How to plan your perfect road trip - Select Car Leasing
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How to plan your perfect road trip

Have a goal, get up early and embrace adversity - here’s everything you need to know about planning the perfect road trip.

(Pic above credit: Eric Micotto)

Nik Berg (above) is Founder of the website ‘Detour’.

If you’ve not yet checked it out, it’s a veritable treasure trove of road trip info, covering everything from the best routes and pit-stops, to interviews with those who, as Detour puts it, like to ‘take the longer way’.

As a seasoned motoring journalist with publications like Auto Express and Top Gear magazine, Nik has been lucky enough to pilot vehicles all over the world.

He’s ticked-off Bolivia’s El Camino de la Muerte, aka the ‘Road of Death’, as well as many of Europe’s most famous mountain passes, and he’s also pointed his wheels at the best roads in Britain, too.

Nik reveals:
“It sounds like a cliche, but there’s a freedom on the road that you don’t get with other forms of transport. Your journey is there for you to make up as you go along. And I hope Detour shows people that there are all manner of road trip adventures to be enjoyed. A road trip isn’t just about the car, it’s about where the car will take you. I love the fact that being behind the wheel lets me see parts of the world that I wouldn’t normally get to witness."

So, how do you make a road trip truly special?

What sort of planning do you need to do? And does the car you’re driving really make a difference to the overall experience?

Here Nik gives his road trip hints and tips to Select Car Leasing readers:

The length of the journey is irrelevant

“The goal, for me, is to inspire people to get out and take to the road. And that can be a short journey on a single road, or it could be a mammoth, multi-day trip.

However far you’re travelling, it’s all about enjoying the journey and soaking-up the experience.

For me, there’s a certain ‘mindfulness’ about driving. That obviously doesn’t apply when you’re stuck in a traffic jam on the M6. But when you’re in the moment, there’s something about the action of driving that gives you a certain space to contemplate your thoughts and to also really appreciate the surroundings.”

Who you journey with is important

“A good road trip has a lot to do with people. That might be the people in the car with you, and a car is a very unique space to have conversations, or it might be who you encounter along the way. I took a trip with my son in 2020 in an open-top Caterham, driving some of the best roads around Britain.

We didn’t have an awful lot of conversation while we were travelling as the car was so exposed. But when we stopped, we talked. And we still had that shared experience of the journey together, which is really important.

Having the flexibility in your schedule to be spontaneous is also really important here. 

Stop your car, meet people, talk to people, find out more about the local area. Find yourself at a weird petrol station in the middle of nowhere and be the only British person they’ve ever met. 

It’s all part of the road trip experience.”

Get up early

“The scenery that accompanies a road trip is really important and I love to get up into the mountains. But there’s a problem. If you go to the well-trodden tourist areas, the drive itself can take-on a very different vibe.

It’s not ‘you, the car, and the road’, it’s you, the car… and a line of slow-moving traffic. So I’d always try to avoid the busiest times.

To give you an example, I’ve driven the Stelvio Pass in Italy a few times. The first time, we got there really early and had the road to ourselves for several hours. The second time I went, we didn’t time it right and arrived on a Saturday afternoon. 

And it was unbelievably busy - a mix of people in supercars, motorcyclists overtaking everybody, and people on bicycles panting up the mountain. It looked beautiful, but it was a miserable experience.

On the flip side, I recently decided to drive across Yorkshire in a day. I started at Kendal in the Lake District and headed east, across the Dales, across the Moors, had fish and chips in Whitby, and then headed south down the coast. 

And in order to have the road to myself, and to catch the sunrise over the Dales, I started early in the morning.

It’s also not necessarily about driving fast. What’s important is driving uninterrupted, so that you can get into the flow of the road, and so that you can really appreciate what’s going on around you.

Getting up at 2am, 3am is also the perfect time to explore famous cities on four wheels. I’d also avoid road-tripping at peak holiday times as well, if you can. During the quieter months, you’ll see a place in a more natural, authentic way.”

