Forget long layovers and cramped overnight buses, make your journey the adventure itself with these epic excuses to hit the open road… or ocean!
Between breathtaking views of dramatic fjords, highways that stretch into the horizon and landscapes that ooze an exotic mysticism, you’ll be wishing you never reach your next destination.
Head to Uzbekistan for fine weather in a Silk Road showstopper
Caravanserais. Silk Road. Spices. There’s something undeniably romantic about travel to this ‘Stan’, which has been the cultural heart of Central Asia for millennia.
This is especially true of Uzbekistan’s trio of historic cities – Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva – which glitter with mosaic-tiled mausoleums, mosques and medressas (religious schools) that still speak of ancient times; Bukhara’s Silk and Spices Festival (late May) seeks to celebrate that legacy, showcasing the carpet weavers, wood-carvers, musicians and artists still practising traditional skills. Indeed, May is the perfect month to visit. Temperatures in the mid-20°Cs (70°Fs) make for comfortable sightseeing, while tulips and apricot blossom enliven the landscapes.
- Trip plan: Fly to capital Tashkent. Overland, via the Kyzyl-kum Desert, to the walled city of Khiva, then Bukhara, to finish in Samarkand, home to the resplendent Registan Sq.
- Need to know: Uzbekistan is one of the world’s two double-landlocked countries (nations surrounded completely by other landlocked countries).
- Other months: Apr-Jun & Sep-Oct – warm, lovely; Nov-Mar – cold, clear, quiet; Jul-Aug – uncomfortably hot.
Hit the empty, open road along Route 66, USA
May is a fine time to be in Chicago. The city is warming, and there are many festivals. But it’s also a fine time to leave the city – on the ultimate US road trip. Route 66, the famous ‘Mother Road’, was first designated in 1926 and ran from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California, crossing eight states and measuring 2423 miles (3900 km).
The route, which changed over the years, is no longer officially signed, but about 80% can still be followed (with a guidebook), taking drivers through deserts, plains, mountains and many a small town’s main street. It also passes old roadside diners and creaky-signed motels that hark back to the 1920s. The 66 ‘season’ starts in May: earlier, and it’ll be cold at the route’s higher elevations; by July, the desert will be scorching and the roads busier.
- Trip plan: For a Route 66 trip following the original as closely as possible, allow two to four weeks. Save time by using sections of faster Interstate. Or concentrate on one part – for example, drive Oklahoma to California to make a Steinbeck/Grapes of Wrath pilgrimage.
- Need to know: Springfield, Missouri, is considered the official birthplace of Route 66.
- Other months: May-Oct – best for road trips (Jun-Aug: busiest); Nov-Apr – cold, some attractions close.
Sail to the fjords in sunshine on the west coast of Norway
Hurtigruten ferries ply Norway’s 1491-mile (2400 km) west coast, from southerly Bergen to Arctic Kirkenes, 365 days a year. They are a lifeline for people living along this wild, fjord-serrated seaboard, so they must depart, whatever the weather. That said, May to June is a good time to visit. The weather is generally mild and days are extraordinarily long.
By mid-May, the sun doesn’t set at all in far-north Tromsø – you can watch jaw-dropping scenery glide by all night long. Better weather and more light makes it easier to hop off for activities too. There are 34 ports of call; disembark to fish in the Lofoten Islands, meet Sami people at North Cape or hike near Geirangerfjord. Note, May is a month of festivals in pretty Bergen, so allow extra time here before you sail.
- Trip plan: A Bergen-Kirkenes-Bergen round voyage takes 12 days; shorter cruises and numerous excursions are possible.
- Need to know: Hurtigruten boats are no-frills – don’t expect the amenities and entertainment found on big cruise ships.
- Other months: May-Sep – best weather, long days (Jul-Aug: most expensive); Oct-Apr – cool to cold, aurora possible.
Ride a world-beating ferry, before the masses
The Alaska Marine Highway (AMH) is a local lifeline and a mind-blowing ride. Year-round, AMH ferries ply the Inside Passage, the route that sneaks along the island-sprinkled coast of northwest North America, from Bellingham (Washington State) to Skagway (Alaska). En route, these boats call at remote communities and unreel nautical mile upon mile of scenic treats. They inch through Canada’s Gulf Islands, trace eastern Vancouver Island, pass the fathomless Great Bear Rainforest, then hit Alaska, where fjords carve, glaciers calve and Native American and gold-rush history abounds.
There’s prolific wildlife too, from orca and humpbacks to bald eagles and bears. The warmer months are best, but also busiest. Opt for the long days of May to preempt the crowds and the summer bugs. It’s also when animals are at their most active.
- Trip plan: Travel on the AMH, hopping on and off at ports en route to explore the wildlife-rich hinterland (though note, some ports are served by ferries daily, others only once a week). Cabins must be prebooked; alternatively, save money by camping out in the lounge or on deck.
- Need to know: Bellingham is 68 miles (110km) north of Seattle.
- Other months: May-Sep – main cruise season (Jun-Aug: busiest); Oct-Apr – AMH ferries still run, worse weather.
Looking for more inspiration? Check out our book Where To Go When for 360 ultimate escapes from family-friendly adventures to animal encounters and relaxing retreats.