripping lets you slow down and immerse yourself in a community rather than being beholden to the schedule of a tour company. It’s also easier to meet new people as a solo traveler. Locals might be less intimidated to chat with a single person versus a large group.
Embrace both these situations. Going local and having conversations with strangers might force you out of your comfort zone. That’s exactly when travel gets the most rewarding, though. You get insider recommendations on places to go. You get a better understanding of a culture. You make connections that stave off feelings of loneliness that often come with traveling alone. You get more confident. Seize the opportunities.
Lastly, be self-aware. You won’t have a co-pilot to take over driving duties when you get tired or feel unwell. You won't have a traveling companion to walk with you at night or in the woods on a hike for safety. As you plan your trip, take these types of limitations into consideration. Put extra money in the budget for a late-night Uber or find a guided hike with other travelers before making any rash decisions.
There are tons of apps that can help you plan a road trip as well as make the adventure even better in the moment.
When planning your trip, check out apps like Roadtrippers and Roadside America. These can help you plot your route and find unusual stops along the way.
PackPoint is great for creating packing lists and sharing them with friends and family. Just enter where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone, and the app will start compiling a list of the essentials based on weather, activities, and more.
The two most popular apps for navigation are, not surprisingly, Google Maps and Waze. The major advantage of these apps over an old-school paper atlas is the real-time updates. You won’t have to waste time sitting in traffic when you can see construction, accidents, and other problems right there on your phone.
Keeping your car fueled, some would argue, is the most important part of a road trip. Try the GasBuddy app to find the best prices on gas or even just to locate a gas station, period. It can also help you find parking.
If you have an electric vehicle, check out PlugShare to find charging stations along your route.
Spontaneity sounds great until it’s late, you’re tired, and you can’t find a hotel. Download apps like Airbnb or Hotel Tonight to make finding lodging on the fly. If you’re camping, The Dyrt can help you locate campgrounds and RV parks near you.
I don’t know a smartphone that doesn’t come with a weather app, but be sure to use it on your road trip. Will you need a raincoat on your hike? Should you make breakfast extra quick to get on the road before a storm blows in? A reliable weather app can help keep you moving safely and comfortably.
Some of our other favorite travel apps are Venmo for when you need to send your traveling companion some gas money or your share of the restaurant bill, and the National Park Service app, which provides details about what to do at each of the parks as well as self-guided tours.
Any time you go to a major attraction like a park, museum, or historical site, check to see if they have their own app. Many that used to provide those clunky audio tour devices you had to wear around your neck now provide the same experience on your phone. So get the app and listen through your own AirPods.
Lastly, don’t forget regular social media. TikTok is increasingly popular for getting real-life advice about where to go on a trip. When our team members took a road trip in Scotland a few years ago, they turned to Instagram.
"We were a bit too flexible with our time in Orkney. We would have missed the Yesnaby Castle and a local winery and painter that were less than a mile from our accommodations had it not been for Instagram,” they said. “Search local places and use the map feature on Instagram to find recent posts in the area or ask for recommendations on Facebook to get a more local experience.”
The best car for a road trip may or may not be your own. It might not even be a car. When Seven Corners Adventurers took off on their Scotland road trip, they regretted not renting a camper van. To choose the best car for your road trip, consider this:
Your car insurance may provide coverage for you even if you’re in a rental car, but it’s best to check your policy to be sure. If you don’t have personal car insurance — maybe you’re renting because you don’t own a vehicle (what’s up, New Yorkers) — the rental car agency can provide you with basic coverage. When you road trip in another country, check with the rental agency about insurance as foreign visitor. Some countries might allow you to drive with your own license, but you won’t be able to get car insurance without an international permit.
It’s also worth considering travel insurance with rental car damage coverage. Some Seven Corners trip protection plans provide this so you’re covered if your rental car is stolen or damaged due to collision, theft, vandalism, or another cause beyond your control.
