Oh, how we LOVE the joys of the open road and, given that self-drive holidays are fast becoming one of our most popular holiday options, it seems you wholeheartedly agree. Why do we love them? Let us count the ways!

Firstly, they allow maximum flexibility, so if a view, a tantalising restaurant or the urge to take a swim in a nearby pool take your fancy, you can indulge you or your family’s every whim.

Secondly, cost. Without the need for a guide or driver (we can organise guides at key sites, if desired), exploring a country suddenly becomes a much cheaper option, so you can splurge your money on accommodation, food and attractions instead.

Thirdly, and for those Thelma and Louise’s or Jack Keroac’s amongst you, perhaps the ultimate escape from the humdrum of everyday life – total freedom. It’s just you, your family and the open road.

A qualifier if we may. The following aren’t necessarily Route 66-style famous. What they are, though, are the destinations where we feel it’s easy and safe to get around as a family, using modern, comfortable SUV’s (or similar), on well signposted, well-maintained roads.

Similarly, what we think makes a Stubborn Mule road trip different to a standard ‘self-drive’ holiday is that we’ve chosen boutique, characterful overnight accommodation, driven those routes with our own families so we know exactly what works in terms of pace (follow google map or similar suggestions at your peril!). And, when we provide you with VERY detailed trip notes, we’ll also suggest things to do and places to stop which may not be world-famous must-sees, but are perfect, perhaps quirky, places to break up a journey.

So, buckle up, put your foot on the gas and head out on the highway: here’s what WE think are the best family road trips in the world.

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1 – Oman

Family self-driving in Oman - photo by Mike Unwin

Take in some sensational views on an Omani road trip

For lovers of large landscapes, windswept deserts and the freedom of the open road, Oman is a self-drive dream. When our consultant, Caroline took her own family road trip there, she cited dropping the tyre pressure, putting her foot down and powering over the dunes one of her favourite life-time travel experiences, ‘I felt so free’, she said.

As lovers of large, upmarket, air-conditioned and very spacious 4 x 4’s (car parking spaces equally generous), the Omani’s take their vehicles very seriously, all the better to enjoy the (out of Muscat and other towns), really quiet, well-signposted roads, fabulous infrastructure and fabulous, truly wild landscape.

Drive to Bilad Sayt on an Omani family road trip

Visit oasis towns in the Al Hajar Mountains

A typical route is circular, driving from Muscat, to Nizwa in the mountains, across the desert, to the turtle reserve in Ras al Jinz, up the coast for some wild camping before dropping the car off to enjoy a beach resort back in the capital (route can be done in reverse, of course). According to Caroline, no-where is really off limits, although you might not want to replicate her white knuckle four-hour off-road trip through the mountains and on rocky tracks (stick to the Google Maps route!) Our only piece of advice is to avoid driving in Wadi’s when it’s raining or for the hours afterwards. When it does ever rain, these riverbeds fill up fast.

Oman with kids - four-wheel driving in Oman desert

Have fun driving through the dunes at Wahiba Sands

Take a look at our suggested places to visit, our sample itineraries or our Oman with Kids blog for further inspiration.

2 – Belize

Family Road Trips blog - photo of Caye Caulker in Belize

Head off in the car and explore Belize’s many attractions, including beaches, waterfalls and Mayan ruins

Aaaah, beautiful Belize. As one of the smallest countries in Central America, taking a family road trip means you can pack a lot in without having to drive any major distance. No ‘are we there, yet?’ rather, enjoying ancient ruins, fascinating wildlife, exploring lush rainforest and, what Belize is perhaps most famous for, enjoying world-class, family-friendly snorkelling in bath warm clear waters.

Guatemala family holiday - close up of Tikal Mayan pyramid on sunny day

Do a side trip to Tikal in Guatamala on our Belize Adventure Highlights itinerary

As well as it’s diminutive size, there’s not much traffic, roads are in good condition, routes are well signposted and even if you do get lost, English is the national language so you can ask anyone for directions. One of the great benefits of having your own vehicle, as well as being able to stop at the many attractions such as waterfalls and coffee and cocoa plantations as you travel from A-B, is that you’re not tied to hotel restaurants, which can be on the pricey side. Instead, head off and find your own local eatery.

Black Rock Lodge - Where to stay in Belize

Cayo District’s Black Rock Lodge is just two hours drive from Belize City and a great base for excursions to iconic Caracol and the ATM Caves

Take a look at our photo blog, our suggested places to visit or be inspired by our Belize Adventure Highlights sample itinerary.

3 – Costa Rica

Charlotte self-driving in Costa Rica

Stubborn Mule’s Charlotte Hamilton on her Costa Rica family road trip

Picture the scene: Stunning ocean views on one side, lush, tropical jungle on the other and ahead, quiet, well signposted roads. Driving in a white 4 x 4 vehicle (three children maximum), where you’re provided with a mobile phone with navigation apps like Waze and Map Me, exploring Costa Rica makes for a wonderful family road trip where the scenery and wildlife (sloth spotting never gets old), short travel distances and stunning beaches are all part of a day’s drive.

