Tie the kayaks to the roof, fill the cooler up with soda and strap the kids into the backseat. It’s summer road trip time! This eclectic road trip playlist, with songs from different eras and genres, will fuel your need to hit the open road, lift your spirits and even soothe frazzled nerves. Classic rock, country and 80s pop will show your kids there’s more to music than just Nae Nae. Caution: You may feel the urge to sing along too!
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1. I’ve Been Everywhere – Johnny Cash
No road trip playlist is complete without this gem. Covered by many artists over the years, we think Johnny Cash’s gravely baritone hits just the right note for this upbeat, three-minute geography lesson that lists 91 different places. Kalamazoo always gets a big cheer from us, since we live just down the road from there. Epic life goal: Visit all the towns named in this song.
2. Life is a Highway – Rascal Flatts
Tom Cochrane originally recorded this metaphor-filled song about, well, how life is like a highway. What it lacks in profound insight, it makes up for in enthusiasm for the open road. Rascal Flatts covered it for the 2005 Disney movie Cars. Since we have kids, we went with the version that’s familiar to them, and honestly, we kinda like it better anyway.
3. California – Phantom Planet
If you’re from my generation, you probably associate this song with that festival of rich-kid teen angst that was the T.V. show The O.C. (Did they really have to kill Marissa off like that?) Recorded in 2002, somehow this song manages to capture that cool California vibe while straddling the end of 90’s grunge and the beginning of Millennial teen pop.
4. Proud Mary – Creedence Clearwater Revival
This is for anyone who has ever wanted to chuck it all for life on a riverboat. Not many of you? OK. Most people on riverboats these days are just there to gamble. But this 1969 hit from Creedence Clearwater Revival, with its beat that mimics a paddle-wheel steaming down the river, just might make you want to turn your wheel toward the great Mississippi.
5. Home – Phillips Phillips
Let’s pretend that this wasn’t recorded by an American Idol winner. OK, now that we’re past that, there’s something comforting about this song that promises any place can be home if you’re there with the right person. Like the tiny RV you’ve been living in with your family for a week and a half that smells like stale socks and Doritos.
6. All Star – SmashMouth
In the 90s, Smashmouth told us we were all rock stars, and we should shoot for the moon. We believed them until we graduated from college and found out we had to start in the mail room like everyone else. Now, it’s the perfect anthem for young mavericks living in tiny houses, selling handcrafted letterpress cards at the local artisan market out of the back of their van. It’s also just a fun, upbeat song.
7. Leaving on a Jet Plane- Peter, Paul and Mary
Road trip playlists need soothing songs too. Peace, love and lets hold hands while we sing around the campfire. This melancholy tune beautifully captures the downside of traveling, leaving our loved ones behind. Well, unless you’re one of those folks who travels to get away from your crazy family. Then you might not relate to this one. It’s still a great song.
8. Jackson – Johnny Cash with June Carter Cash
If you ask us, this is one of the best duets ever recorded. Covered by Johnny and his wife June in 1967, the chemistry between these two still drips off the vinyl almost 50 years later. The sassy barbs traded between an angry husband and wife are classic. Let’s go to Jackson!
9. Georgia On My Mind – Ray Charles
Even if you’ve never been to Georgia, by the time this bluesy Ray Charles crooner is over, you’ll be longing for it too. You can feel the thick, slow heat of a Georgia summer afternoon in his voice. It’s the best sad, sweet song we’ve ever heard.
10. Walking on Sunshine – Katrina and the Waves
We can’t help but feel good when we listen this cheesy 80’s song. Put it on when you wish you could be walking on sunshine rather than riding through rush hour in Chicago.
11. I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) The Proclaimers
Who doesn’t love this silly love song with the catchy beat, sung by the guys with a funny accent? We would have walked 500 miles just to buy this cassette when it was released in the U.S. in 1993 by the Scottish band The Proclaimers. (Yep. Still had a tape deck back them. A what, Mom?) This peppy classic will wake you up when you’re driving past all those cornfields somewhere in Nebraska.
12. Roam – B-52s
The B- 52s no doubt roamed around the world promoting their 1989 hit album Cosmic Thing. Roam, with references to dusty trails, the wilderness and airstrips, captures the wanderlust found in the hearts of many intrepid travelers.
13. Walk like an Egyptian – The Bangles
Well, you won’t get very far, very fast walking like an Egyptian, but it does conjure up images of Indiana-Jones-like adventures in far away places. It’s also fun to torture our Generation Z kids with wacky songs from the 80s after they’ve been in the backseat complaining about who is touching whom for 50 miles.
14. On the Road Again – Willie Nelson
We don’t think any song better captures the escapism that’s associated with travel. This song is for the folks who can’t wait to get away from it all. It also happens to be a classic from one of country’s most famous stars of all time.
15. Surfin’ USA – The Beach Boys
You can’t hit the road in the summer without The Beach Boys on your playlist. The sunshine, Americana and nostalgia in this song will have you dreaming of driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in your own Little Deuce Coupe.
