Oh, how we love the joys of the open road! Given that family road trips are fast becoming one of our most popular holiday types, it seems you wholeheartedly agree. Why do we love them? Let us count the ways…

Firstly, a family road trip allows for maximum flexibility. If a stunning view, a tantalising restaurant or simply the urge to take a dip take your fancy, you can indulge your family’s every whim. Think less ‘Are we there yet?’ and more instant gratification and spontaneity!

Jumping into pool at Wadi Bani Khalid - holidaying in Oman with kids

Cool off in crystal clear water at a wadi or sinkhole on a family road trip in Oman

Secondly, cost. Without the need for a guide or driver (although we can easily arrange guiding at key sites for you), exploring a country becomes a much cheaper option. This frees up your budget to splurge on accommodation, food, activities and attractions instead!

Thirdly, and this is for the Thelma and Louises or Jack Keruoacs amongst you. Family road trips often prove to be the ultimate escape from the humdrum of everyday life. What could be better than just you, your family and the total freedom of the open road?

A qualifier, if we may. The following suggestions aren’t necessarily what you’d think of as iconic Route 66-style trips. These are favourite destinations that we, at Stubborn Mule, know are perfect for self-driving families. They are safe and easy to get around in the modern, comfortable family vehicles (SUVs or similar) that we will provide. They follow tried-and-tested routes and will use clearly-signposted and well-maintained roads.

Lost Iguana Resort in Costa Rica is a boutique hotel that is an ideal place to stay on family road trips

Kick back at a characterful boutique hotel after a day exploring – many have pools and fabulous views

We’ve taken every care to include boutique-style accommodation choices that exude character. These are overnight stops that we have enjoyed with our own families and can recommend first-hand. We’ve driven these routes with the kids too and we know exactly what does and doesn’t work in terms of pace, manageable distances and navigation systems. Let’s face it, we’ve all been that arguing family on the side of the road at some time or another! It’s our job to ensure that you avoid these pitfalls.

This level of expertise means we can provide you with detailed (and accurate!) trip notes, to ensure your holiday is just that – a holiday. We’ll also suggest en route stops and places of interest that you won’t find in the guidebooks, alongside the ‘must-see’ attractions. It’s these quirky hidden gems we’ve visited with our own families that will boost your experience to something magical and extraordinary!

Now it’s time to buckle up, step on the gas and let loose on the highway! Here’s a Stubborn Mule rundown of what we know to be the best family road trips in the world.

Three children in vehicle ready to set off on a family road trip in Oman

Buckle up and let loose…

Quick links

1 – Oman

Family self-driving in Oman - photo by Mike Unwin

Take in some sensational views on an Omani road trip

For those that enjoy large landscapes, windswept deserts and the freedom of the open road, Oman is dream family road trip destination. When our travel consultant Caroline took her own road trip through Oman, she told the team that getting behind the wheel, dropping the tyre pressure, putting her foot down and powering her vehicle over the desert dunes proved to be one of her favourite memories of a lifetime – ‘I felt so unbelievably free!’ she said.

As lovers of high-end, spacious and air-conditioned 4×4 vehicles (thankfully parking spaces are just as generous), the Omanis take their transport very seriously indeed. When hiring these plush wheels, Stubborn Mule travellers truly get the very best out of their itineraries – cruising the country’s quiet and well-signposted highways with ease, enjoying the wild and beautiful landscape as they go. Even the city of Muscat and the larger towns are a breeze to navigate.

Drive to Bilad Sayt on an Omani family road trip

Visit oasis towns in the Al Hajar Mountains

Our suggested route is an easy circular one. Starting in Muscat, the capital, you will head first to Nizwa. Here you can explore the mountains, wander through an oasis and explore ancient forts. Then head deep into the desert (cue dune-bashing and starlit desert nights) before visiting the famous Turtle Reserve in Ras al Jinz. Spend a night wild camping on the beach before heading back to Muscat to drop off your vehicle and to relax at your beach resort. The itinerary can easily be done in reverse too and no location is off-limits – although we suggest you don’t replicate Caroline’s white-knuckled, 4-hour off-road deviation through rocky mountain tracks! Keep an eye on that navigation system…

Oman is waiting for you to explore – our only advice is avoid the ‘wadis’ (dried up riverbeds) after heavy rain – they 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 to explore Belize’s picture-perfect beaches, waterfalls and Mayan ruins

Aaaah, beautiful Belize. As one of the smallest countries in Central America, taking a family road trip here means you can pack a lot in without having to drive any major distance. There’ll be less ‘are we there, yet?’ and more time to wander around ancient ruins, search for wildlife and explore lush rainforest. And to top it off, you’ll have plenty of time to experience what Belize is perhaps most famous for, its world-class, family-friendly snorkelling.

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

Add in a trip to Tikal in Guatemala on our Belize and Guatemala Highlights

As well as its diminutive size, there’s not much traffic and 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. Further, with your own vehicle you will be able to stop at the many attractions such as waterfalls and coffee and cocoa plantations as you travel from A-B. And a final consideration…..you won’t be tied to hotel restaurants, which can be on the pricey side. Instead, head off and find your own local eatery.

