The moment we receive that special piece of paper that says we can drive, the great wide world opens up to us.
There is more than 64,000,000 km of road on this planet, and its definition is almost as broad as an 8-lane interstate.
We assign the word ‘road’ equally to a 160 km per hour autobahn and barely disguised mud track in Sub-Saharan Africa, but when the driver hits those straights for the first time that frisson of excitement, anticipation, and exhilaration is much the same.
Mechanics, fuel, visas, and imagination permitting, you can go anywhere.
Here are 10 of our favorite vehicle adventures from across the world; a blend of assisted drives that you could attempt yourself or magnificent, madcap journeys that are truly unique.
1. American road trip – short
America is gigantic, weighing in at almost 10 million km squared. You could drive for a day and still be in Texas.
So if you’re planning a road trip here, you might initially consider a ‘miniature’ trek.
A drive through Boston and New England in the fall, or a Pacific passage from Los Angeles to San Francisco, is large enough to boast about but small enough to complete in a few days.
2. To Mongolia
A 10,000-mile mega-journey to the ancient Mongol city of Ulaanbaatar with no set route, the Mongolia Charity Rally is an epic sweep across Europe and deep into the heart of Asia.
Your team of three to four needs to pick up a vehicle (probably a van or 4×4, although ice cream vans have been used in the past) and a certain level of sponsorship – and then the rest is up to you, including the route.
The various teams of drivers plot their scattered course from Berlin to Belarus, and Kiev to Kazakhstan, through to the Gobi Desert.
At the conclusion, the vehicle will be dropped off for use for the people of Mongolia. The next rally begins on July 6.
OK, it doesn’t have that sense of awe and vast space that the U.S. confers, but Land’s End to John O’Groats is 14-and-a-half hours, according to Google Maps, so one could potentially fit the length of Britain into one day.
The beautiful south coast incorporating Devon and Cornwall, a semi-circle of the Welsh coast, the Outer Hebrides, Hadrian’s Wall, the academic grandeur of Oxford and Cambridge, or flying visits to some of our great cities such as London, Cardiff, and Edinburgh, are fantastic options.
Be careful with your driving; you might assume that all of our roads are spick and span, but there can sometimes be some nasty surprises – The World Economic Forum found that Britain’s roads were worse than those in Chile, Cyprus, and Croatia.
4. Australian road trip
Coast or roast? This giant Antipodean expanse is too perfect for drivers, who can either plan a spectacular coastal journey down the east, tying in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, or desert scorch through the outback and the unforgiving desolation of Northern Territory and Queensland.
It’s a favorite for backpackers and adventurers but make sure that you’ve catered for emergencies – getting stuck in 40 degrees Celsius temperatures with no petrol or water is a dangerous circumstance.
An episode of Outback Truckers might convince you of the merits of such an inhospitable drive – or put on the brakes forever.
If you don’t fancy a trek to Mongolia, why not plot your course across Europe in a rental car?
Surprisingly, according to Hostelworld.com, the cost of renting a car for three weeks in mainland Europe can be cheaper than a 22-week InterRail Global Pass.
Logical suggestions would include a tour of the Iberian Coast, a hop through rural France via the Channel Tunnel, or the Bulb Route and Tulip Festival in Holland.
There’s a freedom to driving that public transport doesn’t allow.
So if you want to spend three days in a Slovakian village or a Norwegian fishing community, it’s a possible destination and a tale or two to recount forever.
6. Camper van tour
Take out the hassle of planning accommodation by transporting your accommodation with you, wherever you choose.
There’s something kitsch and cool about hustling in a little VW, which is barely any bigger than a regular car, and as with the Euro trek of point five, the only limit is your level of adventure.
Different countries have different laws on where and whether you can park the vehicle, as this Wanderlust story collection explains.
7. American road-trip – long
This is the dream; getting in a car and driving for weeks or months.
For anyone who has never visited our trans-Atlantic cousins, the differences between states on opposite points of the compass – the vibe, the food, the accents, the variations in federal law – can be vast.
A good place for inspiration is Nomadic Matt, who is planning a large circular drive of several thousand miles of California, Louisiana, Illinois, and other states later this year.
The site’s creator has traveled extensively across the world and said of this summer’s U.S. venture:
“To me, travel is more than visiting some far-flung exotic destination. It’s about exploring the unknown.
It’s seeing new places and coming to a new understanding of how the world works together.
Sometimes that means flying across an ocean and exploring a new country.
Other times, it simply means getting in your car and driving off to explore your own country and learning to appreciate where you come from.”
8. Gumball 3000
The glamour 3,000-mile journey of the list in ultra-luxurious, futuristic, or iconic vehicles, this is a madcap drive that has changed its route every year since inaugurator Maximillion Cooper’s first drive back in 1999.
Some of the vehicles are specifically built for the challenge; in 2013 the InCENArator was designed for wrestler John Cena, installing a Corvette CR7 with flamethrowers and 24-inch limited edition rims.
Scoff if you like, but it raised £14,000 for the Gumball Foundation charity.
A superb array of sponsors, a worldwide entry list, and large donations for causes, this is as much of a spectator sport as a road trip. Apply for the 2015 version (#StockholmToVegas), held in the last week of May, here.
9. Scenic worldwide routes
Rough Guides has 40 ideas for road trips where the landscape is as much a part of the adventure as the vehicle and company.
Pick your perfect passage; The Powder Highway in Canada is ideal for lovers of snow; the Karakoram Highway from China to Pakistan will take in pieces of classic art dating back 3,000 years, and the Salar De Uyuni mirror world of Bolivia transports you to a moon-like world of wonder.
These are not impulsive drives; they’ll need the right vehicle, the right attitude, and the right camera.
10. Gunther Holtorf and Otto
The greatest in ‘off the beaten track’ – get in a car and drive for more than 20 years, across 179 countries, and a whopping 900,000 km.
Gunther even traded in his wife for a younger model shortly before the journey began in his fabulous, seemingly indestructible Mercedes G-Wagen.
Gunther and wife Christine have been held at gunpoint, crashed into by kangaroos, and nearly been swallowed whole by Zaire potholes.
Otto is now taking pride of place in the Mercedes museum in Stuttgart – only the logistics of driving on islands such as Tuvalu and the danger of entering nations such as Sudan stopped the clean sweep of 195 UN Member States.
That’s an unmatchable car adventure.
This story was written in collaboration with Jennings Motor Group.