All the usual travel safety tips apply: don’t travel alone at night, obey local laws and customs, don’t tell strangers where you’re staying.
For road trips in particular, pay special attention to keeping your car in top working order. Before you leave, take care of routine maintenance and check that everything is operating correctly. Check your tire pressure and tread, windshield wipers, and oil.
It’s also a good idea to know how to perform basic car maintenance on the road. Do you know how to change a tire or replace wiper blades? If you need to add wiper fluid or coolant, do you know where it goes? Even if you have roadside assistance, you may have to wait a long time for them to reach you, depending on where your car has broken down. By knowing how to handle repair basics, you may be able to get yourself to the next town where the professionals can take over.
Pack an emergency kit for your car before you go. Include items like:
Know your limits. “Let’s try to make it to the next town,” has been uttered by many a road tripper. Being realistic about whether you can actually go a bit farther is an important part of road trip safety. If you’re drowsy, low on gas, or even just getting hangry — traveling hungry can lead to poor decisions — pull over. Find a hotel for the night if it’s late, or get out and walk around for a bit to reenergize yourself.
If you’re someone who gets sleepy easily, don’t fool yourself into thinking it will be different on vacation. Plan shorter days of driving, particularly if you don’t have another driver to share the responsibility.
Keep someone updated on your whereabouts. Road trips tend to take you to a different place every day or so. If something happens en route, it can be helpful for someone back home to know your general location so they know where to send help, if necessary.
My family has what we call geo quizzes. When we travel, we periodically text a picture to the others back home, and the other person has to guess our geographic location. It’s a fun way to stay in touch, share our location, and yes, be a bit nerdy.
Learn the rules of the road. This mostly applies to those road tripping in another country. Some countries will allow you to drive with your own driver’s license, while others may require you to apply for a temporary one. They might also require additional car insurance, so make sure you not only understand traffic rules like whether pedestrians have the right of way or if it’s permissible to turn right on a red light, but administrative rules as well.
Just because you're traveling via road doesn't mean you won't get sick or hurt. And even if you aren’t buying a plane ticket, you’re still making a financial investment in your trip.
Travel insurance can help protect your health and the money you spend for your trip. If you have nonrefundable, prepaid expenses like for hotels you booked or a guided tour you reserved, you could get that money back if you cancel your trip for a covered reason.
Some Seven Corners plans also allow you to customize your coverage to get only what you need. For example, why pay for baggage protection if you’re not taking a flight? That wouldn’t make much sense, but you might want to add rental car damage coverage.
No matter how or where you’re traveling, it’s a smart move to consider travel insurance.
Knowing what to pack for a road trip is crucial. You need the right food, equipment, clothing, and much more if you plan on having a good time. But you also want to pack light so you aren’t fighting for leg room with a suitcase full of clothes you won’t end up wearing.
Look at what the weather will be like and pack appropriate clothing. For most trips, think about layers of multipurpose items. If the mornings are cool, you’ll have extra clothes to stay warm, but you’ll still be comfortable later when it heats up and you can remove some of those layers.
Pack chargers, music or podcasts, and noise-cancelling headphones to help you relax, sleep, or have “alone time.” Some of these items can be packed in your “go bag.” This is a second bag in addition to the rest of your luggage where you might keep your camera, charger, hiking shoes, or anything you might need to grab for a spontaneous moment during your trip. The other bag contains items like the rest of our clothes and toiletries.
Everyone needs sunscreen. This is especially true if you’re camping, in which case, also remember a tent with spare pegs and a rain cover, sleeping bags and maybe sleep pads for comfort, a camp stove and fuel, some cooking utensils, and a cooler.
No road trip packing list is complete without snacks. If you pull over for a swim or sightseeing, you’ll be thankful you have snacks for an impromptu scenic picnic. Maybe you got off schedule during the day but want to make it to your destination to watch the sunset. Having snacks will allow you to power through any last-minute changes in your trip without a hangry travel partner.
