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The best road trips outside the US

The best way to see a country is to get out on its roads and drive. In my 15 years of professional travel, I feel most at home when I’m exploring the culture and landscapes of a new destination from behind the wheel. There’s something magical — and educational — about road trips that carves the experience deep in your heart.

With so many great road trip routes outside the U.S., it can be overwhelming to know where to start. My driving adventures have taken me from the beaches of Mexico to the mountains of Thailand, and nearly everywhere in between.

To help strike some travel inspiration, I’ve detailed five of the best road trips I’ve taken around the world and the can’t-miss stops along the way.

Related: Best road trips in the US

I’ve added a suggested time frame to help you plan and maximize each stop, but these road trips can be drawn out to really appreciate the benefits of slow travel.

Croatia’s coastline

Beach in Makarska Riviera in Croatia. MARCUTTI/GETTY IMAGES

Duration: Two weeks
Highlights: Istria, Zadar, Trogir and the Makarska Riviera
Planning tip: May is the optimal time, with warm weather, lower prices and thinner crowds. June is the start of the high season, bringing overwhelming visitor numbers.

When people talk about a Croatian summer, they usually refer to island hopping in the Adriatic. While that’s definitely the “coolest” way to see Croatia, you don’t need to leave the mainland to have an epic Croatian summer.

A coastal road trip from Zagreb to Dubrovnik rewards with spectacular beaches, medieval villages and craggy mountain views.


From Zagreb, you’ll head east toward the coast. The northern Istrian peninsula is worth a longer trip, but you can dedicate a couple of days here to exploring some of its most beautiful beaches and medieval villages.

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Don’t miss Pula’s cultural treasure, its ancient Roman amphitheater (built between 27 B.C. and A.D. 68), which predates the more famous one in Rome. Once the host of gladiatorial battles, it’s remarkable for being the only amphitheater with all four sides preserved.

Rovinj is another special spot on the coast, with a medieval Old Town that stands on a headland overlooking the sea. Steeped in myth and legend, the Baroque St. Euphemia steeple rises above the red-tile rooftops, creating one of the most iconic and alluring townscapes in the country.

If there’s time, pass through Motovun, a hilltop city at the peninsula’s center surrounded by rolling hills and miles of vineyards. Istria is known for its wine scene, so oenophiles may want to linger longer; a great introduction is Clai Wines.


Your next destination will be Zadar, but along the way, you’ll have the opportunity to drive onto the island of Pag.

One of the few islands you can reach by car, Pag is the Croatian island with the longest coastline, and it’s pocketed with hidden coves and beaches all along the way.

Related: The 10 best road trips to take with your family this summer

Once you reach Zadar, park outside the old city walls and spend the afternoon wandering its Old Town.

Dotted with relics that date from ancient to medieval times, it makes for a compelling history lesson. Roman ruins pop up all over the city, including a Roman forum, alongside which sits a Byzantine church.


The coastal leg between Zadar and Trogir is one of the most beautiful and under-traveled stretches of coastline in Croatia.

Make time to stop in Sibenik, which practically tumbles from the pages of a storybook. The white stone city is carved with a maze of alleys and hidden staircases. Off the mainland, you’ll find Kornati National Park, which is spread across 89 islands. If you want to grab a boat to the park, Sibenik is the place to do it.

Trogir is a welcome respite from the busyness of Split. Just 30 minutes north of Split, Trogir has its own bite-size Old Town that sits on a little island. The town has a gorgeous waterfront promenade and the ruins of an old castle. You’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to beaches near Trogir as well.

Makarska Riviera

The last section of this road trip will take you through the iconic stretch of the Dalmatian between Split and Dubrovnik, along what is known as the Makarska Riviera.

A skinny ribbon of coastal highway weaves around rocky ridges, as a swath of sparkling blue Adriatic Sea extends into the distance. Highway pullouts reveal panoramic vistas of azure water contrasted against rugged limestone cliffs that rise dramatically from the coastline.

Charming seaside villages and towns spring up along ridges and coves, including Brela, Tucepi and Podgora — each ringed with white pebbly beaches that cast an iridescent, almost shimmering glow.

Schedule a stop at Punta Rata to experience one of the region’s best beaches, which has mind-boggling views of the surrounding Biokovo mountain range.

Just a bit farther down the coast, you’ll reach Dubrovnik, which makes the perfect bookend for this coastal road trip.

Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, push a little farther south to discover the beauty of Montenegro’s Boka Bay just over the border.

Related: 6 off-the-beaten-path places to see in Europe

South Africa’s Garden Route

The Outeniqua Pass connects George with Oudtshoorn and Little Karoo. NATTRASS/GETTY IMAGES

Duration: One week
Highlights: Mossel Bay, George, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay and Storms River
Planning tip: You’ll drive on the left side of the road in South Africa. If you’re traveling during whale season (June through December), plan to spend a night or two in Hermanus for some of the world’s best whale watching.