Be spontaneous

“You can always decide to turn left, to turn right, or to stop altogether on a road trip. If the road is really busy (see above), where can you stop for a few hours to let the traffic die down? With a road trip you have the freedom to make your own timetable. 

It’s so much easier these days to book things on the fly, unless you’re in a really remote area. I recently drove from London to Nordkapp at the top of Norway in the middle of winter, in a Mazda MX-5 with the roof down all the way. And while we had key targets to reach each day, we were still able to book just a few hours ahead.”

You don’t need to the most powerful car to enjoy a road trip

“I’m quite car agnostic. At Detour we’ve done trips in electric cars, supercars… and complete bangers. A vehicle is, quite literally, the enabler which gets you to where you are going. But I think that it’s not always about how exciting the car is to drive.

I recently took a trip with some friends to drive a series of mountain passes in Switzerland. And we had quite an interesting bunch of cars. I had my old 1969 Alfa Romeo Giulia Saloon, while the fastest car there was a Ferrari F12. And I really enjoyed the fact that while my car was massively slower than the others, I could drive it at legal speeds while really getting the most out of it.

The guy in the Ferrari was massively frustrated. He’d step on the accelerator, find himself way over the speed limit, and then have to back off. His experience was a sort of ‘stop-squirt’ drive, totally unfulfilling, whereas I got into the flow while really exploring my car’s potential.

For me, trundling along in your Citroen 2CV is every bit as rewarding as blatting down a German autobahn in your performance vehicle.”

Find purpose

“I think it’s really important that a road trip should have a goal, a purpose. It might be to eat a certain meal, or to see something specific. And then, around this goal, allow yourself the flexibility to be spontaneous and to go off-piste along the way.

Over-planning in general is not a good idea. The whole point of a road trip is that you can be free to make decisions on the fly.

And unless you have vast distances to cover, I’d always try to avoid highways and toll roads. You’ll see so much more and you’ll have a better chance of finding somewhere decent to eat instead of relying on fast food.”

Embrace the stress

(Death Road, Bolivia, above, credit Florian Delee)

“There’s a certain satisfaction to be found in being able to solve a problem during your road trip, and sometimes it’s good to encounter difficulties along the way. If things go completely according to plan, it’s not nearly as exciting as when things go wrong!

I went to Bolivia to drive the so-called ‘Road of Death’ but when I got there the local coca farmers had decided to blockade the route with tree trunks. It was impassable, with a five mile jam. 

We ended up driving for 24 hours through the jungle to get around to the other side. And it was brilliant! We had three punctures, at one point I ended up sitting on my own for several hours in a jungle clearing, and we also encountered riot police and tear gas. It was all quite dangerous. 

And when the road was finally clear and we got to do it, the so-called Road of Death was a piece of cake! Adversity can definitely be a good thing in the long run.”

And the UK’s best driving road is…

“I recently had this wonderful drive from the Scottish borders down through Northumberland and the Kielder Forest on the B6357. There was nobody on the road, the scenery was spectacular, and the whole trip was just amazing. It’s a lovely part of the world. 

I also love the west coast of Scotland, particularly the Bealach na Ba (‘Pass of the Cattle’) near Applecross. Again, it’s another road that necessitates an early start to avoid all of the tourists and their many motorhomes.

When I did it with my son, we left a campsite at 5am in the morning and didn’t see another car. And with any of these routes, if you take just a tiny diversion off them, you’ll often find even better roads to enjoy.

Another place to base yourself is the Lake District. You have all of these famous mountain passes at your fingertips - Honister Pass (below), Kirkstone Pass, Hardknott Pass - and you could spend two days there having an amazing adventure.”

** Nik hopes to be able to offer guided road trips for experiencers in the future, so watch this space.

Pics copyright and Nik Berg unless otherwise stated. 

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