Get out on the highway for the drive of your life, whether it takes you through deserts, forests, mountains or alongside spectacular rivers and coastlines
1. The Mongol Rally
The craziest, most extraordinary banger race on the planet: 16,000-plus kms from Prague to Siberia.
Why it's special: More than 300 teams participate in this wild annual road trip from Prague to Siberia. The catch (one of them) is that participants can only drive tiny vehicles with engines up to 1.2 litres — think Suzuki Swifts and Nissan Micras. If you get lost or break down, you're on your own.
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Heading south-east across Europe, things start to get interesting on Romania's Transfagarasan Highway, which makes dozens of switchbacks as it climbs through a green valley with jaw-dropping views. Continue through Bulgaria, Turkey, and Iran before seeing the giant fire pit in the middle of Turkmenistan's desert.
After Uzbekistan, drive along Tajikistan's Pamir Highway, a rough and rocky dirt road through the mountains — not for the faint of heart. Afghanistan is just across the river, but it's generally pretty safe on this side, with children lining up to give you high-fives as you pass through their villages. Dine on exotic meats from horse, camel and yak. Try not to get sick. Car trouble is inevitable sooner or later, but when you do break down, you'll be amazed at the friendliness and resourcefulness of local mechanics, who somehow manage to fix nearly everything, even if they don't have the proper parts. Finally, pass through Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia to the finish line, six to eight weeks after you began.
You'll never forget ... The incredible Persian hospitality — you may well be invited to join a family for supper.
Insider tip: Bring a satellite communication device, such as the Garmin inReach (garmin.com), which allows you to send messages from virtually anywhere in emergencies and folks back home can track your progress.
How to do it: The Adventurists run the Mongol Rally every July. In addition to the £695 ($1400) team registration fee (plus the cost of the used car, visas, and supplies), teams must raise at least £1,000 ($2010) for charity. Sign up at theadventurists.com/adventures/mongol-rally.
— Scott Gurian
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2. The Mississippi Great River Road
Follow the Mississippi from sea to source along the Great River Road as it meanders from the lively streets of New Orleans, all the way up to the Great Lakes of Minnesota.
Why it's special: There are not many road trips designed to fork, bend and meander, but then the Mississippi, which the Great River Road follows through 10 states — from Louisiana in the south to Minnesota in the north — is no ordinary waterway. Formed by a retreating glacier during the last Ice Age and torn wide apart in 1811 by earthquakes that nearly pulled the North American continent in two, the river has found itself at the heart of a great many major events in US history, beyond pure geological happenings.
It's made up not of a single road but a combination of back roads, federal routes and state highways so from behind the wheel, the road offers a great many diversions that each tell a strand of the nation's story. The antebellum houses and sugar cane plantations delve into the history of slavery in the southern states; in Mississippi, key moments in the Civil War can be traced on battlefields.
In Kentucky there's evidence of the first humans living on the water, using its clay to make containers for the food they caught within it. Illinois offers glimpses into the industrial past in its towns — some affluent, others nearly abandoned; and the city of Hannibal, Missouri, tells more fantastical tales of the most famous fictional characters to emerge from the region — Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
You'll never forget ... Wading through the shallows in Itasca State Park — it's hard to believe this is the source of the same wide river you've followed from where it spools into the Gulf of Mexico.
Insider tip: Include a stay in one of the plantation houses in Louisiana: Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie (oakalleyplantation.com) is recommended, while Whitney Plantation (whitneyplantation.com) offers a brutally frank tour about the history of slavery.
How to do it: Fly in to New Orleans, via LA, San Francisco, or Houston and out from Minneapolis-St Paul (or vice versa).
— Phoebe Smith
3. Paris to the Riviera
The 1078km Route Nationale 7, from Paris to the Riviera, is France's equivalent of Route 66: a legendary road symbolising liberty and insouciance.
Why it's special: Before the war, the Route Nationale 7 (RN7) was used by the well-heeled heading for hedonism. When the Autoroute du Soleil opened in 1974, the RN7 became a byway and lost its identity; but now it is tempting travellers back for quieter motoring.
Unlike the autoroutes, it weaves you into French life and the landscape, from the Fontainebleau forest to the sauvignons of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume, and then into the Rhone Valley, Montelimar — the capital of nougat — Avignon and Aix-en-Provence.
The Med is eventually spotted at Frejus, from where you may tootle along the coast to Menton. With palms and panache, the full-stop to the RN7 couldn't be in a lovelier spot.
You'll never forget ... The first sight of the sea as you curve into Frejus, sparkling with an intensity that suggests you're witnessing the Creation.
Insider tips: Valence has become a gastronomic centre for the Rhone valley; most notable are Maison Pic (anne-sophie-pic.com), Baptiste Poinot's Flaveurs (flaveurs-restaurant.com) and Masashi Ijichi's well-hidden La Cachette.
