London, Paris, Los Angeles, Tokyo and Sydney: all great cities. But let's say you've just landed and want to get away from their urban sprawl as quickly as possible; get out into the surrounding region where you can explore towns and natural treasures at your own pace without hassles of traffic, congestion and finding a place to park your car. These routes will get you out of the airport and away from urban coagulation as quickly as possible, giving you more time to explore.
London, United Kingdom
Heathrow–Windsor–Stonehenge–Chipping Campden, 220 miles (354km)
Everything that is London is east of Heathrow Airport, so immediately head west on the M4 motorway. After a mere nine miles (14km) you'll see the exit for Windsor, your first stop. This cheery little town is home to the sprawling Windsor Castle, where you'll most likely find the Queen when she's not at her urban digs.
Your next stop is Winchester, another beautiful town 50 miles (80km) southwest, where the namesake cathedral is stuffed with 1000 years of English history. About 29 miles (40km) further west is Stonehenge, which is beautiful, mysterious and clichéd all at once. Drive 62 miles (100km) north, along roads that take you through the aching loveliness of the English countryside. Your goal is Chipping Campden, a town in the heart of the Cotswolds, home to every iconically romantic image of rural England. Go for strolls amidst the beauty and tiny villages. When your idyll is over, Heathrow is just 74 miles (120km) southeast.
Charles de Gaulle–Reims–Champagne–Épernay, 189 miles (304km)
If there's one thing everyone agrees on, Charles de Gaulle Airport is no place to linger. Happily, this is France so your opportunities to roam pleasurably are boundless, such as the hills of the Champagne region. Yes, the City of Light is to the southwest but you'd never drive there – rather leave the airport on the D212 road and after 2.5 miles (4km) turn northwest onto the N2 and begin your drive across the ever-more-lovely French hills and dales. Your goal is Reims, about 87 miles (140km) northeast of the airport.
Reims has a famed 13th-century cathedral, replete with stunning rose windows, but your reason for this trip is embodied in the very name of the region: Champagne. The most joyously French of drinks originates here – what could be a better reward for your journey? Eight Champagne houses with instantly recognisable names such as Mumm and Taittinger are close by. Tour a few, enjoy the samples and have a fabulous meal (don't forget you're driving however!). Driving south 19 miles (30km) through thickly wooded parkland would be joy enough, even if the destination weren't Épernay, which has more centres of bubbly, including Moët & Chandon. From here, Charles de Gaulle is only 81 miles (130km) west.
Los Angeles, USA
LAX–Palm Springs–Joshua Tree National Park, 143 miles (230km)
Everyone knows the lyrics, 'LA is a great big freeway', and that makes your escape from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) all the easier, especially when you consider the proximity of places like Joshua Tree National Park. The airport's ocean-side location, while scenic and classically southern California, with surfers riding waves below low-flying jets, is still close to the heart of LA's vast sprawl. Instead, head east on I-105 for 16 miles (25km) and then merge onto I-10. With each passing mile, the traffic will thin and the aridly beautiful natural landscape emerges.
After 72 miles (115km) you'll be in Palm Springs, home to memories of the 1960s icons such as the Rat Pack and Elvis Presley. Golf, great dining, desert wonders and refreshing azure swimming pools abound. Another option for local exploration is the alien-like splendour of Joshua Tree National Park, where the bizarre trees dot a landscape that might be something an astronaut would witness. After your road trip is over, it's an easy drive back to LAX and all that is Los Angeles.
Narita–Tsukuba–Nikkō, 174 miles (280km)
Mention driving in Tokyo and some might suggest poking your eyes out with chopsticks as a more pleasant alternative. But the city's huge international gateway airport, Narita, is well-placed for a road trip through the rice paddies and beautifully tended Japanese countryside.
From the airport head north 37 miles (60km) toward the city of Tsukuba on Highway 408, though there are a few additional roads involved. You'll want a good map for this or, even better, a GPS unit from your car rental firm. Your ultimate goal is Nikkō, which is only 87 miles (140km) from Narita but a world away. Shrines and temples date back to the 8th century. The peace you'll feel in simple and immaculate gardens will soon have any stress oozing away. Spend a couple of days unwinding here and in the countryside before you retrace your steps through many cute villages, such as the mountain village of Kinugawa, known for its hot springs, back to Narita.
Kingsford Smith–Kiama–Seven Mile Beach 124 miles (200km)
Australia's largest city can be difficult to get around, but this route makes it as breezy as the wind coming in over the beaches. From Kingsford Smith International Airport head south on National Route 1. You'll follow the ever-more-enticing New South Wales coast about 62 miles (100km) south to your first stop, Kiama. This is where the south coast's beauty really kicks in. Hop out of the car and stretch your legs amidst the character-filled buildings of the town centre – but don't linger long as the beach awaits.
Just 10 miles (16km) south of Kiama, the eponymously named Seven Mile Beach is the perfect place to visit (it's a national park). Inland you can venture into the thick Australian rainforest – and smell the gum trees – at Budderoo National Park. When you're ready to head back north, it's an easy 62-mile (100km) or so drive.
This article was originally published in June 2012. This article was updated in October 2012.