Hooray for Road Trips!
There are many ways to take in a country; from the pre-packaged and pre-planned tours that take the hassle out of planning a trip and ensure you see all the shiniest sites all the way to the by the seat of your pants backpacker lifestyle that some of my contemporaries live. Travel comes in bite-sized chunks like my upcoming ten day trip to Tanzania or sizable stints of our lives, like my two and a half year stints in both South Korea and China.
One of my favourite ways to see a country, though, is through the humble road trip.
Those who know me (and know that I don’t drive) might find it odd that I find road trips to be such a fantastic way to see a country, but in my eyes, there’s really no better way to take in a country’s iconic sights while still getting to experience how people live their day to day lives in the country.
Today, I’ve selected five countries that I think are particularly road trip friendly, but I’d love to hear your own suggestions or stories from your own road trips in the comments section.
#5 – New Zealand
New Zealand is a land of startling contrasts. It’s the kind of place where you can start your day standing in a steamy subtropical rainforest and end it standing atop an icy glacier staring out over a muddy river. It’s Rohan and The Shire and Gondor. It’s towering mountains and volcanoes, beautiful windswept beaches, sheer cliffs around stunning fjords, and everything in between.
My 2010 trip to New Zealand gave me the tiniest taste of just how stunning New Zealand’s geographical diverse south island can be, and I’d love to someday rent a car or van and take my time exploring the many beautiful landscapes that make New Zealand such a popular place with both tourists and Hollywood big-wigs.
New Zealanders rank among the friendliest people you’ll ever encounter as well, and the many small towns on the south island have a really warm and inclusive vibe to them. Towns like Nelson, Greymouth, and Franz Josef felt oddly like coming home whenever our shuttle pulled up and called it a day.
#4 – China
If you’ve ever been on a Chinese road, you might think that attempting to take a road trip across the country would be some convoluted method of committing suicide, but reading Peter Hessler’s Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip has me eager to get out and stretch my legs (tires) on the roads in China. Never fear, you don’t have to be near death on the Karakoram Highway to make a Chinese road trip one to remember.
My experiences in less urbanized provinces such as Xinjiang and Sichuan already gave me a taste of a more traditional China than the vast, industrial mess that is Jiangsu province; and I was pleasantly surprised to find people in these less developed provinces to be much friendlier and considerate than the pushing, shoving horde that dominates cities such as Shanghai and Nanjing.
While Chinese roads vary wildly between the super modern expressways to the borderline goat tracks that comprise portions of the Karakoram Highway, a 4WD and an adventurous spirit would make such a journey a truly amazing way to explore one of the world’s oldest cultures. Away from the westernized cities with their KFCs, boutique outlets, and smoggy skylines you’ll find everything from sleepy mountain villages to nomadic herdsmen to ancient temple complexes, and get to see China as it was rather than as it pretends to be today.
#3 – The United Kingdom
No country does quaint villages quite like the United Kingdom, and I’d love the chance to someday make my way around England, Scotland, and Wales at a leisurely pace. The country’s small size makes ‘seeing it all’ considerably more achievable than tackling the size of China, Australia, or the United States – and outside of the cities there’s a wonderful country charm that encourages you to stop, take a deep breath, and take in the serenity.
My visit to the UK earlier this year didn’t give me an opportunity for any road trips, but I was thoroughly enchanted by pub lunches in small towns like Sutton and Chippenham, while locations such as Lacock and Stonehenge made it feel like I’d gone back in time without having to drive for hours to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
The scenery in Scotland was utterly breath-taking, and my day long bus tour from Edinburgh through Glencoe and up to Loch Ness was one of the most memorable drives I’ve ever been on. It’s remarkable to think that a country so densely populated and so influential on the world stage can have peace and natural beauty in such abundance, and it’s all so close together that the UK makes for one of the most road trip friendly nations on earth.
#2 – Australia
One of the things I’m most excited about with being home for a spell is that I’ll get to take a few road trips to see more of my own back yard. Over the next few months I’ll be making trips to places such as Coffs Harbour, Brisbane, Toowoomba, and the Hunter Valley. While I’m lucky enough to have friends and siblings willing to do the driving (and provide the car), it’s remarkably affordable to pick up a road worthy car in Australia second hand. Reputable dealers such as John Hughes in WA make it really easy to get out of the city and on the road.
Australia is a truly huge country, and while the densely populated east coast is fairly easy to navigate – getting around its more sparsely populated interior is going to take patience and a whole bunch of time. If you’ve been following yTravel’s epic Australia road trip as closely as I have, though, you’ll be beginning to get an idea of just how much there is to see in Australia beyond the Opera House, the Great Barrier Reef, and Uluru.
While many Australians wait until they’ve retired to buy a caravan (mobile home) and get out on the road, I’d sorely love to one day just get out and take it all in. You’d be hard pressed to find an Aussie country town without its own quirky local festivals and customs, and when the towns get boring – there’s always Australia’s unique wildlife and harshly beautiful interior to keep you company.
#1 – The United States
It’s fitting that the country that invented the road trip feature at #1 on my list. Where Australia suffers from things being a tad far apart in its interior, there’s so much to see and do in the United States that even attempting to hit it all in one road trip would be a massive feat of patience, planning, and expense management.
I’ve taken two road trips in my visits to the United States – one spanning much of Idaho and Oregon, and a second taking us from Los Angeles up through San Francisco via Yosemite National Park. In both cases, it was a case of popping on the right mix-tape, taking in the sights, and trying not to overindulge at the many rest stops and fast food joints along the way.
Hell, a food road trip of the United States might just be the way I’d like to die…
Neil Gaiman’s wonderful American Gods (which I’m in the process of re-reading) features quite a bit of time spent on the road and in small town America, and it also highlights the cultural significance of roadside attractions. The bright lights of New York or Las Vegas might be what draw most people to the United States, but I see a whole lot of appeal in getting away from the best known sights and seeing what happens between the lines as well.
Have you ever taken a road trip across a country? What advice or tales do you have to share?
If you’ve not yet made a huge road trip, would you like to? Where?
Featured image by William Warby