How to do it: Fly to Paris, then drive to Fontainebleau and beyond. Stay en route near Sancerre, La Cote des Monts Damnes at Chavignol; at Le Crozet, the lovely Maison Dauphin B&B (maisondauphin.fr); in Avignon, La Mirande (la-mirande.fr), in St Maximin, the Couvent Royal (hotel-lecouventroyal.fr).
— Anthony Peregrine
4. Canada's amazing Alaska Highway
From Canada to Alaska, through some of the wildest landscapes in North America, this epic highway offers one of the greatest road trips in the world.
Why it's special: The 2232km highway winds through the lonely forests of British Columbia, climbs the Rockies into the majestic wilderness of the Yukon — look out for bears — and continues north to Dawson Creek and past the Kluane mountains towards Fairbanks, Alaska. There are few places in North America built on this scale, and nowhere a highway threads through landscapes this varied, this awe-inspiring or this long: mountain, forest, lake, river — they just keep on coming, mile after majestic mile.
Completed in 1942, the road was built to forestall a possible Japanese invasion from the north. After the war, when it was opened to public traffic, its gruelling terrain saw it dubbed the "graveyard of the American automobile". Things are easier today, but this is still a breathtaking journey.
You'll never forget ... The splendour of the scenery.
Insider tip: No time to drive the entire highway? Dawson Creek to Whitehorse (1404km) is a popular, shorter route. The old Klondike goldfields at Dawson City in the Yukon are worth the extra detour.
How to do it: Fly to Dawson Creek Regional Airport, via Vancouver and Prince George, with Air Canada. Pick up a car or camper and explore independently.
— Tim Jepson
5. The Wild Atlantic Way
Ireland's coastlines are something special — and the shores of Sligo and Mayo are perhaps the most special of all. Wide, white beaches, high mountains, and deeply rooted history make this a place of dreams.
Why it's special: The Wild Atlantic Way runs from the Inishowen peninsula in Donegal to Kinsale, Co Cork. You can drive the whole 2,500km in a week if you go at breakneck speed; allow two for a more leisurely approach.
On the Co Sligo coast, glance up at any point and you'll see the great Ben Bulben looming into the sky. This is W B Yeats country — and it's made for poetry. The sweep of Sligo Bay is fringed by white beaches: walk for miles or take a Voya seaweed bath (voya.ie) on Strandhill beach, fly a kite, or try a little surfing in the clean, green breakers. Visit nearby Lissadell House (lissadellhouse.com), with its miles of woodland walks. Further west, walk or swim from Enniscrone beach — and carry on to the wild and remote Mullet peninsula. Then, what a delight to find Westport, with its fine Georgian architecture, and its marvellous setting on the shores of island-flecked Clew Bay.
You'll never forget ...
The Ceide Fields (heritageireland.ie), the world's largest Stone-Age monument, offering an insight into the lives of our Neolithic ancestors.
Insider tip: At Carne (carnegolflinks.com), near Belmullet, play golf between dunes like mountains, and drink in the views across the sea to Achill island.
How to do it: Fly to Dublin via Doha with Qatar Airways, then pick up a car or camper van for ultimate freedom. Stay at the marvellous Ice House Hotel (icehousehotel.ie) overlooking the water at Ballina; in Westport, check in at comfortable Knockranny House (knockrannyhousehotel.ie); and enjoy excellent Irish trad music at Matt Molloy's (mattmolloy.com).
— Neil Hegarty
6. Epic Andes Road Trip
What: High Andes peaks, a stunning canyon and Argentina's most important Inca-era archaeological site make this loop around southern Salta the road trip of dreams.
Why it's special: Starting and ending in the handsome city of Salta, known for its colonial buildings, this epic route skirts the Andes on gravel roads en route to the rolling vineyards and townships of the Calchaqui valleys before heading back on an excellent paved highway.
The journey from Salta to Cafayate follows ancient Inca and colonial routes — now forming a section of the Ruta 40 — through rural hamlets and sun-baked foothills studded with tall cacti. The journey back to Salta via the meandering Ruta 68 takes in the Quebrada (Canyon) of the Conchas River, where natural erosion has left deep clefts and surreal formations.
Salta province, while settled by Spanish, Italian and Levantine migrants, retains something of its pre-Columbian heritage. Don't miss Salta city's penas: basic and low-budget, they are a showcase for local folk musicians, with hearty Andean cuisine and wine served to the table.
You'll never forget ... Los Cardones national park, with its towering cactuses — Argentine saguaro — all the way to the horizon.
Insider tip: The Quilmes ruins lie 54km south of the loop. This was once a major pre-Columbian settlement; an excellent museum tells the full story.
How to do it: Air New Zealand flies direct from Auckland to Buenos Aires. Go between April and November.
— Chris Moss