South Africa‘s Garden Route is set up for the perfect road trip, extending for 124 rugged coastal miles along the southern tip of the African continent.

The route runs between Mossel Bay and Storms River, brimming with scenic pit stops and detours all along the way. Brace yourself for unbelievable beaches, charming seaside villages and a glorious stretch of ocean-hugging highway.

Mossel Bay

Perched above the sun-drenched shoreline of the Indian Ocean, Mossel Bay sets the tone for this Garden Route road trip with its rugged Western Cape natural beauty and lively seaside town. At the heart of the bay, colorful fishing boats bob gently in the harbor against a backdrop of towering cliffs and golden-hued sand.

There is a surfeit of rewarding activities in Mossel Bay, including visits to the iconic Cape St. Blaize Lighthouse and the Bartolomeu Dias Museum Complex, which commemorates the first recorded landfall of European explorers in South Africa.

Related: 4 reasons why you should visit Cape Town


Less than an hour from Mossel Bay, the city of George sits at the foot of the Outeniqua Mountains. It’s the largest city along the Garden Route and is the regional gateway for an array of outdoor adventures.

Hiking trails are woven through mountains carpeted with thick forest, and waterfalls and swimming holes make for picturesque rest stops.


Knysna packs a visual punch thanks to its striking natural beauty, fresh seafood and iconic blue-green lagoon flanked by two towering sandstone cliffs known as the Knysna Heads. The top of the Heads is a haven for photographers and hikers, with beautiful panoramic views overlooking Knysna.

Downtown is a bustling, vibrant arts and cultural scene, where charming streets are lined with art galleries, craft shops and boutiques. The waterfront restaurants here serve delightfully fresh seafood, including oysters harvested right from the lagoon — don’t forget a chilled bottle of bubbles to go with them.

Plettenberg Bay

Plettenberg Bay, or “Plett” to the locals, is a beachgoer’s absolute paradise. Its golden, sandy beaches stretch endlessly in either direction, while the warm waters of the Indian Ocean churn out beautiful blue barrels for aspiring surfers, all framed by the green rolling Outeniqua Mountains.

Hikers can venture into the Robberg Nature Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with lovely coastal trails that extend along the Robberg Peninsula.

Storms River

Surrounded by the mysteriously beautiful Tsitsikamma National Park, Storms River is a small village steeped in natural beauty.

At the heart of the village is the eponymous river, which shimmers in brilliant shades of turquoise as it slices through ancient indigenous forest and dramatic, plunging gorges. Hiking abounds in Storms River as well, traversing dense forest and balancing atop coastal cliffs.

Baja California Sur

Balandra Beach on the Gulf of California near La Paz, Mexico, on Baja California Sur. BKAMPRATH/GETTY IMAGES

Duration: 10 days
Highlights: La Paz, Loreto, Bahia Concepcion and Todos Santos
Planning tip: I recommend Cactus Car Rentals in San Jose del Cabo for its transparent and fair pricing. The company offers all the insurance required by law in Mexico and has no surprise fees. If you plan to venture off the main road in Baja, you’ll need a high-clearance vehicle (and a lot more than 10 days).

Baja California is a beast of a destination — in the best way possible. It’s a very different kind of Mexico. These are desert people — the landscape is harsh, and there’s a lot that can go wrong. But Baja rewards travelers who have time on their hands and love a good adventure.

The peninsula sticks out like an appendage from Southern California, bordered by the crashing Pacific Ocean to the west and the tranquil, marine-rich waters of the Sea of Cortez to the east.

Tourist hubs like Los Cabos and Tijuana are what put Baja on the tourist trail, but in between are vast stretches of starkly beautiful nothingness, pocketed with sleepy fishing villages and isolated coastal communities.

To tackle the entire peninsula from top to bottom is quite the endeavor — and one that took me nearly a month to do. So, for practicality, let’s stick to Baja California Sur for an epic 10-day road trip.

La Paz

After leaving the tourist sprawl of Los Cabos, you’ll head north into the spiny, mountainous desert of southern Baja headed toward La Paz, the capital of the state of Baja California Sur.

La Paz’s location on the Sea of Cortez makes it one of the best gateways to explore this fantastically diverse part of the peninsula.

Powder-white beaches meet crystal-clear water, while rust-red rock islands like Espiritu Santo sit just offshore. A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, its waters teem with seals, whales, dolphins and turtles.

Related: Tijuana to Los Cabos: Exploring Mexico’s Baja California from top to bottom

Beyond its pristine natural beauty, La Paz has a buzzy cultural scene along its Malecon boardwalk, lined with historic hacienda-style homes that have been transformed into boutique hotels and restaurants.


