When Steppenwolf penned the lyrics for ‘Born to be Wild’, they probably weren’t referring to a Stubborn Mule self-drive family road trip.

But they could have been.

As a cheaper and more flexible alternative to a fully guide-driven family holiday, and with so many destinations being easy to get around independently (thanks, SatNav!), it’s not surprising that more of you ‘Head out on the highway, lookin ’for adventure, and whatever comes your way’.

We’ve test-driven all of the following destinations – and checked out what there is to do and where there is to stay en route.

Now it’s time to buckle up, step on the gas and, borrowing Steppenwolf’s words once again, ‘make it happen and take the world in a love embrace!’ (Just don’t forget your driving licence).

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. Canada

Spot bears in Banff National Park on Canada family holidays

Spot bears in world-famous Banff National Park

In a word: scenery. Canada is just made for self-drive where the roads are straight, quiet, extremely well maintained, and signposted (in English and French). Journey times are family-friendly, too with not too long distances between places you’ll want to stop at (particularly in Ontario where it’s only an hour and a half from Toronto to Niagara Falls). There are too many must-sees on our self-drive family road trips to name-check here but the drive down the Icefields Parkway in BC is jaw-droppingly beautiful with glaciers on either side and will always be a highlight.

What you’ll see there
Take a look at our suggested places to visit.

Mountains and lakes with blue sky, to represent Canada family holidays, Canada itineraries and places to visit in Canada

A family road trip is an ideal way to explore Canada’s draw-droppingly gorgeous lakes and mountains

Tips and Advice
Be prepared to stop for moose or bears to cross the road – it’s highly likely to occur. Signposts are both in French and English. Snow doesn’t hamper winter driving as they’re frequently snow-ploughed whilst car parks have underfloor heating!

How to get there
We can create any bespoke itinerary but here are two sample itineraries for inspiration: Western Canada and Lakes, Falls and Cities of Ontario

2. Costa Rica

Charlotte self-driving in Costa Rica

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

You’ll either have stunning ocean views on one side and lush tropical jungle on the other or vice-versa depending on the direction of travel. Navigating family road trips is incredibly easy and roads are quiet, well-maintained and signposted. There aren’t many large roads in Costa Rica, one along the Caribbean, another along the Pacific, and just a couple of main roads between the two.

What you’ll see there
Take a look at our suggested places to visit and our Top 10 Costa Rica with Kids blog.

Arenal volcano and rainforest - Family road trip Costa Rica

La Fortuna, with its famous volcano backdrop, is a favourite stopover on a Costa Rica family road trip

Tips and Advice
You’ll have to leave your car for a few days when visiting Tortuguero National Park, swapping it for boat travel instead.

How to get there
We have two sample Costa Rica itineraries depending on when you travel. Take a look at our Costa Rica Summer Tour or our Costa Rica Easter & Christmas, and Stubborn Mule consultant Charlotte Hamilton’s diary of her self-drive trip with her dad.

3. Croatia

View of Split with blue sky on family road trip in Croatia

Visit Split on your family road trip, one of the most beautiful cities in Croatia, with a perfect combination of sea, mountains, and Roman architecture

Given that there are over 2,000 kilometres of coastline in Croatia, it will come as no surprise that driving here is mainly along flat, single-carriage coastal roads. What better for a self-drive family road trip? Whilst longer journeys between cities, say between Dubrovnik and Split, are on larger, dual carriageways with the occasional toll, that’s about it. One of the best things about self-drive here is that you can visit – and get around – the islands, such as Brac or Hvar, taking the car ferries which run between them and the mainland.

What you’ll see there
Take a look at our Top 10 Croatia with Kids blog and Croatia in Photos, with images from our travellers.

Car ferry travelling between islands in Croatia - blue sky and sea

Car ferries link up many of the picturesque islands along Croatia’s spectacular 2,000 km coastline

Tips and Advice
Parking in Dubrovnik and Split is notoriously difficult. We will suggest a place to park when visiting (just don’t tell any other tourists).

How to get there
We have three sample itineraries to inspire your trip. Our Highlights of Croatia (2 weeks) Croatia Short Break (7 days) or our 15-day Slovenia and Croatia combination trip.

4. Cuba

Family road trip - family in a hired classic car in Havana

Explore Havana in a classic open top before transferring to a modern car for an island road trip

Of all our favourite self-drive 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 hitchhikers, even on the main highways. Distances here are comparatively small, so there are no long journeys.

What you’ll see there
Take a look at our suggested places to visit and our Top 10 Cuba with Kids blog. You might also like our Postcards from Cuba day-to-day photoblog.

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

Take your time as you explore the picturesque province of Vinales, passing horse-drawn carts as you go

Tips and Advice
Most petrol stations in Cuba don’t have any drinks or snacks available for purchase. Make sure you stock up on these before you leave town as there are few places to buy en route.

