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Retrace These Famous Movie Road Trips

The only thing more exciting than watching road trip themed movies is driving the route yourself.

road trip theme

Credit: Sesc em São Paulo, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Between the hilarious high jinks, open roads, car breakdowns and scene-stealing scenery, there are few film genres more beloved and universal than the road trip movie. And while these films never get old, there is one thing that may be even more enjoyable than watching them. That is – of course – living them.

What if you took the same trek as the characters in your favorite road trip films and experienced firsthand the route’s trials and tribulations? You may also get to see some of the famous locations appearing in the films. Truth be told, many of these fictional characters chose some incredible regions to travel through.

Here are the iconic journeys taken in five memorable road trip movies. Which one will you take?

road trip theme

“National Lampoon’s Vacation”

Illinois to California

The Griswold clan is renowned for their travels through the U.S. and Europe, but no trek is more famous than their original journey to Walley World. In 1983’s “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” the family of four packed into a wood-paneled station wagon and drove from their suburban Chicago home to the fictitious theme park in southern California.

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You’ll need a few days to recreate this epic 37-hour, 2,200-mile cross-country drive, but it will be well worth it. Starting in northern Illinois, you’ll head south to Missouri, where the Griswolds visit the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Then drive west to Dodge City, Kan., and South Fork, Colo. The road trip takes on a decidedly scenic flavor from here on out. You’ll travel through Utah’s picturesque Monument Valley before hitting the Grand Canyon National Park. A few more hours to the west and you’ll reach your destination.

Feel free to copy the Griswolds and fly back home. Wanna plan your own route to Walley World? Head to the AAA TripTik travel planner to find the easiest way to your destination.

movie road trip theme

“Thelma & Louise”

Arkansas to Arizona

While we would never condone their criminal behavior, Thelma and Louise did take an epic road trip in the eponymous 1991 film. The duo originally set out for a simple getaway in the Arkansas mountains. Things quickly take a turn for the worse, however, and the friends decide to flee to Mexico in their 1966 Ford Thunderbird convertible.

Instead of driving straight to the border, Thelma and Louise famously avoid the state of Texas. After traveling through Oklahoma, they make a pit stop in Colorado’s Unaweep Canyon. They then traverse their way through deserts of New Mexico and Arizona before their journey comes to a soaring end at the Grand Canyon. Note that most of these latter scenes were actually filmed in Utah. The purported New Mexico backdrop was really the La Sal Mountains as well as Arches and Canyonlands national parks. And the movie poster? That’s a photo of Utah’s Monument Valley.

All told, this iconic road trip will take you more than 25 hours and put about 1,600 miles on your odometer.

“Dumb & Dumber”

Rhode Island to Colorado

Don’t be fooled by the film’s title – there’s nothing foolish about retracing Harry and Lloyd’s road trip, which took them from the Northeast all the way to the Rocky Mountains. The friends start off in their home city of Providence. (The Farrelly brothers, who wrote and directed the film, are Rhode Island natives and set many of their movies in the Ocean State.) From there, it’s pretty much a straight shot due west, across 11 states and 2,100 miles.

Fans of the movie will remember the duo missed the turn for Aspen, driving back through the plains of Nebraska. Whether you want to add several hundred miles to your road trip is entirely up to you. Either way, when you get to the snow-covered mountains of Colorado, we recommend a vehicle with a little more horsepower than a pull-start minibike.

movie road trip theme

“Planes, Trains and Automobiles”

New York to Illinois

Granted, only the latter half of this famous excursion occurs on four wheels, but we’re including the entire New York to Chicago route and keeping our fingers crossed you don’t have the logistical nightmares of Neal Page and Del Griffith. The movie’s main characters attempt to get back to the Windy City in time for Thanksgiving, first by taking a flight out of LaGuardia airport. When the plane is diverted to Wichita, they hop on a train, which promptly breaks down in Jefferson City. From there, it’s a mix of buses, rental cars and refrigeration trucks to Chicago.

All told, this haphazard route totals more than 2,100 miles. It winds back and forth through eight states, plus four state capitals: Harrisburg, Pa.; Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis, Ind.; and Jefferson City, Mo.

movie road trip theme

“Easy Rider”

California to Louisiana

Those looking to travel in a different direction may enjoy retracing the route of Wyatt and Billy from Los Angeles to New Orleans. Beginning in the City of Angels, head northeast to the town of Barstow, where you’ll hop on the I-40. The western portion of the interstate overlays or parallels historic Route 66, creating a drive that is equal parts consequential and visually stunning.

I-40 will get you into Texas before you break off and head south across the state and into Louisiana. Hopefully you get to New Orleans in time for Mardi Gras!

Need more travel plans? From literature to haunted houses, AAA has every type of road trip theme covered. And make sure to check out our digital TourBook guides, which are packed with info on where to eat, stay and play during your journey. 

Comments
  • I love the ones you suggested. Ijust wanted to add that the road trip Orlando Bloom took in the movie “Elizabethtown” looks interesting too.

    Reply
  • Chaim M.

    You’re missing my favorite cross-country road trip – the Muppet Movie. That movie is probably responsible for my own road trip mania, the latest symptom of which was a month-long New York-California trip this past summer.

    Reply
    • This is fantastic!!! Hope you had a great time, even if you didn’t have Kermit and Miss Piggy along for the ride. 😉
      Thanks for reading!
      -Dana L.

      Reply
  • oh my goodness, these are all terrific, but what about “little miss sunshine!” one of my all-time favorites, even the soundtrack is so fitting to the scenery and absurd scenarios 🙂

    Reply

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