Ultimate road trip guide
Cruising scenic highways, exploring cosy towns and discovering hidden gems along the way - it’s easy to see why the open road has enchanted travellers for decades. The freedom of a road trip makes it one of the most rewarding ways to travel, but it does require some careful preparation.
If you’re planning to hit the road, this guide is for you.
From picking a destination to local laws, renting a vehicle and more, this guide will help you to plan a safe and successful road trip overseas. Buckle up!
Picking a destination
First things first, where are you going? Picking a destination is the first and most important part of your planning, and will affect the vehicle you choose, the gear you pack and the time of year you visit.
Let’s take a quick look at five of the most popular road trips around the world for some inspiration.
1. Route 66, USA
Picture an endless desert highway with roadside truck stops serving burgers and shakes - USA road trips don’t get more iconic than Route 66.
Stretching from Chicago in Illinois to Santa Monica in California, the historic Route 66 is the most famous stretch of tarmac in the USA, and has been the subject of countless songs and stories in popular culture.
Insider tip: There’s an old rule of thumb on Route 66: don’t let the petrol tank fall below half full. While petrol stations are quite regular on the route these days, they become few and far between in the Western States like Arizona. Keep the tank full, especially if you’re planning a few detours off the highway.
2. Big Sur, USA
Another popular route on the road-trippers bucket list, Big Sur on Highway 1 offers a picturesque journey along the California coast. You’ll pass by man-made landmarks like the Bixby Bridge and breathtaking natural vistas like Julia Pfeiffer Burns Beach, where a waterfall meets the sapphire sea.
Insider tip: There’s a $10 cash honour system entry fee to Julia Pfeiffer Burns Beach, which helps to fund the maintenance of hiking trails in the area and amenities in the nearby parking lot.
3. Ring Road, Iceland
Iceland’s Ring Road isn’t what you’d describe as a casual Sunday drive. The 1,500km highway connects the major towns and cities of Iceland, and is the longest and most famous route in the country.
Picture ice-capped mountains, sweeping fields and dramatic coastline - a trip around the Ring Road provides the very best of pure Icelandic scenery.
Insider tip: It’s no surprise that driving the Ring Road in winter (around October to March) isn’t a great idea. Severe conditions can make it extremely dangerous, so stick to the warmer seasons.
4. Amalfi Coast, Italy
Far from the wintry chill of Iceland, the Amalfi Coast is up there with some of the most picturesque coastlines in Europe. Passing through towns like Positano, Sorrento and Capri, you’ll find it hard to keep driving, rather than spending the rest of your days soaking in the Mediterranean sun.
Insider tip: The cliffside roads of the Amalfi Coast are narrow, winding and nerve-wracking at times. Take it slow while driving and never become distracted by the stunning views.
5. Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland
The Wild Atlantic Way has become a real tourism drawcard in Ireland. Passing through nine counties like Donegal, Cork and Galway, the road dishes up quintessential Irish scenery and plenty of opportunities for food and drink along the way.
Insider tip: Speed limits on the Wild Atlantic Way are famously generous, and difficult to maintain with the many curves and narrow stretches. Drive at your own pace and let other vehicles safely pass you by if needed.
Tips for choosing your route
Wherever you choose to explore, it’s important to think about the things that’ll affect you on the road. For example, are you comfortable navigating non-English speaking countries? Are you prepared for searing heat or heavy snow? Before choosing your destination, always consider the following:
- The length of your trip
- Road quality
- Seasonal weather
- Local driving laws
- Your confidence on the road
What vehicle do you need?
Road trips come in all shapes and sizes. There’s the leisurely drive with your significant other, a family affair with the kids in the back, and the long-haul journey where provisions, beds and mechanical know-how are a must. The vehicle you require will depend on a few factors:
Your itinerary: If your journey involves significant legs of driving or long stretches of road where fuel may be sparse, you might require a vehicle with a greater driving range and better fuel economy (kilometres to a tank of petrol).
Comfort: That vintage muscle car may look fantastic when cruising down Route 66, but the novelty will soon wear off when you’re battling desert heat with no air conditioning. Never underestimate the importance of comfort when choosing your vehicle, and always choose safety over style.
Cost: Cost is one of the first things people shop for when choosing their car. Do your research to compare providers, and also consider the following money-saving tips:
- Search for coupons
- Check your rewards and credit card entitlements
- Check any discounts for prepaying the balance
- Rent outside of the airport
- Read the fine print, like e-toll fees and extra charges for unnecessary in-car features
- Be wary of prepaying for petrol when collecting your car
What to pack on your road trip
Your holiday packing list will depend on your destination, however, there are a few unique items that can enrich any road trip.
- First aid kit
- Reflective high-vis vest
- A hazard triangle (to warn drivers of your position if you break down)
- Spare water and canned food
- Tyre jack
- Air compressor
- Jumper cables
- Cat litter (which can give your tyres traction to escape bogs)
- Portable phone chargers, or chargers that connect to the cigarette lighter socket
- Satellite GPS
- Mini anti-theft safe that can be fixed to the car interior
- Smartphone headrest mount (great for the kids in the backseat)
- Mini board games
- Google Maps, which can be downloaded and saved to be used offline
- Language translation apps
- Accommodation apps to book hotels on the go
- First aid apps in case you have an emergency whilst in a remote location
- Weather apps to monitor the forecast and weather warnings
If you’re unsure of what safety provisions or mechanical tools you should pack for your journey, don’t hesitate to ask the rental company - they’ll likely be happy to help.
Travel insurance for your rental car
Protecting yourself with quality travel insurance that includes cover for your rental vehicle is one of the most important preparations you can make for your road trip.
To ensure you’re covered if the unexpected happens, remember that:
- You must hold a valid driver’s licence as required by the country you’re visiting
- You must only drive on formed or paved roadways and car parks
- You must always abide by local driving laws
- You must follow the terms of the vehicle rental agreement
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