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Best fly-drive holidays

By Cathy Winston

The lure of the open road, every corner hiding a new discovery, is enough to tempt anyone to grab a suitcase and book a trip. And the freedom to go where you want when you want, is one of the highlights of a self-drive holiday, with the flexibility to explore as the fancy takes you.

But fly-drive holidays needn’t mean venturing out into the great unknown with no plans at all, or spending long long hours behind the wheel of a car.

With a string of itineraries to pick out the highlights of your destination, carefully chosen hotels and all the practicalities of car rental taken care of, more companies than ever are creating great fly-drive and self-drive trips. And if you still want the freedom to see where the road takes you, we’ve got some great suggestions for that too.

Walks on your doorstepcobo-beachExplore in styleGalway - Connemara Fly-drive

Self-drive holidays in the UK

Staying within the UK is an easy first step. And you can still have a hugely memorable trip, without any worries about foreign traffic regulations, .

McKinlay Kidd has some very creative itineraries, including one-way routes through the Outer Hebrides, starting with a beach landing at Barra. Or team another couple of islands together, exploring the beautiful landscapes, the history and the whiskey (though you’ll want a designated driver along for the ride or taxi standing by for that bit). With a personalised itinerary, you’ll have maps, recommendations of places to see, ideas for viewpoints to stop at, and even suggestions of where to eat en route.

Make the trip even more special, by choosing a Ferrari Spider to arrive at a Scottish castle, as well as an Aston Martin, Jaguar E-Type and Austin Healey, among a range of British sports cars to transport you from A to B in real style.

Or board the ferry to the Channel Islands to explore Guernsey or Jersey. Both small enough that you can pootle around the quiet roads, stopping wherever the fancy takes you to eat and explore, and still have time to spare on a long weekend, it’s one of the most relaxing self-drive holidays you could pick.

Cudillero, AsturiasLuxury villasPuglia beachesOff roading during the Northern Lights

Driving holidays in Europe

Crossing the channel to explore northern Europe is another easy way to test out self-drive holidays. Don’t forget to check all the local legal requirements, including the specific kit you need in your car, before you travel.

But for a few more unusual itineraries, there are trips to take you to the adventurous north in Scandinavia as well as heading off the beaten track in eastern Europe, or some sun-filled escapes in the southern countries.

Fly to the sun in Italy before cruising along the Amalfi coast or the winding roads of Sicily with tailored holidays from Expert To Italy. Or treat yourself to an ultra-glamorous slice of the dolce vita on a tour of Tuscany’s wineries, travelling by Ferrari and private helicopter, with Scott Dunn. Long Travel also has a great selection of self-drive trips in Southern Italy, Sicily and Sardinia.

If you’d rather head west to Spain and Portugal, you’ll be hard pushed to choose just one trip to cover the world-class cities, fabulous coast, mountains, traditional villages and historic sites. The experts at Caminos specialise in the less well-known areas, with trips staying at independent hotels along the way.

Exsus has a huge list of options to tempt with plenty of luxury touches and some more unusual destinations too: discover northern Greece away from the beaches, or travel from Zagreb to Dubrovnik via Split to see some of the highlights of Croatia. If you’d rather venture north, they also have drives through the stunning fjords of Norway

Nordic Experience has its own great Norwegian trip ideas, including a separate itinerary in the fjords including free days and suggestions so you can pick and choose your own favourites from their recommendations. Or voyage next door to Sweden, to explore little-known Gotland with its Unesco World Heritage walled town, Visby, as well as pristine beaches.

For more adventure behind the wheel, hop into a 4×4 for a jaunt around Iceland’s ‘ring road’ with Regent Holidays following highway one as it  make a dramatic loop around the country. Or discover the Faroe Islands and the Azores, wild landscapes and volcanoes on the very edge of Europe.

Fly-drive in North America

The USA is the spiritual home of the road trip, from its iconic Route 66 to Highway 1 along California’s Pacific Coast, but that’s barely the beginning of what you could find – although Turquoise Holidays’ new California trips are perfect if you’ve always wanted to see Big Sur.

