Rev up for your best road trip ever

Discover five surprising reasons why a road trip could be the best holiday for you in 2024.

There’s nothing like the freedom of the wide, open road. Whether you’re hitting the highway in a hire car or meandering through national parks in a motorhome, if you want to see the world on your terms, self-drive holidays give you the freedom and flexibility to do that, and then some.

So, grab the map, pop on your favourite playlist, and wind down the windows because the following five reasons to go on a road trip are guaranteed to get you in the mood for life in the happy lane.

An older couple driving a convertible through sunny landscape, with the woman with her hands in the air and the man smilingCredit: shutterstock / Monkeybusiness Images

1. You’ll discover more in iconic destinations

Get under the skin of a country

Road trips are your passport to the world, allowing you to see and do more by covering more ground in a new place. You’ll be able to really get under the skin of a country and see how cities morph into suburbs before unfolding into countryside and coastline.

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Get on Route 66

Choose from famous routes in breath-taking places, like the USA’s Route 66. This legendary length of tarmac stretches for almost 4,000 kilometres from Chicago to California, crossing through St. Louis, Oklahoma, and Albuquerque, and allows for short detours to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas along the way.

It’s a route packed with blues, jazz and country bars, wide-reaching prairie grasslands and verdant river valleys. Classic images of Americana range from restored gas stations and roadside diners to glowing motel signs and memorabilia museums. You can pull over in Spanish-era old towns and learn more about life in New Mexico as well as discovering the deep-rooted heritage of Native American culture.

Completing the trip in Santa Monica is the cherry on the cake, with those beautiful beaches and LA boulevards providing excuses to celebrate just before you hand back the keys.

Rolling wine estates in South Africa

The Garden Route in South Africa is another of the world’s most desirable routes. This spectacular stretch of Indian Ocean coastline from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth is one of the world’s best loved.

Enjoy a couple of days of sightseeing around Table Mountain, Camps Bay, and Boulders Beach before picking up the keys and setting off to the seaside town of Swellendam. The region’s rolling wine estates and semi-arid Karoo Desert plains can be seen along the way, and you’ll have a chance to watch whales in Hermanus or visit the penguins at the Stony Point Nature Reserve.

From here, the journey continues around the East Cape where you might discover seals sunning themselves on secret stretches of sand and gourmet beachside restaurants serving up superb seafood suppers. Once you’ve driven through the ancient forests and river valleys in Tsitsikamma National Park, you’ll reach Port Elizabeth – where Victorian-era neighbourhoods give way to beautiful Eastern Cape beaches.

Experience wildlife in Costa Rica

Perhaps a self-drive adventure in Costa Rica beckons?

This is a great way to take in the country’s national parks, countryside, and beaches on both Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Short drive times, amazing wildlife, and independence to explore in one trip – what’s not to like?

Our choice: Dollyville to Nashville and Memphis

We asked Saga Travel Destination Specialist, Julian Lawman, which road trip route he felt ticked all the right boxes.

“My favourite road trip from our self-drive collection is the Civil Rights & Rhythms of the South,” he says.

“It met every iconic image that I had about the region – music, food, history, culture – and exceeded every expectation.”

Lawman flew into Charlotte and headed up into the Great Smoky Mountains for visits to Dollywood and the college town of Asheville, where he visited the Biltmore Estate (the largest private residence in the USA, built in the style of a French chateau).

“From there I did the Jack Daniel’s Distillery tour, spent two nights in Nashville enjoying the live country music, and then detoured off the interstate to the iconic Loveless Café for a breakfast fit for a king,” he says.

Next up was Memphis for a couple of nights, a visit to Graceland, and the National Civil Rights Museum. From Memphis, he drove down through the Civil War sites of Vicksburg, and along the Mississippi River to see the antebellum homes and riverside plantations of Natchez.

“A little detour into the swamps and bayous of Louisiana revealed a unique watery world of alligators and birds before I finished up in the Big Easy, New Orleans,” he concludes.

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2. They’re carefully planned by experts

Get someone else to organise it!

Planning the perfect road trip requires a whole lot of research. Where you stay, what to see and how long you’re going to spend behind the wheel are all things that need to be taken into consideration. That’s why choosing an organised self-drive itinerary, where all the legwork’s been done for you, bridges the gap between doing it all yourself and having the security to travel with confidence.

Not only that, but you’ll be safe in the knowledge that your itinerary includes all the highlights, not to mention those hidden gems that only true travel specialists and locals know about.

“Organised trips make the research process effortless – the broad route is pre-planned for you (in terms of your ‘A to B’) but you still have the flexibility to plan your day and go wherever you fancy,” says Lawman.

He continues: “You can also relax knowing your overnight accommodation is arranged each night (so no pulling off the interstate and hoping you can find somewhere to stay).

Saga’s self-drive itineraries can be tweaked in line with your requirements, so if you want to stay longer in a particular place, skip somewhere that you’ve maybe already visited, amend your route to take in a place that’s of particular personal interest, change your accommodation, upgrade your vehicle – all of this is possible.”

That’s another thing about organised self-drive tours, they always include lots of lovely surprises that you might never have thought of yourself.

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3. They give you freedom and flexibility

The perfect holiday for explorers

If you’re the type of traveller that thrives on freedom and just loves exploring and enjoying unscripted adventures, a self-drive holiday is most definitely for you.

Although organised road trip itineraries are planned in advance, you’ll still get to choose when you want to set off each day, where you pull over to eat and how long you want to spend in each place. That’s the great thing about travelling independently – you’re in control.

If it’s a really sunny day, you might want to kick back on the beach for the morning; if it’s raining, you could pop into a museum or art gallery for the afternoon or get some miles under your belt before settling down for the evening by a cosy log fire.