Arenal volcano and rainforest - Family road trip Costa Rica

The Arenal National Park, complete with volcano, is a favourite stop over on a Costa Rica road trip

There aren’t many roads in Costa Rica, either, basically two coastal roads on either the Caribbean coast or the Pacific (there is a mountain road but we don’t recommend it). The most popular route is on the Pacific coast, where, heading south from San Jose, you’ll visit Manuel Antonio National Park (famed for its abundant wildlife), Uvita for whale watching and the pristine rainforest in Corcovado National Park.

Pacific coast route in Costa Rica

Pacific coastal road at Uvita

If heading along the Caribbean coast, you can enjoy visiting beaches like Playa Cocles, do a guided snorkelling trip or go hiking in in Cahuita National Park and generally pootle about, visiting reggae bars for a cooling drink and stopping at roadside fruit stalls. You’ll have to leave your car for a few days on this route when visiting Tortuguera National Park, but it’s possible to take your car on the ferry to Isla Chiquita, a 90 minute trip across the Bay of Nicoya, a private glamping island where again, the focus isn’t on driving but soaking up the stunning scenery in a paradise setting.

Children playing on a stunning sandy beach - Costa Rica family holidays

Plan some time on one of Costa Rica’s stunning beaches on either the Caribbean or Pacific coast

Read our consultant Charlotte’s travel diary when she travelled there recently with her Dad to give you a better idea of what’s involved, check out our favourite places to visit or be inspired by our sample Costa Rica itineraries. It’s also worth looking at our Top 10 things to do with kids in Costa Rica

4 – Cuba

Vinales is stunning a perfect for family cycling holidays and family bike rides

Drive through the picturesque province of Vinales

Of all our favourite self-drive destinations, Cuba is the least developed when it comes to infrastructure. Yes, the cars are modern, yes, the highways are good but don’t be surprised by potholes, cows or hitch-hikers, even on the main highways. That being said, the freedom of having your own car, getting around under your own steam is a wonderful way to explore this fascinating, step-back-in-time Caribbean island.

Trinidad

Colonial Trinidad is a favorite place to visit on a Cuba road trip

Rather than going direct from A-B, taking a family road trip means you can meander, stopping by orchid gardens as you travel from Havana to Vinales, just a three-hour drive away. Distances are also comparatively small, so there’s no long travelling days, roads well signposted and we provide you will incredibly detailed trip notes and maps highlighting everything from where to go, what to visit, best restaurants and even the best meals to order.

Cuban beach with white sand and turquoise sea - Cuba with kids

Any family road trip in Cuba should include some time on one of its perfect beaches

A suggested circular route, following on from the tobacco plantations and limestone scenery of Vinales is Las Terrazas, Trinidad (extremely useful having your own car to explore surrounding mountains rather than having to hail a taxi), Santa Clara before ending the trip at a beach resort in Cayo Santa Maria or Varadero.

For photos and more travel ideas, check out Stubborn Mule consultant Helene Cooper’s Postcards from Cuba, as well as Places to visit, Cuba with kids or our main Cuba family holidays overview.

5 – Namibia

Namibia family road trips - 4by4 on gravel road

Set off with the family on the open road in Namibia (photo thanks to Barney Worfolk-Smith)

It might not have the best road surfaces, but what it lacks in tarmac (there are some well-surfaced roads, but they are few and far between) it more than makes up for in jaw-dropping scenery and endless desert horizons.

Kids sitting on car bonnet - Namibia family road trip

Adventurous families can choose a 4WD vehicle, complete with pop-up tent on top

Namibia is certainly for the more intrepid traveller, journey times can be long (up to 6 hours between lodges) but you may only see two cars all day as you head out into the wild. Given the distances, roads and landscapes, only the toughest 4 x 4 vehicles are used, ones that come with a roof tent so on the nights you aren’t spending in lodges, you can wild camp under the stars.

According to consultants, Charlotte and Helene, who drove 3,000 kilometres (we’re not suggesting the same) in Namibia recently, one of the best aspects of having your own vehicle is the ability to self-drive through Etosha National Park. Buy a map at the main visitors centre which will highlight all the best waterholes and decide on your route – if you see elephants at one, stop there; a zebra crossing the road, put the handbrake on and watch.

Elephants at Etosha waterhole

Helene and Charlotte spotting elephants in Etosha on family road trip

A typical route goes from here, through the rugged, remote mountain scenery of Damaraland, to the coastal adventure hotspot of Swapkopmund stopping for some sand boarding or kayaking amongst sea lions, before heading to the largest sand dunes in the worlds at Sossusvlei. The trip ends in Windhoek, although it is possible to travel much further south to Fish River Canyon (but only for the hardiest of families).

Unlike other countries we recommend, there’s not a lot to do in between A and B except for enjoying the wide-open spaces, so pack a picnic (fridges are in the back of the 4WD’s), and stock up at local supermarkets. At each lodge, it’s worth talking to the locals about road conditions, they are the ones who will advise on the best way to reach your next destination – up to the minute advice which no map or sat nav can provide.

