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MAIN Arrow to Travel Travel Arrow to Driving Tours Road Tripshit the open road

Whether you're traveling solo, with a group of friends, or with the entire family, the call of the open road beckons with the added excitement of anticipation and discovery.

With the prevalence of cell phones, GPS, and Internet resources - along with personal tips from online road trip experts - it has never been easier to plan and organize a world class vacation road trip.

Road trip pros and cons

While gas and petrol prices around the world continue to stabilize, it's never been a better time to gas up and go.

Other bright notes for traveling under your own steam? They include not having to wait in line at train stations or airports, no taking your shoes off at security checks. And, if you lose your luggage -- you have only yourself to blame!

Another more positive consideration to take into account is, of course, "the road less traveled". In short, it might very well be worth the extra cost for an opportunity to find a unique discovery not found in any guide book, or to experience an off-the-beaten-highway adventure that you can brag about when you get home.

On the down side, if you veer off course it's all on YOU. Prepare for cramped quarters, traffic jams on the weekends, bad weather, cranky kids, flat tires, overheated engines and other mechanical problems. Also expect the unexpected, like having to back track to your last motel, for example, to retrieve your cell phone charger.

You will also be responsible for keeping up the spirits of your traveling companions if things really start to head south. Hey, this is a road trip! The adventure is everything.

Road trip tips

With kids, expect to take more
potty breaks and "play" stops.

Ensuring that your car is fit for the road (check out this car safety checklist) should be a top priority. Next comes comfort. You and your traveling companions will be in the cars for hours at a stretch, so try to test their patience (or yours) by cramming as many things into the car as possible including everyone's luggage and carry-ons.

If you have kids in tow, don't forget the drinks and snacks, toys and games (see: holiday road trips with the kids), plus wet wipes and paper towels to clean up any unexpected messes. (Also plan on more than usual scenic stops, restaurant and rest room breaks.)

Along with maps and travel guides, a smart phone with GPS is a necessity nowadays for any emergency that may arise. If traveling overseas, also be sure to obtain an international cell phone plan. A flush ATM or credit card (along with extra emergency cash) comes in handy for major repairs. Also make contingency plans for overnight stays due to getting lost, changing a flat tire, heavy traffic, or bad weather en route.

Driving in Europe

The first thing Americans face is the left-side of the road dilemma. Not to worry, say the experts — the only places in Europe where you will encounter left-handed driving is in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta.

But if you're on a self-guided tour by car through spectacularly scenic Ireland and Scotland -- what to do? Plan your road trip accordingly, says one intrepid driver who recently returned from a tour of Ireland's West Coast. "Don't embark on a major jaunt for at least a day," he advises. "This will allow some time for you to become acquainted with the other side of the road."

Plan your road trip:

Yahoo Road Trip Planner


Also take comfort in the fact that road rage is less common, "and as a general rule, UK and Ireland drivers tend to be more polite than American drivers and will usually yield to obviously confused tourists," says another intrepid American roadster.

In other countries, you're good to go. For second-to-none scenic splendor try the Amalfi Coast in Italy, the Castle Road in Germany, the Cotswolds in England, the Burgundy wine tour in France, the Via Mala and San Bernardino in Switzerland, or the Grossglockner Road in Austria.

While fuel is much more expensive in Europe than in either the USA or Canada, road trips through the Continent can still be economical due to the higher number of very fuel-efficient diesel-powered cars available. (Note: throughout the UK and Europe, gas is known as "petrol", diesel fuel is "gasoil", and prices are listed by the litre. There are approximately four litres in a gallon.)

Driving in the USA

Left-handed drivers from Britain and Ireland may also experience the same confusion when driving on the "wrong side" in the USA. Like their American counterparts, drivers from the UK and Ireland should take their time before embarking on a major road trip in the states.

Besides the wider road and faster speeds on highways (the German Autobahn excepted) there is little culture shock in the US and Canada for European right-handed drivers.

I-95 map

On the US East Coast, the
1,925-mile Interstate 95 begins
in Maine and ends in Miami. FL.

But then there's the sheer size of the place, the different time zones, and starkly different weather patterns that are encountered on any North American road trip. Little wonder, then, why most Europeans will opt for a guided tour. But for those who choose a road trip, there are wonders in store.

American road trips with almost universal appeal are the spectacularly scenic 17 mile drive along Highway 1 in California, or the legendary and historic Route 66 with additional drives out West including the Grand Canyon and other Top Ten US National Parks.

The Eastern route usually beckons Europeans with road trips to world-famous Niagara Falls, tours of Boston, Massachusetts and the rest of New England.

Then there's the big grand tour - starting from New York City following Interstate 95 for the 1,000-mile trek all the way down to Florida with stops at Atlantic City, Washington DC, Savannah, Georgia and Orlando.

All told, road trips can be the adventure of a lifetime. If you're lucky enough to own a reliable car, a cell phone, a map, and have friends or family to share in a sense of wanderlust, the dream of a perfect road trip stretches out before you.

Go for it.

More about road trips and self-guided driving tours around the Web:

Road Trip USA - Use the clickable map to go on major drive tours down the Pacific Coast, along the Mississippi, the Appalachian Trail, the New York - Florida route and more with directions, and information on major stops and attractions.

America's Byways - Explore the clickable map or the browseable menu for every major scenic route coast to coast, with complete directions and detailed maps, photos and related resources.

Trans-Canada Highway Trip & Vacation Planner - The whole of Canada explained from Quebec to the Yukon Territory with driving directions, itineraries, maps, and major roadside attractions.

Route Planner - UK & European Driving Directions - Helpful collection of tools and resources for planning a driving tour throughout the UK and Europe including directions, maps, hotel finder, mileage calculator, plus tips & advice on driving abroad.

South Africa Driving Tips and Info - Extensive one-page resource chock full of useful info including driving and traffic rules, negotiating the South African petrol station, night driving safety tips and related travel advice, with related resources pointing to South Africa maps and direction finders.

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