There are a few schools of thought when it comes to road trip eats. For some, stocking up on junk food is part of the fun. I know someone who, even now as an adult, can’t take a road trip without stopping for a hand pie bought at a gas station. He knows they aren’t as tasty as he remembers them from his childhood and that it’ll probably leave his stomach upset, but it’s tradition.
On the other end of the spectrum, you could focus on healthy snacks. The road is not known for its nutritional offerings, so this is where you find balance. Load up on fruits, veggies, nuts, and other whole foods that will keep you feeling satisfied. Choose foods that won't go bad in a hot car and are easy to eat. That rules out anything that needs refrigeration and utensils (sorry, yogurt).
Get more tips about eating well on vacation and maintaining your physical wellness from the road.
Any list of the best road trip routes in the United States will include Route 66, which runs between Chicago and Santa Monica, California. But this is not just any list. These lesser-known routes make for some epic land cruises.
The longest highway in America runs from coast to coast along a northern route. Go the entire way and you’ll have about 60 hours of driving time, covering more than 3,000 miles (5,000 kilometers). To see this properly, plan to spend at least two to three weeks on the road exploring.
Travel US 20 and you’ll find unique spots like ghost towns, Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming/Montana/Idaho), Carhenge (Nebraska), the Jell-O Museum (New York), and The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum and Sculpture Garden (Massachusetts).
Take your time as you wind through the Appalachian Mountains on this 470-mile drive. The speed limit is 45 miles per hour (72 kph), which is perfect because you’ll want to enjoy the scenery along the way.
The route runs from Shenandoah National Park on one end to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the other. The best time for this drive might be during the fall when the leaves are changing colors. Stretch your legs along the way by taking one of the numerous hikes through the hills or exploring some of the small mountain towns.
This 440-mile route is maintained by the National Park Service, which means its historical and natural significance is being preserved for road trippers like you. The road loosely follows an historic travel corridor that’s been used for thousands of years, first by Native Americans and later by European settlers and modern-day adventurers.
In addition to countless trails and campgrounds long the route, be sure to check out the historic sites like the Meriwether Lewis site (of explorers Lewis and Clark infamy) and sacred American Indian mounds.
You might not have heard of the San Juan Skyway, but you’re probably familiar with some of the stops along the way: Telluride, Durango, and Silverton. This loop route runs about 230 miles (370 kilometers) and contains a stretch known as the Million Dollar Highway, so named because of its million dollar views.
Because the Skyway is in southwestern Colorado (and “sky” is in its name), prepare for incredible mountain views and the hiking, biking, and skiing opportunities that come with them. You'll also find archaeological and historical sites.
Mountains, glacial lakes, a rainforest, gigantic trees, beaches, and more await you on this road trip around the perimeter of Olympic National Park. Spring is one of the best times to visit. Roads in the high country will likely be re-opened after the snowmelt, and the heavy winter rains will have passed, leaving the rainforest extra lush and views clear.
You’ll travel more than 300 miles (480 kilometers) to complete the loop. With so much to see, plan on stretching it out over a few days, especially if you’re coming in from Seattle, which is about a three-hour drive to the east.
If you’re looking for a shorter getaway or want to add a side quest to a longer trip, these routes are for you.
The Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire, known to locals as “the Kanc,” is a relaxing 35-mile (56-kilometer) route. If you’re looking for the best place to see fall leaves in New England, this could be it.
The Avenue of the Giants is where you see the big trees of California. It’s only about 30 miles (50 kilometers) long and takes you through Humboldt Redwoods State Park. It runs along Highway 101, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, so if you need a break from the coastal views or the traffic, take a detour to the Avenue of the Giants.
The Road to Hana in Hawaii is only about 60 miles (100 kilometers) but is packed with 600 tight turns, 50 narrow single-track bridges, and more blind corners than you thought possible. The white knuckles are more than worth it, though, as the road trip passes through lush jungle, cascading waterfalls (weather permitting), and steep cliffs.