“Anyone who doesn’t like to follow a set schedule or travel with a crowd – you just need a bit of confidence and a sense of adventure,” advises Lawman.

“It’s about doing what you want, when you want, and enjoying taking the time to change your plans each day if you find somewhere you like, or making a little detour that sounds like it might be intriguing.”

No matter whether you’re pulling over for brunch in between Boston and Kennebunkport or chancing upon an artisan cheese store around the backroads and national parks of Quebec, the ability to stop where you like and change plans to suit your surroundings, and mood, are why road trips work so well.

You’ll be able to follow your nose to local markets or take a break beside a beautiful scenic spot. Sometimes it’s the unplanned experiences that we remember the most, so don’t get caught up in rushing from A to B on the quickest route possible. Follow the rural roads and go off track for a bit. Give yourself more time than you need and look for somewhere to pull over for an impromptu picnic or hike to the top of a hillside.

The elements needed for a successful road trip

Lawman recommends the following to ensure you have the best self-drive holiday you can.

  • A good guidebook
  • The best map you can find
  • Sat nav: They’re helpful, particularly when you’re driving in towns/cities or trying to find a specific location (e.g., an overnight hotel), however, they will tell you the quickest route to take, which is not always the most enjoyable. Lawman says: “You’re not in a rush, you’re on holiday! So be prepared to get off the interstates and take the scenic local roads to uncover hidden little gems.”
  • Ask for advice! “You’ll often find people will be only too willing to let you in on a few of the hidden gems as well as pointing you in the direction of woodland walking trails, uncrowded beaches and affordable regional restaurants,” he says.

4. There are different types of road trips to choose from

Road trips come in all sorts of shapes and sizes

There’s a road trip for everyone. For example, you can hire a car and drive from one place to the next stopping off at a variety of different landmarks en route. These sorts of self-drive experiences allow you to pick up a hire car in one destination and drop it off in another.

You can drive the Gold Coast route from Sydney to Brisbane in Australia, for example, and take off on the Pacific Highway heading north. You don’t have to double back on yourself, and you’ll get to enjoy Hunter Valley’s cellar doors and the laid-back beach vibe of Byron Bay before handing back the hire car keys in Brisbane.

Meandering in a motorhome

If you think you might prefer a familiar place to sleep each night, motorhomes offer an affordable and comfortable option for self-drive holidaymakers. Working from a suggested itinerary, you can choose your own adventure with overnight campsites, mealtimes, and entertainment all down to you.

It’s a great opportunity to experience a new way of life where you can really appreciate time spent together both on the road and when you arrive in each new place.

Countries with wide open spaces like the USA, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada are made for motorhome touring. British Columbia and Alberta, in the west of Canada, especially, have some superb RV grounds. This is where you can traverse the Trans-Canada Highway and seek out the shade of pine forested back country roads as they lead between Banff and Jasper national parks.

You can also enjoy one of the world’s most scenic stretches as you set out on the two-lane highway linking Jasper to Lake Louise. Known as the Icefields Parkway, this 232-kilometre-long road is surrounded by soaring pinnacles and forested valleys where waterfalls, glaciers and pine fringed lakes provide perfect places to park.

You’re never far from a snow-capped Rocky Mountain peak in this region of North America and enjoying lakeside reflections with a glass of fizz after a good day’s drive is what motorhome holidays are all about.

Try an escorted road trip

Alternatively, how about an escorted road trip? You’ll get to share the experience with like-minded travellers. It’s a sociable way to see somewhere new with onboard commentary and a knowledgeable guide ensuring you know what you’re seeing and where you’re going.

Escorted road trips allow you to travel to incredible places. You could do a Grand Tour of Italy, for example, and see the sights from Venice to Sicily. Or you could travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco taking in the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and Yosemite National Park along the way.

You’ll get to stay in quality overnight accommodation and enjoy guided tours of the highlights as well as having meals both as part of the group and on your own.

5. You can mix and match

Create your dream itinerary

Build in a few days at the beach, on safari, or on a cruise.

You don’t need to be behind the wheel all day, every day on a road trip. Why not pick up the keys to a rental car after spending a few days of sightseeing in Sydney, New York, or Auckland? You won’t necessarily need a car if you’re based in the centre of a city, and you’ll also have more time to settle into holiday mode before heading off to explore.

Of course, you might want to build in a week at a beach once your road trip has completed. Driving coast to coast in Costa Rica, for instance, is an epic experience but adding on a beach extension in the town of Tamarindo is the perfect way to wind down before heading home.

Alternatively, if you’ve just spent a few days in Cape Town and Stellenbosch before driving South Africa’s iconic Garden Route, what better than a safari to cap your adventure?

You can drop off the hire car in Port Elizabeth before flying to Johannesburg and onwards to Greater Kruger National Park. Wineries, whales and Big Five game drives – now that’s how to finish a road trip, in style.

Adding a road trip to the start, middle or end of a holiday allows you to get the best of both worlds. That’s the great thing about self-drive itineraries, you’re the one in the driving seat, in every sense.

Add a cruise to your self-drive experience

If you think self-drive holidays are designed to keep you on dry land, forget it.

Why not enjoy a Caribbean cruise after completing a road trip from Miami to Fort Lauderdale? You’ll get to see all the highlights of the Sunshine State as well as the beautiful beaches of the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

Or, if you’ve got plans to drive around the great parks of the west in Canada, there’s no better opportunity to take a cruise along the Alaskan coast once you’ve given back the keys to your motorhome or rental car in Vancouver. Driving through the Rocky Mountains is one thing but cruising in Glacier Bay and College Fjord as well as wildlife watching in Denali National Park is quite something else.

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Written by Chris Owen he/him

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