Some of the most popular destinations include New EnglandCalifornia and the Florida Keys. But other lesser-known routes to check out include VirginiaNew York State and Louisiana. America’s Civil War route also makes a fascinating itinerary.

American Sky has dozens of trips, from the elegance of New England to the charm of the South, Big Sky country to the bright lights of Las Vegas, not to mention trips themed around music, national parks and beach.

Wexas has a similar range and can tailor-make holidays too, if you’re looking to tick a few places off your bucket list. Or explore the national parks of Colorado.

And in one of the country’s often overlooked states, spot bears and glaciers in Alaska on a ruggedly memorable fortnight’s drive with Trailfinders. Another great option in America is to rent a motorhome – it’s a great way to discover the country’s wilderness spots and enjoy the freedom of the open road.

It’s not only the USA which has those wide open spaces, great cities and fabulous scenery of course; Canada has plenty of temptations of its own, from the Rockies to its astonishingly blue lakes, the cities of Vancouver, Toronto and Montréal (for starters) and Niagara Falls. Pick a coast or a highlight and Canadian Sky’s self-drive trips will have a route that covers it, including motorhome itineraries as well. We also particularly recommend self-drive holidays in the Province of Québec.

Check out my colleagues Donna Dailey and Mike Gerrard who have written a comprehensive guide to fly drive holidays in America.

WinelandsAstonishing vistasDamaraland

Other long-haul self-drives

If you’ve never considered driving in Africa, Asia, Australasia or South America, it’s actually a great way to explore more of the country than being limited to public transport or sticking with an escorted group.

Unless you’ve notched up quite a few self-drive trips, it’s well worth having the support of the travel experts in creating an itinerary, advising you and lending any necessary back-up here.

South Africa and Namibia both have good road networks and less traffic than a lot of European destinations, ideal for a safari with a twist.

The specialists at Aardvark Safaris have personally been behind the wheel of their African self-drive routes, with helpful advice on getting around the roads, from the practical to the likelihood of livestock crossing. Along with different vehicles to suit your trip, from saloons to 4x4s, there are fully-equipped safari vehicles with rooftop tents available in Botswana if you’d rather use local campsites than luxury lodges.

Rainbow Tours also has a great self-sufficient option in Namibia, if you like the thought of striking out across the country with your own rooftop tent, plus more classic accommodation for routes taking in wildlife, vineyards, desert and more. More unusually, you could head just off the coast to the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean too, to discover the volcanic scenery, tropical beaches and adrenaline-fuelled activities in this French territory.

For more volcanoes and wildlife with a difference, Costa Rica has its own unique attractions; it’s hard to beat driving to rainforests and coast. Sunvil has two different routes, depending whether you’re fascinated by flora and fauna or searching for wildlife and beach.

And while Cuba’s vintage American cars are one highlight of a visit to Havana, getting behind the wheel in something more modern is a great way to explore beyond the capital or the resorts. Check out Western & Oriental’s Classic Cuba self-drive tour while Journey Latin America has suggested itineraries and tailor-made trips to the country too as well as more far-flung adventure in Uruguay and Patagonia.

If you’ve time to spare, a road trip across New Zealand’s islands or traversing some small part of Australia’s immense distances is an unforgettable way to see either country – and from the left-hand side of the road too. With rugged landscapes between the cities and beach, not to mention the unforgiving Outback, it’s worth being prepared before you set off. Try renting a motorhome in New Zealand, and see these self-drive tours in Australia.

Take some tips from the experts at The Ultimate Travel Company with their 4WD journey to the Red Centre, or the 400-mile Gibb River Road through the Kimberley wilderness.

Austravel’s itineraries range from four days to 22, while the Australia options from Audley Travel can include domestic flights so you can cover more ground than on four wheels alone.

If you’d rather not spend your entire trip driving, InsideJapan Tours mixes train travel and walking with the chance to drive as you get further from the main tourist centres – there’s no navigating Tokyo, you’ll be very glad to hear.

Last updated: 3 April 2017

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