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It Makes Sense to Plan Your Dream Road Trips Now, as Bargains Will Come

Don’t know where to go? We’ve got a few suggestions.

You don't have to be a marketing genius to know that once these stay-at-home restrictions are lifted, there will be some killer deals in the travel and hospitality industry. For those of us who love cars, this could be the opportunity to take the road trip we've always dreamed of. Maybe you can't leave home right now, but you can certainly plan so that when the opportunity arises, you'll be ready to go. Eager for a road trip but don't know where to go? Here are a few ideas to help you burn off that accrued vacation time.

Visit the Parks of Southern Utah

There is no better road trip or vacation bargain than the U.S. Park Pass. For $80, a car-load of passengers gets a year's access to every one of our national parks, and a road trip through Southern Utah's "Mighty Five"—Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches—arguably gives you the most visual bang for the buck.

We've been lucky enough to see the country's most scenic spots, and few can top the sensory wallop you'll find in Utah. Here you'll see nature at her biggest and most awe-inspiring—not only in the parks but on the roads between them, and it's a trip that can only be done by car. We'd call it the trip of a lifetime, but most of us who have been to Utah once have gone back again and again—and will continue to do so.

Drive on the Wrong Side of the Road

One of the ultimate automotive road-trip experiences is driving on the left, which is trickier than you might imagine (and for different reasons than you might think). Once you get the hang of it, though, it can be huge fun.

Where to go? We say Australia, New Zealand, or the United Kingdom, where you won't have the handicap of an unfamiliar language (or alphabet). Big cities can be a bit intense, though London traffic makes it easy to remember which side of the road to drive on. We also highly recommend the North Coast 500 in Scotland, the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland, the Great Ocean Road in Australia, and New Zealand's Southern Scenic Route.

Visit Japan's Classic Drifting Roads

Drifting was born in Japan's mountains, and an exploration of these incredible roads is a dream trip for those who love to drive. There are several good mountain roads sprinkled about Japan; if we had time, we'd rent something bizarre and criss-cross this fascinating country to see them all. For a single destination, we've always liked Mount Rokko, near Osaka, because there's a lot to do and see in the area. Be warned: Drifting is still a thing, and in the evening the oversteering maniacs take over. You really don't want to be in their way when that happens.

Drive the Nürburgring!

What car enthusiast hasn't dreamed of driving the track that Jackie Stewart called "the Green Hell?" Countless superlatives have been written about the Nürburgring, but perhaps the coolest thing about it is that for a modest fee you can still get out there and try all 13-plus miles of the Nordschleife for yourself. Grab a cheap flight to the beautiful city of Cologne, Germany, and then it's an hour-or-so car ride to the world's greatest track.

Technically, any road-legal car can drive the 'Ring—on public days it's essentially classified as just another toll road—but your rental-car company might look unkindly upon those who inadvertently make contact with the barrier. You can rent cars specifically for circling the track; the rates are higher but there's less financial headache if it all goes wrong. And even if it does, think of the cool factor: "Hey guys, I was on vacation and crashed my car … on the Nürburgring!" Road trip? More like, "What a trip."

Drive the Targa Florio!

Driving in Europe is its own special pleasure, and it's hard to know where to begin—so why not retrace one of history's most epic road races? The Targa Florio ran from 1906 until 1977 on routes that ranged from 45 to a staggering 670 miles (the latter essentially the perimeter of Sicily), with elevation changes from sea level to nearly 2,000 feet above. The race was canceled after a crash in 1977 killed two spectators, though in the grand scheme of things within context of the time, the Targa was fairly safe; "only" nine people died in the race's 71-year-history.

Even so, the combination of sharp turns, steep cliffs, and a lack of guardrails led Austrian race driver Helmut Marko (who finished in second in 1972 with a best lap that averaged just less than 80 mph) to describe it as "totally insane". (Yes, that's the same Helmut Marko who today is the, er, gruff boss of Red Bull Racing's Formula 1 driver-development program.)

To get some idea of the insanity, check out this Petrolicious video. (The bigger story is here.) Research the routes and find the one that best suits your own timeline—after all, you're in Italy, so it's going to be a spectacular drive no matter what.

Pacific Coast in a Convertible

Yes, we know it's a cliché, but clichés become clichés for good reason. The Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles to San Francisco is an epic drive, and to do it right you'll want to either bring a convertible or rent one.

The good scenery starts north of Santa Barbara, but for driving enthusiasts we recommend a couple of days in Los Angeles so you can explore the magnificent canyon roads in Malibu, which offer twists and turns that rival Europe's best. It's possible to do the full drive from L.A. to San Francisco in a day or two, but rushing on PCH can be frustrating—it's only a matter of time before you get stuck behind a slow-moving RV. Book some cheap hotels, take your time, and enjoy one of America's best-known drives.

Orbit Iceland

From a visual perspective, Iceland is like no other place on the planet—a country of lonely desolation and natural beauty, and it just happens to have a fully paved 820-mile ring road connecting the inhabited areas. Though it's technically possible to complete a circuit in 24 hours without breaking the 90-kph speed limit, you'll want at least a week to explore, as you'll probably stop every few seconds for pictures. Hotels and fuels are plentiful enough, but wintry weather and the occasional lava flow can close bits of the road.

Getting to Iceland is easy: National carrier Icelandair flies to Keflavik from 18 cities in the U.S., five in Canada, and a dozen or so in Europe. There are companies that will arrange everything for you (Google "Iceland ring road tour") or you can rent a car and set out on your own.

Drive Across America

Driving from sea to shining sea is a must-do American road trip, a rite of passage, and something every car enthusiast should do at least once.

It's possible to make a mad dash across the Interstates in less than three days, and there's something to be said for going Cannonball style just to say you did it, but we recommend a back-road jaunt that will let you taste the flavor of as many states as possible. It'll make you understand, if you don't already, why many visitors to the U.S. think of the states as mini-countries.

A trip like this offers numerous possibilities, and we think the best way is to take two weeks and go outbound through the northern states and come back through the south (or vice-versa). Last time we did it, we didn't even bother making hotel reservations—we found plenty of beautiful independent roadside motels offering great deals.

Buy the Car of Your Dreams and Go Get It

Economic downturn has a way of softening up the old-car market, and once the country gets back to normal, there will be people eager to unload those extra project cars. If you've got cash in the bank, this may be your opportunity—and if you feel bad for taking advantage, consider that what a lot of sellers want is a good home for their beloved rides. If you can provide that, you're helping them out.

How to do it? Rent a trailer or just fly out, buy some basic tools, and bring the old girl back yourself and make it an epic road trip of its own. No need to punish your new acquisition with a high-speed freeway run; take the back roads, enjoy the scenery, and bond with your new baby.

In the Meantime … A Drive You Can Do Now

If you're not under strict stay-at-home orders, a day trip can do wonders for cabin fever. Pick a random destination, set Google Maps to avoid freeways, and see what's what. We recently did something like that here in Los Angeles and saw bits of our hometown we didn't even realize existed.

Road Trip Tips:

  • Carry a road atlas or, at the very least, download maps from Google before you go. You never know when you'll be out of cell range.
  • Don't plan for too much time on the road. Allow for spontaneous stops and side-trips.
  • Consider using independent motels rather than chains. (You can ask to see a room before you commit. )
  • Gas up when you get down to half of a tank.
  • Carry water and snacks in case there are no good restaurant options.
  • Let someone at home know where you'll be and check in daily.
  • Consider renting a car to save the wear-and-tear on your own wheels.
  • If you do use your own car, have it serviced ahead of time. Also, check for a jack, and air in the spare tire, before you depart on any road trip.