16. Everyday – Buddy Holly
When the kids start asking, “How much farther?” put on Buddy Holly’s Everyday and tell them it’s a gettin’ closer. This sweet oldies tune will soothe the little minions in that back for a few minutes.
17. Danger Zone – Kenny Loggins
Hopefully you don’t end up in the danger zone on your way to Disney World. But if you want to imagine that your mini van is a Navy fighter jet and you’re Tom Cruise, put on the Kenny Loggins’ hit Danger Zone from the 1986 movie Top Gun. “I feel the need. The need for speed!”
18. Africa – Toto
Honestly, we’re not really sure why this dude knows a girl in Africa. Did he join the Peace Corps? But it mentions the Serengeti and taking time to do things we never did before, and those are both right up the alley of anyone dreaming of seeing the world. And who doesn’t like a little whimsical flute solo in the middle of a rock ballad?
19. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For – U2
How can we leave Bono off this list? This song is for everyone who’s been around the world and still hasn’t satisfied that urge to go forth. Or for the wife with the husband who refuses to ask for directions. Either way.
20. Hit the Road Jack – Ray Charles
Yeah, so she’s kicking him out, because he’s a dead beat. Probably owes child support too. But we can’t help ourselves, because we love to sing along to the catchy hook, “Hit the Road Jack! And don’t cha come back no more, no more, no more, no more!”
21. Wipe Out – The Surfaries
Usually instrumental music puts us to sleep, but this famous Surfaries tune makes us feel like we could hang 10 on Waikiki. Even if we can’t handle just standing on a paddle board.
22. California Girls – Beach Boys
In the summer of 1965, America hadn’t quite come out of the halcyon haze leftover from the 1950s. Gidget was frolicking on the beach in her modest swimsuit, and the Beach Boys were dreaming about California girls in this sugary classic.
23. Born to be Wild – Steppenwolf
This song has been used so many times in movies and commercials it’s almost pedestrian. But it was a rock-n-roll anthem of freedom and rebellion back in its day. Even though it’s a bit cliché, it still holds up as a classic travel tune.
24. King of the Road – Roger Miller
This 1964 ditty is another one that’s just fun to sing-a-long with. Today you probably can’t get a free hotel room just for offering to sweep the lobby floor. And hopping box cars isn’t a recommend form of transportation for family travel. But the freedom to come and go as you please appeals to those who love to travel.
25. Shut up and Drive – Riahnna
This is another kids’ favorite, because they know it from the Wreck It Ralph movie. But it’s also another quintessential road trip song considering it’s title. Fast-paced and upbeat with tires squealing in the background, it hold it’s own against Life is a Highway and Born to Be Wild.
26. Everyday is a Winding Road – Cheryl Crow
Have you ever driven on one of those steep mountain switchback roads? We drove on one, down the side of a dormant volcano in Hawaii. Black night sky, black asphalt road, black volcanic rock walls, and all we had to illuminate the pitch dark, unfamiliar road were two tiny headlights. We almost plunged off a cliff. This song is about that. Really it’s a huge metaphor for how life’s up and downs are like the twists and turns along a road. We’ll forgive the cheese for the catchy chorus. But don’t accept rides from weirdos like ones in Crow’s song. She needs to learn stranger danger.
27. Running on Empty – Jackson Brown
Brown wrote this classic rock song in the car on the way to the recording studio. So it’s a given that it would be on a list of road trip songs. But don’t get so caught up in the backbeat that you forget to keep an eye on your gas gauge and end up on empty.
28. Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey
Look, the group is called Journey. Of course they’re on this list. This is the most downloaded mp3 of all time. Just don’t use this song to navigate your trip. There’s no such thing as South Detroit. If you try to find it, you’ll end up in Canada. Yes, Canada is south of Michigan, but that’s another post.
29. Ramblin’ Man – The Allman Brothers Band
This is another song with a soothing melody. It will calm your frazzled traveling nerves and remind you why you hit the road in the first place.
30. Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skinner
This classic southern rock song will have you tapping your toes while you drive down the road. Not really just about Alabama, it’s an anthem for anyone who loves The South or has strong feelings about their home, wherever that is.
31. Here I Go Again – Whitesnake
A soaring rock ballad from British hair band Whitesnake, this is for all the road trippers who like to go it alone. Many people will never try it, but solo travel can be very rewarding. A few days in the car with your kids might have you seriously considering it.
32. Somewhere Over the Rainbow – Isamel Kamakaro
What song captures what it’s like to daydream about traveling better than the classic Somewhere Over the Rainbow? Our favorite version is Isamel Kamakaro’s. The ukulele suits this wistful song so perfectly, it seems like that’s how it was meant to be played in the first place. It was featured in the movie 50 First Dates.
33. Take Me Home Country Roads – John Denver
All epic road trips must come to an end. When you’re ready to head for home, let John Denver remind you why you call it home with his classic folk song about life in the West Virginia mountains.
Happy road tripping!