How to Make the Perfect Travel Soundtrack

Top view of a white headphone, a pair of sunglasses and a camera on top of a brown table.

Travel soundtrack

It’s not a road trip without tunes, right?

Making the perfect playlist for your next road trip is a whole lot easier than it was back in the days of mix tapes. Those icons may have faded into the murky depths of 20th century lore, but they were absolutely indispensable for long rides into the great beyond. Remember the effort Jack Nicholson’s character put into making those tapes in As Good as It Gets?  Would Guardians of the Galaxy even be a movie without Awesome Mix Vol. 1? Yeah, every adventure needs a soundtrack.

Putting together a playlist gives you both a blueprint for your trip and a lasting souvenir of the journey. Before you start delving into the depths of iTunes or pawing through your CDs, however, you’re going to have to decide if you want a theme-based playlist or one that measures your stops along the way. Here are some suggestions to get you moving in the right direction. Literally.

Destination Tracks

A destination playlist is like a musical scrapbook of where you’re headed. If you’re going cross-country, find something that’s symbolic of every milestone along the way. That could be as obvious as songs about certain states or cities, or a bit subtler like a collection of artists who hail from whatever part of the country you’re passing through.

Start with an anthem that says it all. Monkey Junk nails it with Time to Roll but Route 66 by Chuck Berry is always a perennial favorite. There’s also America by Simon & Garfunkel or Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run. Just find a track that sets the mood wherever you’re headed or whatever you’re getting into.

If you’re looking for destination-based songs, you’ll be amazed at how many artists mention specific cities or landmarks in their work. If you’re heading for Tennessee, for example, you’ll be drowning in choice with so many tunes about Nashville or Memphis. From Hoyt Axton’s Midnight in Memphis to the Tim McGraw Nashville Without You tribute, the selection is huge. Even less musically-renown states all have their signature songs. Try Anchorage by Michelle Shocked if you’re Alaska bound, or Bertie Higgins’ Key Largo if you’re going the other way.

Finally, be sure to throw in the occasional driving classic to keep you focused on the dotted line. Something like the Allman Brothers’ Midnight Rider or Darius Rucker’s recording of Wagon Wheel. Classic.

Theme Tracks

If you’re heading out for a special occasion or event, capture the moment in your playlist. Going to a family reunion? How about Paul Simon’s Mother and Child Reunion or if you’ve got mixed feelings about the whole thing, consider Cruel by the Dropkick Murphys.

There’s a ton of music about weddings, and they don’t all put you to sleep. Married by Elvis from Barlow should liven things up, as will Marry Me by Amanda Marshall. If you’re going cross-country to a high school reunion, you’ll probably get a kick out of putting together a playlist of all the songs that got you through your teenage years. Just be sure to end it with Stairway to Heaven or something equally cheesy.

Putting together just the right playlist gets you in the mood for any road trip and is guaranteed to make the miles fly by. Stay safe and have fun out there!