Spotting lion on Namibian family road trip

Stubborn Mule’s Claire Gray says for the truly adventurous, consider a family road trip that takes in the Kalahari desert

Take a look at our sample itineraries for more information, our suggested places to visit and our Top 10 things to do in Namibia with Kids blog.

6 – Mexico

Merida, Yucatan

Visit colonial Merida on a tour of the Yucatan Peninsula

We’d be bonkers to suggest taking a family road trip around the whole of Mexico, it’s far, far too big for that. Nor would we recommend navigating the crazy streets of the sprawling Mexico City. Instead, self-driving around the Yucatan Peninsula is a journey packed with family friendly things to see and do, attractions which you can’t pre-book, such as the nature reserve of Punta Laguna famed for its spider and howler monkeys, all in a paradise-style setting.

Uxmal, Mexico

The Yucatan is home to some of Mexico’s most famous Mayan ruins – Uxmal, Chichen Itza and Tulum

In this area of Mexico, you’ll come across little other traffic, the roads are large and well signposted but do watch out for ‘topes’, Mexico’s answer to sleeping policemen which are so vicious they can scrape your car’s undercarriage. Exploring in a spacious, comfy SUV, there’s plenty of room for a family of five or six, plus bags. Where you go is up to you, but a suggested route is from Cancun, to Merida, Uxmail, before relaxing on the beaches of Riviera Maya.

Mexico beach with hammock

Every road trip in Mexico should include some time relaxing on the beach

If you want to go further south, over the border to Belize for world-class snorkelling, that too can be arranged. Want to know more? Have a look at our suggested places to visit, our suggested sample itineraries or the top 10 things to do in Mexico with kids blog.

7 – South Africa

Exploring the Cape Town area and the Garden Route by car means you can go at your own pace

Whichever route you choose to take on a family roadtrip in South Africa, whether it’s the Garden Route, into the interior and the Drakensburg Mountains or heading through the much less visited but increasingly popular Kwa Zulu Natal area, you’re guaranteed stunning scenery, well signposted, great roads which are only really busy inside and surrounding the large towns and cities.

Isandlwana and battlefields monuments

Good roads and spectacular scenery make Kwazulu Natal a great choice for family road trips

“I’ve never been lost in South Africa, despite not using Sat Nav” says our Africa specialist, Claire. The Garden Route is probably the easiest family road trip, packed with heaps of child-friendly activities from trekking, bike hire, penguins and whale watching (Hermanus has also just been awarded UNESCO city of gastronomy status, along with Durban and Cape Town) as you pootle along from Cape Town to Hermanus.

Giraffe and Zebra in Kruger National Park - South Africa with kids itinerary

Self-drive through Kruger National Park, where you can spot plains game, elephant as well as predators

Another reason why South Africa makes it such a great family road trip is that you can self-drive around Kruger National Park, which doesn’t just make for a much more flexible experience than an organised game drive but a much, much cheaper one, too. Most hire vehicles are Honda CRV’s or a Toyota Rav, you certainly don’t need anything more robust as you drive between your boutique or upmarket hotel accommodation, when you stop for petrol, the attendants do it for you (and wipe your windscreen, too), and (our favourite), rather than down-at-heel service stations serving fast food, there’s a plethora of truly outstanding farm shops, restaurants and vineyards which don’t just offer amazing, high quality food but offer views to die for.

Boy taking a photo of an elephant from car in Kruger National Park

Stubborn Mule’s Lee Douglas says her kids rate Kruger as one of the best experiences on a South African family road trip

Take a look at our suggested places to visit and don’t miss our Top 10 things to do with Kids in South Africa for inspiration.

8 – USA

Coastal road in California - Big Sure - best family road trips

One of the world’s most iconic road trips, Big Sur is a rugged stretch of Californian coast, bordered by the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Pacific Ocean

The quintessential self-drive destination, there’s a reason we’re working hard to bring you what we believe will be the best family road trips available. Forget the prospect of spending the night in a dismal motel and instead look forward to gorgeous glamping, wooden beach cabins, gorgeous B&B’s with dramatic views and boutique boltholes.

Swimming in Lake Tahoe with child jumping in, on a US family road trip

The crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe can be chilly but it’s the perfect place to take a break on a family road trip

In a country as vast as the US, it goes without saying that to enjoy the best family road trip, it pays to choose a location to explore; whether that’s the stunning coastal route from San Francisco to LA, via Monterey, Big Sur, heading inland to Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, before finishing in the city of palms…

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… or traversing the wild wilderness of Utah, going rafting, visiting Dinosaur Monument, being wowed by the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, learning about Navajo culture and seeing the spectacular scenery and wildlife of Yellowstone National Park.

Family road trip to the Grand Canyon, USA

Drive to Horseshoe Bend and wow the family with the incredible views of the Grand Canyon

Family road trips start here

If you’d like to know more about our suggested family road trips, we’d love to hear from you. Even if this a dream for the future, we’d be delighted to help you to start planning.  Simply call us on 01728 752751 or use our contact form to get in touch.

Liddy Pleasants, MD Stubborn Mule Travel