Don’t let memories of the Griswolds get in the way of enjoying one of the best ways to travel — road trips, when planned well, can offer more flexibility, freedom and bonding opportunities than organized tour groups for families. In many cases, there are even some companies that will plan your road itinerary for you so you don’t have to rely on your phone GPS or unexpected roadblocks — literally. (This is especially helpful overseas!)
Some of the most ideal locations include:
In Ireland and the United Kingdom, it’s worth checking out Brendan Vacations’ various self-driving holidays. Starting at $1,000, the packages include driving routes and daily breakfast, your rental car with drop off and pickup in different airport locations, detailed suggestions of what to do at leisure when you get to each city, and customizable accommodation levels including family-friendly hotels, B&Bs and even castles. It’s the best way to enjoy the scenery in a leisurely manner, since bus transport in Ireland especially is often via indirect routes.
Sure, Germany’s train system is one of the most efficient in Europe, but the multiple connections required to explore the Romantic Road doesn’t exactly make the journey desirable when lugging luggage and little ones. Rent a car to enjoy the best of historic cities like Würzburg, along with three medieval walled gems: Nordlingen, Dinkelsbühl, and Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Finish your journey with a trek to Neuschwanstein Castle (make sure to reserve advance tickets online) and the Alps.
Some of the country’s most iconic sites are along the great expanse from San Francisco to Seattle, so it’s worth spending at least 10 days of your hard-earned vacation time to kick back and recline that rental seat. Start in the Bay Area to check out the Golden Gate Bridge and Alamo Square’s Painted Ladies before heading to coastal Mendocino. (Parents traveling independently may want to make a detour to Sonoma/Napa wine country, however.) Redwood National Park beckons next on the Pacific Coast Highway, then head up to the foodie paradise of Portland, Oregon. Stop and smell the roses at the International Rose Test Garden before heading to Mount Rainier and then the Emerald City of Seattle, surrounded by mountains and forests both. (Pro tip: Return the rental car when driving in, you won’t need it in city center.)
The state of Utah’s website offers several preplanned itineraries that are also family-friendly in terms of meals and activities (think shorter hikes that are just as scenic). The Grand Circle Tour, for instance, is an 11-day, 1,500-mile adventure with six national parks, Monument Valley and giant lakes in the desert. If national parks are your thing and you’re looking for a spot to rest up before hitting the road, check out Trip Savvy’s guide to iconic national park drives within driving distance of Las Vegas: Zion (three hours); Bryce Canyon (4.5 hours); the Grand Canyon (4.5 hours); and more (Mesa Verde, Monument Valley).
New Zealand is ideal for natural splendor and opportunities to bond as a family. It’s fairly impossible to see it all without a rental car, but Fine Tours New Zealand organizes 3- and 4-star itineraries that include lodging, daily breakfast, a detailed tour pack with suggested times for arrivals and suggested activities, a rental car (with GPS), and train station and airport transfers.