Loreto is a destination that never ceases to surprise. Tucked away on the eastern coast of Baja, backed by the soaring Sierra de la Giganta mountains on one side and the Sea of Cortez on the other, Loreto flies under the tourist radar, which is part of its charm.

It’s the entrance point for Bahia de Loreto National Park, where a string of offshore islands provide an aquatic playground of vibrant coral reefs, misty inlets and a treasure trove of wildlife.

After a day of soaking up some sun or slipping seamlessly across the water via a paddleboard, head to the sandy streets of downtown, where seafood restaurants serve delectable fish tacos and frosty beers overlooking the sea.

Bahia Concepcion

Nothing can prepare you for the wild, untamed natural beauty of Bahia Concepcion. Unless you’re a die-hard Baja connoisseur, chances are you’ve never even heard of this massive bay within the Sea of Cortez, offering more than 50 miles of some of the most beautiful beaches in Mexico.

The calm, blue-green water contrasts with fingernail slivers of powdery white sand, crowned with a ring of rust-colored mountains. The bay is dotted with a string of enchanting coves, from the sugary shores of Playa Santispac to the coral reefs of Playa Candelero.

At the top of the bay is the oasis village of Mulege, known for its groves of fluffy palm trees that spring up along the river and its collection of shoreline campgrounds for recreational vehicles.

Related: These are the best times to visit Mexico

Guerrero Negro to Ensenada

You can continue north from Mulege to Guerrero Negro, which sits on the border of the states of Baja California Sur and Baja California.

Keep in mind that unless you have an endless amount of time to go off-roading to explore the surf towns and fishing villages, your next stop from Guerrero Negro will be Ensenada, which is an eight-hour drive through the desert.

It’s a spectacularly beautiful route but not for the faint of heart. If you’re short on time, I recommend turning around at Mulege and taking the Pacific route back down to Los Cabos.

Todos Santos

Beachy and laid-back, Todos Santos is having a moment these days as its vibe swings to boho-chic. It has long been a haven for artists, surfers and travelers seeking refuge from the buzzy, frenetic energy of Los Cabos.

Explore the town’s eclectic galleries showcasing the work of local painters, or wander through the markets brimming with artisanal goods.

A burgeoning boutique hotel and culinary scene have elevated the game in Todos Santos (try Oystera for crudo and cocktails), though that barefoot, sun-kissed, high-vibrational energy remains undeniable.

Ireland’s west coast

Harbor in Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland. P A THOMPSON/GETTY IMAGES

Duration: One week
Highlights: Cork, Dingle Peninsula, Galway, Doolin, Clifden and Sligo
Planning tip: Ireland is a tiny country, and this entire route can be driven in nine hours. Take it slow; this destination is saturated with natural beauty and alluring legends.

While the east coast of Ireland has Dublin, it’s the country’s west coast that shows off its natural beauty and history.

Peppered with colorful fishing villages, rippled with rolling green hills and bordered by dramatic cliffs that drop off into the nothingness of the Atlantic, there’s a reason this stretch of Ireland is known as the Wild Atlantic Way.

Related: 11 beautiful destinations to visit in Ireland beyond Dublin

Running from Cork to Donegal, this is a part of Ireland where shepherds still wander coastal hillsides, clouds of fluffy sheep in tow, and the lilt of traditional Irish music spills out into the chilly, salt-kissed air.


Rising from the banks of the River Lee, Cork opens the door for travelers to set off along the Wild Atlantic Way. The heart of Cork is the city center, with its meandering English Market, vibrant shopping and centuries of history tucked within the buttresses of the Gothic St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral.

Cork is one of the best places in Ireland to hear traditional Irish music at rustic taverns like the snug Sin E pub.

Dingle Peninsula

Ireland has three fingerlike peninsulas that stick out from its southwestern end. Dingle is the northernmost peninsula, with splintering cliffs, windswept beaches and lovely fairy-tale-style fishing villages that spring up between rolling hills.

The snaking highway is backed by a soundtrack of thunderous Atlantic surf as you course along the emerald-colored countryside. Stop for a pint in the seaside town of Dingle, or set off along the many hiking trails that weave up Mount Brandon — one of the highest peaks in the country.


If Dublin is the crown jewel of Ireland’s east coast, then Galway surely is the king of the west.

Rising over the River Corrib, Galway’s roots can be traced to the Middle Ages and earlier. The heart of Galway is flush with lively pubs, street buskers, colorful shops and cozy inns. Food is one of the biggest draws to this seaside city, particularly fresh seafood, briny oysters and rib-sticking stews.

Galway is the home base from which visitors can explore the iconic Cliffs of Moher. It’s also the gateway to the wild and unspoiled Connemara National Park.


Heading from Doolin toward County Mayo, make time for a stop in Doolin.