How to get there
We have two sample itineraries that can be self-drive. Our 10-day Highlights of Cuba trip or our Cuba in 2 weeks family adventure.

5. Iceland

Driving in Iceland

A self-drive trip offers you the flexibility to explore the southern coast or take an epic road trip around the entire island

Iceland is arguably the easiest of all of our destinations for a self-drive family road trip. Why? Because unless you are an experienced off-road driver, or driving in the capital, Reykjavik, the only road is effectively a single-carriage ring road around the island. You literally can’t get lost! What’s more, the terrain is mostly flat where the road has been literally carved through solid lava. Drive here in summer and you’ll be greeted by a carpet of lupins!

What you’ll see there
Check out our suggested places to visit in Iceland.

Hiking in Iceland on road trip

Holidays in Iceland are all about being active in this spectacular natural environment

Tips and Advice
Winter driving can be a little more challenging, so we recommend shorter journeys to allow for the much shorter days.

How to get there
We have two sample itineraries depending on when you want to travel here. Take a look at our 2-week Iceland in Summer family adventure or our 8-day Iceland in Winter trip.

6. Mexico

Stubborn Mule Travel consultants on a Mexico road trip

Stubborn Mule consultants, Caroline and Lee, take a break at Akumal on their Mexico road trip recce

We’d be bonkers to suggest self-drive family road trips through the whole of Mexico, or, indeed contemplating driving in Mexico City. In the Yucatan Peninsula, however, you’ll enjoy gorgeous scenery and, once you are away from the coast, wonderfully quiet roads.

What you’ll see there
Take a look at our suggested places to visit and our Top 10 Mexico with Kids blog.

Child jumping in Bacalar Lagoon, Mexico with kids holiday

Our Mexico trips explore Mayan ruins, gorgeous beaches, picturesque cenotes, enticing haciendas, and jungle

Tips and Advice
Watch out for ‘topes’, Mexico’s answer to sleeping policemen. These are so vicious they can scrape your car’s undercarriage. Avoid travelling in October due to hurricane season. See our When to travel to Mexico guide for more information.

How to get there
Take a look at our Best of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula sample itinerary.

7. Namibia

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)

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. Namibia is certainly for the more intrepid traveller; journey times can be long (generally 5+ hours on driving days) 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. One of the best things about self-drive family road trips in Namibia is being able to drive through Etosha National Park (pick up a map at the main visitor’s centre).

What you’ll see there
Check out our suggested places to visit and take a look at our Top 10 Namibia with Kids blog.

Namibia with kids self-drive itinerary - family with car beside Tropic of Capricorn sign

Cross the Tropic of Capricorn as you travel between the dunes of Sossusvlei and Walvis Bay

Tips and Advice
Namibia is best visited between March and October. Unlike in other family road trip countries, in Namibia there’s not a lot to do between A and B except for enjoying the wide-open spaces. 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.

How to get there
We have two sample itineraries to choose from. Highlights of Namibia (2 weeks) and Highlights of Namibia (3 weeks)

8. New Zealand

Road trip in New Zealand - South Island view

Take the scenic road along Lake Wakatipu on New Zealand’s South Island… simply gorgeous

Lord-of-the-Rings staggering scenery is New Zealand’s biggest draw, and for good reason. New Zealand is also one of the only places in our self-drive family road trips portfolio where we recommend getting from A to B in a campervan. The roads are USA / Canada style brilliant although can be hilly, narrow, and winding in places and, like here in the UK, you drive on the left-hand side. Be prepared for frequent stopping to take photos en route! You can take the ferry to South Island, but most families prefer to fly and pick up a new vehicle on arrival.

What you’ll see there
Take a look at our suggested places to visit and our New Zealand Photo Blog

Camper van beside lake, South Island, New Zealand, road trip

What could beat a nightcap with views across Lake Pukaki to Mount Cook…

Tips and Advice: Traffic jams come in the ‘herds of sheep’ variety.

How to get there
We have two sample itineraries to help inspire you: 15 days Highlights of New Zealand and 22 days New Zealand Grand Tour

9. Oman

Oman with kids - four-wheel driving in Oman desert

Have fun driving through the dunes at Wahiba Sands

For those that enjoy large landscapes, windswept deserts, and the freedom of the open road, Oman is the dream family road trip destination. Omanis love their high-end, spacious 4 X 4 air-conditioned vehicles for exploring the mountains and deserts and there’s nothing more exhilarating than letting down the tyre pressure and hitting the dunes! Roads here are quiet, highways well sign-posted and even the capital of Muscat is easy to navigate on our self-drive family road trip. Car parking spaces are very generous, too.

What you’ll see there
Check out our suggested places to visit and our Top 10 Oman with Kids blog.