Think of the sheer number of roads in the world. Where do you even begin? Try this list for starters, with some of the most popular road trips in Europe and beyond.
The 830-mile (1,330-kilometer) Ring Road is often cited as the best way to see Iceland. To follow this route properly and truly experience all it offers, plan on at least two weeks to complete the circuit. You’ll see volcanos, which are responsible for Iceland’s famous hot springs and black sand beaches, as well as plenty of wildlife. Sven says to keep an eye out for puffins.
U.S. citizens with a valid U.S. license can drive in Iceland without an international permit. Licenses from the United Kingdom and European Union are also valid in Iceland.
The name says it all. This 500-mile (800-kilometer) loop explores the coast along the very northern tip of Scotland. Considered one of the best road trips in the United Kingdom, you’ll experience dramatic beach views and fishing villages, mountains and lochs, and, nestled in between it all, the castles that Scotland always conjures to mind.
U.S. citizens can drive in Scotland and the rest of the UK with a valid U.S. license. Remember that you’ll be driving on the left side of the road here, so you’ll need to retrain your brain and get used to shifting gears with your left hand.
Chile is a long, narrow country, and you’ll explore its southern-most lands on the Carretera Austral, or Southern Highway. Running almost 800 miles (1,200 kilometers), the route starts in the Chilean Lake District and stretches through Patagonia to Villa O’Higgins. To see evergreen forests, fjords, and glaciers, make Parque Nacional Queulat (pronounced kay-oo-lot) one of your stops.
U.S. citizens can drive in Chile with a valid U.S. license and tourist permit. However, to get insurance for a rental car, you may need an international driver’s license.
As is the case with many of these routes that cover long distances, the Great Ocean Road in southeast Australia presents you with a wealth of natural beauty. It runs 400 miles (600 kilometers) along the coast south of Melbourne, so you’ll find all things beaches. Include the Great Ocean Walk on your itinerary to see the Twelve Apostles, limestone stacks rising out of the ocean. While hiking is a great way to see these rock formations and other natural attractions in the area, you can also take a helicopter tour.
Visitors can drive in Australia with a license from their home country for up to three months. The license does have to be in English, however. If you plan on staying for more than three months — it’s a big country — you may need to apply for a temporary Australian license.
When people talk about road tripping in New Zealand, they always come back to the South Island (Te Waipounamu in Māori). The Milford Road is considered one of the most scenic routes on an island generally known for its natural beauty. Be sure to include Milford Sound and the Fiordland National Park on your itinerary.
This route is a bit on the shorter side at just 75 miles (120 kilometers). That gives you plenty of time to sit and gawk at glaciers, waterfalls, and emerald lakes. When you’re ready for more, keep exploring the South Island, which is about half the size of the U.S. state of Colorado.
If you’re a U.S. citizen planning a road trip in New Zealand, you’ll need an overseas driver’s license or international driving permit.
Don’t let the name fool you as this route offers much more than just your run-of-the-mill garden. Running the southern coast of South Africa, the Garden Route is maintained by the South African National Parks service, meaning you’ll have plenty of opportunity to enjoy all the nature you can handle. Forests, island lagoons, caves, and multiple national parks and preserves dot the route.
U.S. travelers can drive in South Africa with a valid U.S. driver’s license.
The unexpected can happen at any time, anywhere. Even if you’re traveling within your own country and aren’t worried about cancelled flights or lost luggage, travel insurance can provide you with the peace of mind and protection from other travel-related emergencies. Look for trip protection that provides reimbursement if you need to cancel your trip or end it early, as well as options to cover rental car damage.
If your road trip includes international destinations, travel insurance becomes even more important. With travel medical coverage, you can protect yourself from expensive medical bills if you get sick or hurt during your trip. When your domestic health insurance doesn’t follow you overseas, this coverage can prove to be a major life- and money-saver.
Get a quick quote now at SevenCorners.com or talk to one of our licensed agents to find the best coverage for your road trip.
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