Some people love a luxury hotel, some people love camping. And some people just love a great big road trip adventure. So buckle up your seatbelts, as Tourism, Hospitality and Travel writer, Kate Gibbs, explores seven of the world's best road trips.
From paths travelled by some of history’s greatest authors to those described in tales told by modern scribes, from thoroughfares made famous by film to those glorified by word-of-mouth, there are many roads to travel. In the search for anything from spectacular views to boasting power, we’ve found a few of the world’s best road trips to take right now.
1. Gobi Desert, Mongolia
This expansive desert takes the concept of off-the-road to the next level, with seemingly infinite expanses of sand dunes. Hiring a van and a drive and spending a week cruising across or around this vast desert is a highlight for any want-to-be adventurer.
Start the trip in Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar, hire a driver and van, stock up on water and supplies. And, unless you’re a fan of camel cheese, pack some portable food as well. Embrace your inner Indiana Jones and head into the desert to see sun-scorched valleys, sunsets from the surrounds of a Mongolian yurt, and climb sand dunes to your heart’s content.
Nomadic tents dot most of rural Mongolia, so there is usually a place to stay, and then head to a town every couple of days and hope they have a good supply of petrol for the next leg of your journey.
2. Route 66, United States
The iconic 3800 kilometre (2400 mile) road connecting Chicago and Santa Monica is a road to a bygone era, with neon signs and diners just off the interstate. But a road trip on Route 66 is more than nostalgia and James Dean. It opens the traveller to a world of greasy spoons, a perfect pie in a quaint diner, plus the road itself is a celebrity.
Author John Steinbeck wrote about this, “Main Street of America” in The Grapes of Wrath. The trip itself winds on and off five interstates, taking about two weeks to travel in its entirety. It spans Arizona and New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, St. Louis and Illinois, passing Route 66-dedicated museums and the winding Colorado River, also described in Steinbeck’s literary masterpiece.
3. Blue Ridge Parkway, United States
It spans two states and 469 miles without a single traffic light, but there’s even better reasons to travel along the Blue Ridge Parkway spanning the valleys, ridges and peaks of the Mississippi. It links Virginia and North Carolina. It draws a line across farms and fields, through towns that offer distractions for the traveller.
The ridge’s name comes from the soft blue haze that seems to wrap the mountain for a distance, and while in winter the ridge turns bleak, in summer it is blanketed with bright wildflowers and budding trees.
4. Pacific Crest Trail, United States
It’s not a road trip so much, though it will take a decent road trip to get there. In 2012 author Cheryl Strayed strayed literally when she hit the Pacific Crest Trail and walks from Southern California to Portland.
She starts near the town of Mojave: “The town of Mojave is at an altitude of nearly 2,800 feet, though it felt to me as if I were at the bottom of something instead, the signs for gas stations, restaurants, and motels riding higher than the highest tree.”
But she finds her trees on the expansive journey, she loses her shoes, she wanders into the woods, all with a bag on her back. Not every traveller will experience the same actualisation as the author, but it’s a journey worth taking and a book worth reading.
5. South Island Circuit, New Zealand
It’s the setting for much of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, but the real thing has a few adrenalin rushes, majestic views and local quirks of its own. New Zealand’s South Island is often regarded as the country’s more beautiful one, and the drive between Te Anau and Milford Sound, which crosses Fiordland National Park and the Southern Alps, offers a remarkable taste of that beauty.
Take a few days away from the wheel of the car to walk the Milford Sound, one of the world’s greatest walks, and stop for a refuel of your own any time you see mussel fritters or whitebait for sale. Both are New Zealand specialties that make any trip to the island even better than the journey JRR Tolkien describes in his books.
6. Ring Road, Iceland
In some places, a ring road is a nightmare scenario where you end up where you started, the destination totally eluding you. But in Iceland, that’s the name of the game on the often awe-inspiring N1.
The 1339-kilometre two-lane road traces the entire island, taking drivers from fertile valleys to lava fields, passing snow-capped mountains on the way. There are volcanic craters and frozen glaciers, bubbling hot springs, waterfalls and geysers. You’ll pass puffins, whales, lakes, valleys and canyons.
This is one of the world’s most volatile landscapes, but it’s not to be missed, making it the perfect road trip for adventurers who like the security of a window between them and the raw, untamed earth.
7. Pan-American Highway
The world’s longest driving route is also one of its most beautiful, spanning the southernmost tips of Argentina to Alaska. Ultimately, it’s a drive from the Antarctic to the Arctic, covering a lengthy 48,000 kilometres.
There’s a small hiccup in Panama with the rainforested Darien Gap, a break of about 100 kilometres, but otherwise the road links almost all of the mainland countries of the Americas. It’s the tyre-testing journey every road trip-enthusiast must take in a lifetime, and because there is no strict route to take, it’s navigable even by the most imaginative of drivers.
For the person who likes a road trip, this collection of roads that passes through Uruguay and Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Los Angeles and Vancouver, is the dream adventure that’s all about the journey and not the destination.
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