One of the best tips I have for a successful road trip? Don’t be afraid to let the music do the talking. True story: When on a road trip from Boston to Austin a few years ago, my fellow road tripper and I stopped to visit a friend in Nashville. She gave us a CD of songs to listen to for the rest of the trip, one of which was “Walking in Memphis” by Mark Cohn.
Ignorance, perhaps, but when the lyrics said “walking with my feet 10 feet off of Beale,” we decided it would be hilarious to see if “Beale Street” existed so that we could drive there and yes, take a photo of ourselves…10 feet off of Beale. We entered it into the GPS.
Little did we know that Beale was the Memphis equivalent of New Orleans’ Bourbon Street and we ended up having one of the most fun, bizarre, and entertaining nights on the road.
Of course, we never intended to stay in Memphis for long but couldn’t leave without paying our respects to “The King” at Graceland. That’s what road trips are all about – the unexpected, the openness to discovery, and the ability to get lost and found all at the same time.
Plus, what’s a road trip without great tunes, car dancing, and a questionable look from the guy in the car next to you while he catches you belting out a beloved rock anthem in the middle of nowhere? Not a good one, if you ask us. Here are some of the best road trip songs to add to the playlist or create a new one for your next journey on the road.
(*Spotify playlists follow at the end of the post)
Born to Be Wild, Steppenwolf – the all-time ultimate road trip song. Need I say more?
On the Road Again, Willie Nelson – get your boots, throw on your cowboy hat, and hit it. I double dog dare you not to sing, bop your head, and belt this one out.
Life Is a Highway – Traditionalists may choose Tom Cochrane’s original. Though I prefer the Rascal Flatts cover of it.
Free Fallin’ – You’d be hard-pressed to find a better version than Tom Petty’s classic, though I have to admit, John Mayer’s sexy, soft, and slowed-down version is pretty kick ass. In fact, we used it as the soundtrack to our Moab, Utah video. Mayer actually has a lot of great road trip songs on his Born & Raised album, inspired by his picturesque escape to Paradise Valley, Montana. We listened to Queen of California all the way up to Murphys, Calif. and it set the mood perfectly. Watch the video here.
Glory Days, Bruce Springsteen – Some would assume that of all of the Boss’ classics, I’d choose Born to Run. But nope. This is my favorite of his for a road trip escapade.
Take it Easy, Eagles – I mean, really. A road trip without Eagles tunes? While you’re at it, go ahead and add Hotel California to the playlist. You’ll thank me later.
Hit the Road Jack, Ray Charles – Love me some Ray, any time, any day. But is there a better road trip anthem than Hit the Road Jack? Note: while it’s a bit too mellow for a road tune, I have to give a shout out to American Idol’s Casey Abrams and Haley Reinhart whose sultry, bluesy version of the song should absolutely be on your dinner party playlist.
(Get your kicks on) Route 66 – There are many versions of this song, and while I love the Nat King Cole original and the Chuck Berry cover, to keep the road trip energy up, I prefer the Rolling Stones’ 1964 version best. If Depeche Mode is your cup of tea, they have an even more amped up version, but it’s a little much for my taste.
Don’t Stop Believing, Journey – Just a small town girl, livin’ in a lonely world, you took the midnight train goin’ anywhere… go ahead. You know the rest. ‘Nuff said.
P.Y.T, Michael Jackson – okay, so clearly I’m stuck in the ’80s a bit with this list, but come on. These are classics and no road trip is complete without them.
Sweet Child O’ Mine, Guns N’ Roses – go for it. Just rock it. Head bang, if you must. And by all means, stop at the random diner in the middle of nowhere and chat with the Harley-driving roadsters because heaven knows they’ll have a story to tell…
Life Goes On, The Beatles – oh-bla-dee oh-bla-dah….Must I explain? The Beatles. That is all.
The Unexpected and the Random
These may not all have “travel” or “road” in the lyrics, but the best road trip songs either induce you sing out loud or car dance because as you know – time flies when you’re having fun. The more fun you’re having, the “faster” you’ll get to your destination.
You may not have heard of all of these songs or artists, and a couple selections may have you questioning my music tastes (don’t judge!), but trust me, download the tunes and burn a disc or add it your iPod. I’ll be shocked if you’re not with me on these as some of the best road trip songs to add to your playlist. That is, unless your taste in music is just… well, bad or no fun. And I mean that with love.
Can’t Let Go, Lucinda Williams – This is a catchy, sassy tune that is the perfect soundtrack for a two-lane highway in the middle of nowhere. Channel your inner outlaw or Thelma & Louise spirit and snap along. But please keep one hand on the wheel.
Raise Your Glass, P!nk – Party anthem. Road trip song. Whatever. If this song doesn’t get you grooving, check your pulse.
Along for the Ride, Matraca Berg – If you happen upon a country road, this is your soundtrack. It’s folky, and the message is one we fully support: let your heart be your guide…
The Man Who Wants You, Amos Lee – It’s no secret that Amos rocks my musical soul to epic proportions, so my playlists, road trip or otherwise, are never without some Amos Lee! This tune — one of his most recently-released singles — is already on our next road trip soundtrack. Just download it. You won’t be sorry. If you’re not snapping your fingers, shimmying your shoulders, bobbing your head, and grooving for days, see a doctor because something’s terribly wrong with you…
Chillin’, Sam & Ruby – You may have heard them on Sirius XM’s Coffeehouse station. This singer-songwriter duo has a ton of funky, cool coffee house tunes, but this one is perfect to play on the road when you need a little break from all that rocking out. Though I can’t promise you won’t still be swaying along.
I Want a New Drug, Huey Lewis and the News – We’re back to the ’80s. However, travel is our drug. And this song is fun. So there you go.
Say Hey (I love you), Michael Franti – Did we mention shoulder pumping and upper body swaying? We may have just created the road trip fitness routine.
Keep Your Head Up, Ben Howard – I stumbled upon this song by accident on the soundtrack for “Save Haven” — the movie may have been a flop, but the entire soundtrack is anything but a flop with a phenomenal compilation of artists. Howard’s song has an ethereal, but still upbeat, quality to it that makes it perfect for a musical road companion, not to mention terrific lyrics!
Little Bird, Annie Lennox – the first time I heard this song was on New Year’s Eve several lifetimes ago. We were in the car, with far more people than seatbelts, heading from one party to the next. Not my finest moment of being a law-abiding citizen (sorry, mom) — but every time I hear the song, it takes me right back to that exhilarating moment with everyone in the car rocking out and having a blast.
On the Road, Keane – Imagine driving through a forest or on a curvy snow-capped mountain road with this song playing and you’ll forever remember that moment when you hear this song again post-trip. We don’t know why, it just happens.
Heal Yourself, Ruthie Foster – Is it Sunday? Do you feel the need to go to church? Let Ruthie take you there. She’s Blues. She’s Folk. She’s Gospel. And she’s BAD-ASS! If you’ve never heard of her, you’re welcome.
Mercy, Duffy – When on a road trip through the Welsh countryside, we were playing (what else?) music by Welsh artists. Yes, there was some Tom Jones. But it was this catchy Duffy tune that was stuck on repeat…again…and again… It’s become a favorite road trip tune ever since.
All I Wanna Do, Sheryl Crow – …is have some fun. I gotta feelin’ I’m not the only one….
I could go on and on, but we’ll leave it at this for now!