The highly transmissible omicron Covid-19 variant has some travelers thinking twice about air travel again.
While travel bookings are surging this year, some people are sticking with one of the biggest trends to have emerged from the pandemic: the road trip.
“With driving you can significantly lower your risk of exposure when interacting with large groups … making it a safer option,” said Anja Benson, public relations and marketing manager at the vacation home rental website Holidu.
Road trips also give travelers the chance to “clear their minds — something that many will be keen to do after almost two years of being cooped up inside,” she added.
Holidu is behind a new list to inspire travelers to buckle up and hit the road. Its “Cross-Country Road Trip Index” published in December analyzed factors such as road quality, gas prices and landscape variety in 118 countries.
It also took into account the number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in a given country and the number of cities in the top 100 world ranking, as determined by the website BestCities.org.
These factors, plus others, were weighted equally in the ranking. When countries tied, the country with the best road infrastructure was given the edge because “having decent roads to drive on is something that every ‘road tripper’ will deem important,” said Benson.
Here are the top five countries on that list, along with famous routes in each destination.
1. United States
Home to 29 of the 100 best-ranked cities in the world, the United States offers road warriors a range of landscapes, from mountains and deserts to glaciers and forests.
The country also ranked eighth in the world for road quality.
U.S. Route 66
- Popular route: Chicago, Illinois, to the Santa Monica Pier in California
- Distance: about 2,450 miles
The old U.S. Route 66 stretched across three time zones and eight states — Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
Known as the country’s’ “Mother Road,” Route 66 was decommissioned in 1985, when American transportation officials decertified it and voted to remove its highway signs. Drivers can still trace much of the old route, though the highways have new names now.
Those who do can see St. Louis’ Gateway Arch; half-buried cars at the Cadillac Ranch outside of Amarillo, Texas; and Route 66 relics along walking tours in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Along the way, there are small towns with old-school diners and vintage barbershops with remnants of the 20th-century Americana that made the route famous.
Pacific Coast Highway
- Popular route: San Diego, California, to Olympic National Park in Washington
- Distance: about 1,250 miles
Pacific Coast Highway — called “the 101,” “Highway 1” or “PCH,” depending on the location — extends much of the length of the U.S. West Coast, providing breathtaking views of the coastlines of the Pacific Ocean.
The route passes national parks, beaches and picturesque coastal towns as well as cities like Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Francisco and Oregon’s Portland.
Travelers can soak in the sun at famous beaches like Long Beach and Huntington Beach, or enjoy the giant trees at Redwood National Park.
For a shorter trip, drivers can begin at San Juan Capistrano in Southern California and end at Leggett, north of San Francisco. It’s about half the distance, but still takes drivers along the majority of the Californian coastline.
Known for its beach resorts and colorful culture, Mexico is also home to 35 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, making it No. 7 in the world by number of Heritage sites.
Like its neighbor to the north, Mexico has deserts and mountain ranges. It also has jungles, which give it an edge when it comes to the number of animals present in the country — another factor in the road trip ranking.
Baja California Peninsula
- Popular route: Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas
- Distance: about 1,625 miles
Many travel guides recommend a drive down Baja California, a state in Mexico south of the U.S. state of California.
Road trippers can stop to explore Cabo Pulmo, one of the most well-known diving sites along the peninsula. Much of the diving is geared toward experienced divers, though snorkelers can also see Mexico’s diverse marine life.
Visiting Cabo Pulmo between January and March is ideal for whale watching, when humpback and gray whales can be spotted in area lagoons.
Yucatan Peninsula Loop
- Popular route: Cancun, back to Cancun
- Distance: about 1,460 miles
Travelers who circle the Yucatan Peninsula can take in the region’s history, culture and famous beach towns.
Drivers can choose their own path, but common routes include a stop to see the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza — designated one of the “New 7 Wonders of the World” in 2017 — and other UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Mayan monuments of Uxmal and the Spanish colonial harbor town of Campeche.