Some 20 years ago, this town was little more than a pub stop on the way out to the Aran Islands. Today, it’s considerably more touristy, but after a long drive, it’s no hardship to lean into the cliches with a visit to Gus O’Connor’s Pub for live music and a pint of Guinness.

If you have time, take a daytrip out to the Aran Islands just off the coast to wander historic ruins and steep yourself in the Gaeltacht, where Gaelic is still the primary language.


The drive through Connemara is nothing short of breathtaking. If you’re short on time, begin your road trip in Galway and savor the awe-inspiring coastal cliffs, hearth-warmed pubs and winding roads through mountain passes.

With its quaint streets, Georgian architecture and warm, welcoming pubs, Clifden is one of Connemara’s most picturesque and vibrant towns.

The town’s Sky Road scenic drive, which climbs up over mountainous heather-covered moors, leads to a sweeping panoramic lookout over the Atlantic Ocean.


There’s something hauntingly beautiful about Sligo, one of the most northwestern counties in Ireland.

Perhaps it’s the poetic history — William Butler Yeats drew much inspiration from here and is buried in Drumcliffe Cemetery. Or, maybe it’s the ancient legends surrounding prehistoric Carrowmore or the Knocknarea Cairn. Or, it could be the way the lights within the windows of the restaurants and pubs begin to glow and flicker off the Garavogue River as night falls. Whatever it is, Sligo is a foggy, mist-wrapped part of Ireland that few tourists tend to visit.

Depending on your time, from Sligo, you can continue the road trip up to Donegal to finish the Wild Atlantic Way or take the two-and-a-half-hour trip straight back to Dublin.

Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Loop

Boats in Ban Rak Thai, a village near Mae Hong Son, Thailand. SAKCHAI VONGSASIRIPAT/GETTY IMAGES

Duration: Five days
Highlights: Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son and Pai
Planning tip: Many backpackers travel by motorbike, but the sharp switchbacks are treacherous. If you are not extremely experienced on two wheels, rent a car for this trip. For those who don’t want to drive, the bus is also an option.

Tucked up into the northwestern corner of Thailand along the border of Myanmar is the misty, jungle-shrouded Mae Hong Son province.

Unlike the more developed provinces of Thailand, this remote section is carved up by slender mountain roads that slice up and down mountainsides with hundreds of switchbacks.

The forested highlands are peppered with secluded villages and carpeted with rice fields. The distinctive culture blends traditions from ethnic minorities and immigrants, including the Hmong, Karen, Shan and Burmese.

A rite of passage for travelers who venture to the northern part of Thailand is the Mae Hong Son Loop, a 300-mile route beginning and ending in Chiang Mai that winds its way through the province’s most beautiful scenery and its major towns and villages.

It’s a completely different style of travel compared to the southern parts of Thailand, with its own street food, fascinating temples and mesmerizing landscapes.

Mae Sariang

You can choose to traverse the loop in either direction. My first stop from Chaing Mai was Mae Sariang, a city on the banks of the Yuam River. Surrounded by lush hills and emerald-green rice fields, Mae Sariang stole my heart.

What this town lacks in major tourist attractions it makes up for it with a peaceful, laid-back lifestyle that will transport you back in time with riverside buildings made out of teak, an array of ornate temples and plenty of local restaurants where you can sample delicious northern Thai cooking.

Related: The 14 best hotels in Phuket, Thailand

Mae Hong Son

Busier than Mae Sariang but worlds away from the buzz of Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son is a lovely lakefront town very near the border with Myanmar.

Dotted with beautiful temples, the one to visit is Wat Phrathat Doi Kong Mu, located outside of town high on a hill. The Burmese-style temple complex is relatively new by Thailand’s standards, having been built in the 19th century.

Mae Hong Son is popular with backpackers doing the loop, as well as Thai tourists. A fantastic side trip from Mae Hong Son is up into the hills to visit Ban Rak Thai, a Yunnanese village that was founded by Chinese nationalists after the country became communist.

This bubble of Yunnan culture sits surrounded by the mountains of Thailand, so close to the border with Myanmar that you can practically touch it. Make time for a pot of local tea and a plate of spicy noodles.


Like the Phi Phi Islands or Phuket in the south, Pai is the backpacker hub of the far north. Pai is one of those destinations of backpacker lure that is talked about in hushed, reverent tones — like a mystical Garden of Eden hidden away among the mountains.

In reality, Pai is just a small mountain town that has become completely Westernized and overrun with young travelers. Still, there is something romantic about it, with its bright murals, guesthouses draped with jungle foliage and restaurant after restaurant serving blended juices and smoothies.

It’s just as easy to do yoga here as it is to barhop, and plenty of travelers take advantage of both. Pai is a place to see, but it is not a place to stay — at least, not for more than a night or two. Had I known this, I would have started the loop with Pai and ended with the low-key magic of Mae Sariang.

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