Editor's note: The following guest post was written by Andy Murdock, the US digital editor for Lonely Planet.
As much as you'll miss your roomies and classmates, the next best thing to chucking your graduation cap into the air is hitting the road and watching your alma mater shrink to a blip in your rearview mirror. For at least a brief moment in time, there's nowhere you have to be, nobody telling you where to go or what to do. The only boss of you is, well, you.
With a few good friends or flying solo, the postgraduation Summer road trip requires distance, new vistas, and time — time for the experiences you set out to find, and more importantly the transformative ones you'll never see coming.
So if it's all up to you, why do what everyone else is doing? Here are a few creative ideas to get you started planning your trip:
Get Your Cross-Country Kicks Out of the Way
If you strategically went to college far away, then a slow, meandering trip back home across the country is in order . . . with the emphasis on slow and meandering. While all of the east-west interstates have their moments, they're about speed over scenery, local culture or adventure. The best of the US for the savvy traveler is on the back roads and the lesser-known north-south highways.
A road trip is a journey, not a destination. Instead of stringing together cities in a cross-country itinerary, plan your trip around the interesting roads themselves, and use the interstates to connect them as necessary. Some roads to aim for: Skyline Drive to the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great River Road along the Mississippi, US Route 89 (a road-tripper's dream that connects more national parks than any other road in the US), US Route 395 along the eastern Sierra Nevada, or the famously scenic Pacific Coast Highway.
The scenic Pacific Coast Highway
Read on for more.
Leaving Las Vegas
Las Vegas is better known for finding creative ways of extracting money from your purse than for offering true bargains. But there are deals to be had, one of the best being the nearly consistently low cost of renting a car allowing you to zip out of town before you can say "overpriced buffet." Don't let the glitz of the Strip lure you in, because, oh, the places you can go from Vegas!
While your friends head off to Vegas for Vegas, smart road-trippers can use Vegas as the starting point for a loop trip through some of the US's best National Parks, with plenty of car camping options along the way — not to mention some classic motor courts and even a not-too-distant wigwam motel if retro travel is your thing. If you were checking off a list, then you could hit Zion, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Arches, Monument Valley — and let’s not forget the Grand Canyon — all in an easy-to-plan loop. But shorten that checklist or lengthen your trip: each of these places demand exploration time.
Zion National Park
Road Trips For Lateral Thinkers and Philosophy Majors
Not all road trips need to look alike: long stretches of road, quirky roadside attractions, cold fries in the cup holder and arguments about Lady Gaga’s songwriting that end in broken friendships. There are other ways:
- The best road trip with no road: Alaska Marine Highway through the Inside Passage, 4 days, 1119 miles by ferry from Bellingham, Washington to Skagway, Alaska. Your car can come with you, but you won’t be doing the driving on this Northern route. You can drive back, though, through the dense Canadian forests for an entirely different experience (and one with a real road).
- The best long road trip on a short island: Hana Highway, Maui, 52 miles, 620 curves. Anyone that says this doesn't count as a road trip hasn't done it. It's as tiring to drive as it is beautiful, and this is one beautiful road. Stay overnight in Hana, and drive back the lonesome Piilani Highway for a side of Maui that few see.
Do Europe . . . by Car
Picture a postcollege European trip, and you probably conjure up an image of some poor soul struggling under the weight of an overstuffed backpack setting off to "do Europe" as if a continent could be completed like a pile of homework. Take it upon yourself to export the Great American Road Trip ethos to Europe, and you'll find that you can more easily make a trip your own.
Cars have a few distinct advantages: no backpack schlepping required, and you're free to venture away from the major hubs and train routes into less-visited areas at your own pace. Downsides include high European gas prices, difficult city parking, and Italian road signs. But don't worry; getting lost in Italy is part of the fun. (And if you can't find Florence on the road signs, the friendly folks in Firenze are happy to help.)
Northern Italy is a perfect Summer road trip destination: you can hit the cultural highlights of Florence, Milan, Bologna, and Venice (tip: not a car-friendly city), then explore the Dolomite Alps, cross Europe's highest alpine pass, and twist along the Italian Lakes. How much time should you budget? It's Italy: what's the rush?
To plan any of these trips and more, pick up Lonely Planet's Best Trips series, now including European destinations — available in print and a variety of digital formats.