On the way back to Cancun, travelers can stop in the beach towns of Tulum and Playa Del Carmen. Another picturesque spot is the collection of pink lakes in Las Coloradas, although visitors are no longer allowed to swim in the water.
Holidu’s study ranks Canada as the sixth country in the world for its “natural assets,” which include its national parks.
The country also scored high for its road infrastructure, with popular cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal clinching spots on the Best Cities list.
- Popular route: Victoria, British Columbia, to St. John’s, Labrador
- Distance: about 4,860 miles
Known as the second-longest national highway in the world, the Trans-Canada Highway runs through all of Canada’s 10 provinces. It can take a month or more to fully take in the picturesque views along the route.
Hiking in Glacier National Park is a highlight for many road-trippers. The park is open year-round with campgrounds opening in late June, and ski season running from November to April.
Sea to Sky Highway
- Popular route: Horseshoe Bay to Whistler, both in British Columbia
- Distance: about 75 miles
A road trip along the Sea to Sky Highway — officially Highway 99 — is filled with natural, cultural and outdoor sport attractions.
Though the distance is short, road trippers routinely stretch out the drive over several days. This grants travelers time to stop at places such as the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish, which brings visitors 885 meters (2,900 feet) above sea level for panoramic views of the coastal mountains.
In the winter months, the gondola serves crowds of families who come to ski, hike and snowboard.
With affordable accommodations, food and fuel prices, money goes far in Malaysia, the only country in Asia to make the top five.
“One thing that Asia offers road trippers over western countries is value for money,” said Holidu’s Benson. Malaysia is the “seventh cheapest country in the world for gas at only $1.87 a gallon.”
Kuala Lumpur to Cameron Highlands
- Distance: about 125 miles
The drive from the buzzing capital city of Kuala Lumpur to the high altitudes of Cameron Highlands can be done in half a day.
Strawberry-picking season usually lasts from May to August, but travelers who visit at other times can explore the municipality’s bee and butterfly farms.
Cameron Highlands is also well known for its tea plantations. Rolling green hills and English-style cottages surround the area for visitors looking to enjoy a relaxing afternoon tea break.
Petaling Jaya to Langkawi
- Distance: about 300 miles
This road trip covers most of Malaysia’s western coast, from Petaling Jaya — a city on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur — to the islands of Langkawi, which are accessible via ferry.
To take a break from the sweltering heat, travelers can stop by the seven-tiered Taman Eko Rimba Kanching waterfalls for a swim. From there, it’s only half an hour to Selangor Fruit Valley, a 646-hectare tropical fruit farm with a petting zoo and tram ride.
Road trippers passing the Argentinian capital city of Bueno Aires — ranked No. 63 on the list of 100 best cities — can “explore its mansion-lined cobblestone streets, bustling boulevards and its nightlife that goes on until dawn,” said Benson.
Those looking for a quieter journey can visit the Yacutinga Rainforest, Andes mountain range or the Patagonian Desert.
- Popular route: Cabo Virgenes, Patagonia to La Quiaca, Jujuy province
- Distance: about 3,230 miles
Argentina’s Route 40 is said to be one of the most captivating road trips in the world.
One of the biggest highlights along the route is the Route of the Seven Lakes. Visitors can spend an entire day exploring the mountainous backdrops, small villages and aquarium-blue waterfalls in the lake region.
There are also UNESCO World Heritage Sites along the way, including Los Glaciares National Park — the country’s largest national park — and the Cueva de las Manos, or “Cave of Hands,” with cave drawings of human hands executed between 9,500 to 13,000 years ago, according to UNESCO.
Buenos Aires to Salta
- Distance: about 925 miles
Travelers embarking on this route usually spend the weekend in Mendoza, arguably Argentina’s most acclaimed wine region. Many of the vineyards here produce the country’s signature wine grape — Malbec. Horseback riding is a popular way to take in the breathtaking scenery.
The region also attracts visitors looking for an adrenaline rush, with options to go paragliding and whitewater rafting on the Mendoza River.