When you’re planning a once in a lifetime road trip, there’s really only one destination to choose: the USA. There is something magical and mysterious about routes across America and the great American road journey.
But with so many routes and roads to choose from, just how do you go about picking one?
And why go East to West, when you can drive North to South?
You could follow the legendary Route 66, colloquially known as the Main Street of America, which runs from Chicago, Illinois through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona before reaching its end in the ‘City of Angels’, Los Angeles.
The old Route 66 was nearly 3,000 miles long and made for an incredible drive – it features Cahokia – America’s lost city and rich pre-European history. But the sad fact is that it’s mostly been swallowed up by bland multi-lane interstates and freeways.
The old adage that you should ‘go west, young man’ has had its day. These days, if you really want to see the US, it’s a vertical route you want rather than a horizontal one.
Travelling north to south is the way to go. Head south from one of the northern states and you’ll pass through bands of varying landscape that traverse this vast country. There is the colder, arboreal mountains and badlands of the north, the great plains of the centre and the mighty southern deserts – it’s sometimes hard to believe that one country could be home to such a diversity of landscape and climate.
Your best bet is to pick one of the old national highways. These are the roads preceded by the letters ‘US’. And for the obsessive-compulsives among you, it would seem to make sense to start with US1. Stretching out southwards for about 2,500 miles, this is definitely one of the classic American road trips.
It starts up near the Canadian border in Maine and runs all the way down to Key West in Florida, taking in twelve of the original thirteen colonies. If you want to give your journey a historical edge, then US1 is the way to go.
US83 is one of the great forgotten roads of America. Crossing through vast open spaces, sparsely populated and little changed since Columbus discovered the continent over 500 years ago. The road runs like an arrow from North Dakota in the northern extreme, right down through South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and into the US’s colourful southern neighbour Mexico.
If it’s a pacific adventure you’re after, the US101 is the legendary West Coast highway that runs from Seattle in the northeast down to Los Angeles. Stop off in the hip and happening Portland, Oregon or spend a few days sampling the wines of the Southern Californian valleys.
Of course, there is nothing to say that you have to stick to the roads. If you’re travelling in your own vehicle, why not take it off road? After all, this is the US, the home of the original Great Outdoors.
If you are heading off road, you need to know what you’re doing and that your vehicle can handle it too. An off-road legend like a Jeep Wrangler shouldn’t have too many problems, whatever the terrain. But it’s always worth giving the vehicle a once over before you leave the tarmac.
Having your Wrangler equipped to handle the terrain is important for your own you’re your vehicles safety. Check out after-market parts suppliers like Extreme Terrain before you take on the trail and you won’t have any nasty surprises when you’re miles from any kind of civilisation.
If you are in the mood for an adventure, then why stop at the US border? Why not carry on down Mexico way? It’s a great country to drive through.
The deserts of the north soon turn into the plains of the interior and tropical jungles of the south. Mexico is also the gateway to Central and South America and seeing as you’ve come this far, it seems a shame not to carry on. Push on down through Panama and into Colombia.
Now we’re talking Andes and Amazon, some of the most extreme landscapes on the planet and the home of some serious driving adventures. Keep pushing south into Chile and Argentina and you might even reach the incredible Patagonia, where you can find some of the best driving experiences on earth.
Now that would be a real road trip. So, what are you still doing reading this, shouldn’t you be planning your adventure?