Oman with kids holiday - teenager on the Balcony Walk

Stop off in the Hajar Mountains for some sensational views on an Omani family road trip

Tips and Advice
Avoid the wadis (dried-up riverbeds) after heavy rain – they fill up fast!

How to get there
We have two sample itineraries that can be self-drive. Take a look at our 12-day Highlights of Oman or our 7-day Oman Short Break.

10. Portgual

Soft top hire car in Portugal - family road trip

Treat the family to an open top, buckle up and enjoy the ride!

Aside from the obvious attractions (the weather, beaches, fabulous food and scenery), Portugal is a dream to drive through on a family road trip. The roads are well maintained, well signposted and best of all, predominately quiet and rural. Pootle at tourist pace through small towns and villages, olive groves and cork plantations. There is a highway down to the Algarve which you can take (the Portuguese are far more considerate drivers than in some other European countries), or choose quiet, rural roads instead. You’ll love the drive through Arrabida National Park, as mountains give way to beautiful coastal views.

What you’ll see there
Take a look at our Top 10 Portugal with Kids blog

Portugal itineraries - Alentejo coast with beach and cliffs

Explore the picturesque scenery in Alajento and take in dramatic vistas along the Atlantic coast

Tips and Advice
There are toll roads in Portugal but your car will be fitted with a transponder to get through them easily. Some towns are car-free, whilst in others, the streets are too narrow for driving. In these places you’ll need to park outside and walk in (we’ll let you know where and when).

How to get there
Take a look at our 15-day Highlights of Portugal sample itinerary.

11. Slovenia

Road in the Julian Alps leading to the Vršič pass

Roads are well maintained in Slovenia but at 1,611 metres the Vrsic Pass in the Julien Alps is not for the faint-hearted!


Slovenia is a real surprise for most families who travel here on a self-drive family road trip. Its road system is ultra–modern (more so than the UK), with large motorways, and flashy service stations, but oh! The scenery! Known for its sublime alpine mountain landscape, crystal clear lakes and rivers, and an abundance of trees, it’s probably not surprising that the terrain (and the roads you travel on) can be twisty, and winding, and at a considerable height. Don’t miss the Vršič mountain pass which is the highest in Slovenia and offers jaw-dropping scenic views.

What you’ll see there
Take a look at our Slovenia Family Holidays page for suggestions!

Family swimming in a lake in Slovenia on a road trip holiday

Slovenia’s crystal clear lakes are set in spectacular Alpine landscapes, perfect for a refreshing dip

Tips and Advice
Everyone speaks English here. If crossing over into Croatia don’t make the mistake of trying to find a remote mountain crossing; now that the UK is no longer part of the EU, Brits have to cross at the main border. We’ll let you know where.

How to get there: Take a look at our 11-day Highlights of Slovenia or 15-day Slovenia and Croatia sample itineraries for inspiration.

12. South Africa

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

Given its size, there are a lot of choices for a family road trip to South Africa. No matter which route you choose, though, it’s easy to navigate and there’s no such thing as a dingy service station. Instead, think farm shops, amazing restaurants with views, organic produce and world-class beer and wine. You can also self-drive through Kruger National Park (which is great for the wallet compared to guided safaris, if you are keeping an eye on budget).

What you’ll see there
Take a look at our suggested places to visit and our Top 10 activities in South Africa with Kids blog.

Elephant crossing the road in Kruger National Park

A self-drive family safari in Kruger National Park is great fun, but keep your eyes pealed!

Tips and Advice
The Garden Route is the easiest family road trip we offer but pretty much all of South Africa offers fabulous scenery and the lure of the open road. A safari in Kruger National Park is absolutely superb and you can self-drive.

How to get there
Take a look at our sample itineraries for inspiration. Our 15-day Classic Cape & Garden Route , our 15-day Kruger & Beach Family Safari, or our 15-day KwaZulu Natal & Swaziland (Luxury).

13. 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 USA is a quintessential family road trip destination. Fuel is far less expensive than the UK and there’s a plethora of great boutique hotels and glamping options rather than dodgy motels (no orange curtains and carpets here!). Roads are well maintained, and although distances can be large, it’s very easy to navigate. Speed limits are set by each state – and can be as low as 55 mph.

What you’ll see there
Take a look at our suggested places to visit.

Family break at Lake Tahoe - self-drive holiday in USA

Spend a couple of days relaxing at Lake Tahoe where the family can hike, bike, kayak and hire SUPs

Tips & Advice
Don’t get over-ambitious with your itinerary or you’ll be ‘driving’ more than ‘experiencing’. Focus on a smaller area instead. Book well in advance as the summer holidays in particular can get very busy. Click when to go for more information.

How to get there
We have two sample itineraries, our 15-day Classic California Family Holiday and our 17-day Western National Parks USA but can organise any bespoke itinerary.

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

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