Family summer holidays in Belize - horse riding at Black Rock Lodge

Just two hours drive from Belize City, Cayo District’s Black Rock Lodge is a great base for outdoor activities and excursions to iconic Caracol and the ATM Cave

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. Ahead of you a quiet, well signposted road. You’ll be provided with a mobile phone with navigation apps like Waze and Map Me, so driving around Costa Rica on a family road trip is a breeze. Less time looking at the map, more time to enjoy the scenery and wildlife (sloth spotting never gets old). Furthermore, the travel distances are relatively short and with both a Pacific and Caribbean coastline, a quick stop on a stunning beach is 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 that many large roads in Costa Rica which makes things easy. Basically there’s a main road along both the Caribbean coast, another along the Pacific coast and just a couple of main roads between the two. One of our most popular family road trip routes takes in the Pacific coast. 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 of Corcovado National Park. Also on this trip it’s possible to take a ferry to Isla Chiquita, a 90 minute trip across the Bay of Nicoya to a private glamping island. Bliss.

Pacific coast route in Costa Rica

Pacific coastal road near Uvita

Over on the Caribbean coast, you can enjoy visiting beaches like Playa Cocles, do a guided snorkelling trip off the coast or go hiking in Cahuita National Park. The kids will enjoy generally pootling 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 Tortuguero National Park but the family will enjoy the break, and the ‘exclusively-by-boat’ transport.

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 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 family road trip 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 and getting around under your own steam makes for 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 to B, taking a family road trip means you can meander. Don’t take the direct route but head off the beaten track. Distances are comparatively small, so there’s no long travelling days and roads are well signposted. Most importantly we will provide you with comprehensive trip notes and maps highlighting everything from where to go, what to visit, the 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 starts in Havana then heads west to the tobacco plantations and limestone scenery of Vinales. From here continue on to Las Terrazas, popular Trinidad (where it’s extremely useful having your own car to explore the surrounding mountains) and 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 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 (photo thanks to Barney Worfolk-Smith)

Namibia is certainly for the more intrepid traveller and perhaps families with older children. 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. Often these come with a roof tent so you can wild camp under the stars when you’re not staying in lodges.

According to consultants Charlotte and Helene, who drove 3,000 kilometres around 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 a road trip

A typical route goes from Windhoek to Etosha National Park and then continues through the rugged, remote mountain scenery of Damaraland. From here drive on to the coastal adventure hotspot of Swapkopmund stopping for some sand boarding or kayaking amongst sea lions. Further south again you find 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 if you have the time.

Unlike in other ‘family road trip countries’, in Namibia 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), 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 with 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 driving around the crazy streets of sprawling Mexico City. Instead, a self-drive trip around the Yucatan Peninsula is a journey packed with family friendly things to see and do. Top of our list are the the nature reserve of Punta Laguna (famed for its spider and howler monkeys) and a little-known underground snorkelling experience through a cave complex near Tulum.

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, as soon as you leave the coast behind 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. These 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, plus bags. Where you go is up to you, but a suggested route would start in Cancun. From here, drive to colonial Valladolid, a great base for visiting the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. After this perhaps visit lively Merida and spend a few days on a traditional sisal plantation hacienda before heading to the  idyllic beaches of Riviera Maya for some R and R.

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, this can be arranged as on our Mexico and Belize Itinerary. 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

There are lots of choices for a family road trip through South Africa. Understandably popular is the coastal Garden Route from Cape Town up to Port Elizabeth with more vineyards, beaches and wildlife than you can shake a stick at. But you can also head away from the cost into the interior around the spectacular Drakensburg Mountains or head through the much less visited but increasingly popular Kwa Zulu Natal area. Whichever route you choose, you’re guaranteed stunning scenery and well-signposted, great roads with very little traffic once you leave the city behind.

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 resident Africa aficionado, 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. And for foodies, Hermanus has just been awarded UNESCO city of gastronomy status, (along with Durban and Cape Town) so is now a firm ‘must-include’ along this route.

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 is such a great destination for a family road trip is that you can self-drive around Kruger National Park. This doesn’t just make for a much more flexible experience than an organised game drive but a much, much cheaper one, too.

And finally, a couple of enjoyable practicalities. In South Africa, when you stop for petrol, the attendants do it for you (and wipe your windscreen, too). Lazy, yes. Enjoyable, absolutely. And even better, rather than down-at-heel service stations serving forgettable 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

Road to Monument Valley - best family road trips in the USA

On the road to Monument Valley, located on the Arizona/Utah border and within the territory of the Navajo Nation Reservation

The quintessential family road trip destination, there’s a reason we’re working hard to put the finishing touches to our US itineraries. We are confident that these 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, charming B&Bs 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 a 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 particular area to explore. It might be the stunning coastal route from San Francisco to LA. On a road trip here you can take in Monterey and Big Sur before heading inland to Yosemite and Lake Tahoe, before finishing in Los Angeles…

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

Or for big wildlife and bigger scenery, perhaps head inland. Start with the bright lights of Las Vegas then drive to the dramatic Grand Canyon and some of Utah’s most spectacular parks. Spend a few days rafting on a remote stretch of river (kids aged 7+) and then finish up in Yellowstone, home to bison, wolves, bears and spouting geysers.

Family road trip to the Grand Canyon, USA

Park near Horseshoe Bend and wow the family with the incredible views of the Grand Canyon

We’re still putting the finishing touches to our USA family road trip itineraries but contact us to find out more and get a sneak preview.

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