These are the best travel movies ever (in my opinion). You can watch these films over & over again, and never get sick of them. Which ones are your favorites?
I started to realize I had a travel obsession when all my favorite movies were based on crazy travel adventures.
So here is my personal list of the Best Travel Movies of all time.
Once I’ve finished watching any of these movies, I feel the instant urge to pack up everything and head out to explore the world. The best travel movies have always helped to inspire my own personal travel goals.
So if you’re looking for some motivation to push you into a backpacking adventure of your own, sit down and watch a couple of these great flicks with a bowl of popcorn, a glass of wine, and a friend. It’s the next best thing to actually traveling!
Just make sure to get off that couch and experience the real thing once in a while, because no matter how good these movies are, they can never replicate the incredible experiences of actual world travel…
The Motorcycle Diaries is one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s about the true story of two medical students embarking on a 5 month motorcycle trip across South America in order to use their medical training to volunteer for a remote leper colony along the Amazon river. The film is based on the personal journals of latin American revolutionary Che Guevara, and highlights the freedom, adventure, and personal discovery that is part of the travel experience. It’s a beautiful movie about one of the most influential people to have ever lived, whether you think his influence was good or bad is up to you. If you haven’t seen this yet, watch it now.
A Map for Saturday is a travel documentary that follows one man as he quits his cushy job with HBO to travel around the world for a year and live out of his backpack. It shows the different ways people travel, and gives an accurate picture of what it is like to vagabond around the world long term. You get to experience both the ups and downs of his trip at a very personal level. If you ever thought of doing something like this, the movie will show you what the experience is really like. It also shows you that anyone can travel cheaply if they really want to. The only thing stopping you is, well, you.
180 Degrees South is a documentary that follows the adventure of a group of friends as they travel to Patagonia in the spirt of their heros. They pack their surfboards and climbing gear as they sail and drive along the South American coast, learning about the losing battle against industrialization and the destruction of the natural world. Modern commercial interests fed by the growing human consumption of disposable goods is ruining our planet, and the film shows what some brave people are doing to try and stop it. The movie’s beautiful scenery and fantastic soundtrack mix together with a strong message and travel adventure to create a true work of art.
Que Tan Lejos (How Much Further) is set in Ecuador, as Esperanza and Tristeza try to get from the capital city of Quito to the town of Cuenca. It is normally a 5 hour bus ride. The two women decide to hitchhike when local strikes force their bus to stop. One girl is a local trying to stop the love of her life from getting married, while the other is a tourist from Spain. Along the way, they learn from each other while meeting interesting people who help them re-evaluate the purpose of their journeys. The film is filled with beautiful scenery from Ecuador, and gives an authentic portrayal of life in that country.
In July (Im Juli) is a movie about a road trip through eastern Europe and all the adventure that goes along with it. Daniel is a shy & boring young school teacher who never really does anything fun & exciting. He decides to break out of his shell while chasing a girl from Germany to Turkey on a crazy road trip that will change his life forever. His travel partner shows him what he’s been missing as they drive, hitchhike, walk, swim, get robbed, steal a car, get in fights, escape from jail, and bribe border guards to get to their ultimate destination. By the end of the adventure, he’s a changed person.
Revolutionary Road is about an American couple in the 1950′s who are filled with passion and excitement early in their lives. But when Frank and April get married, have kids, and move into a suburban neighborhood, they get hit with the monotony of daily life. Jobs that don’t fulfill them, a life that is less than they expected. Inside they feel special, this “normal” American lifestyle isn’t for them. They hatch a wild plan to leave it all behind and move to Paris. But then life gets in the way, and the plan falls apart. They become what they hate, another typical American couple with lost dreams. I loved this movie because their situation is exactly what I’m afraid of.
L’auberge Espangnole (The Spanish Apartment) is about a young, slightly uptight Economics student who goes on an exchange program in Barcelona to learn Spanish before he lands a big job. Xavier is not that experienced with the world, and is in for a surprise when he moves into an apartment filled with international students. He has to learn to live with 6 other roommates from different corners of the globe, putting up with their cultural and personal differences. The adventures they have will open his eyes to what life can be. It’s a funny and realistic movie, based on the real life experiences of the director.
The Darjeeling Limited is a wacky film about three wealthy, spoiled brothers taking an overland train trip through India. They haven’t spoken in a year, and the trip is supposed to heal and bond them again. Initially it all goes wrong as they bicker and fight with each other. They are all suffering from depression, and pop pain killers like candy. When it seems like nothing is going right, their crazy experiences along the way finally put things into perspective. The ultimate goal of healing and rejuvenation starts to happen. They finally start to grow up and turn into men. The movie is hilarious, and beautifully shot too. It will make you want to visit India.
Lost in Translation is based on two separate travelers, Bob & Charlotte, visiting Tokyo at the same time. They meet each other and form a friendship as they experience confusion and hilarity in a strange and curious city. Bob is an aging actor starring in commercials, while Charlotte is the bored wife of a photographer there on business. They are an unlikely pair, experiencing a degree of loneliness in a foreign city filled with millions of people. This is another beautifully shot film that also shows how funny and interesting traveling in a new country can be. Little random things that happen to you while traveling can sometimes be the most memorable moments.
Lawrence of Arabia is the story of a young, eccentric British army officer who heads into the Arabian desert to gather intelligence about the Arab revolt against Turkey durring World War 1. He ends up leading a guerrilla force of them to attack the Turks. The setting of the film is fantastic, and it follows Lawrence as he learns about the people and starts adopting some of their customs. I think this is one of the benefits of travel. You learn from other cultures, and adapt your lifestyle around what you’ve learned. Although the “white man leads a bunch of natives” theme is kind of cheezy, overall the film is great. A classic.
Into the Wild is the true story of Christopher McCandless, a recent college graduate who gives away his live savings and hitchhikes to Alaska. He meets all kinds of people along the way, each with their own stories. In Alaska, he heads out into the wilderness to live on his own. His life is filled with random adventures and experiences while he makes his way up to “The Last Frontier”. This is what travel is all about to me. Experiences, good and bad, make you who you are. And long term travel is FULL of new experiences. The key is to not completely get in over your head (like Christopher did).
Last Stop for Paul is a really low budget travel movie that is surprisingly good. The acting isn’t the greatest, and they shot the whole movie without a script, but it’s funny and has a good message. The film is spontaneous, just like the best kind of travel is. It’s about 2 guys taking a RTW trip for two weeks while spreading the ashes of a friend at each stop. They get into a few predicaments along the way, just like any good backpacking experience. It feels like a really great movie created by film students. Definitely worth a watch.
Seven Years in Tibet is about an Austrian mountaineer who heads out to conquer a Himalayan mountain in 1939. After getting captured and sent to a prison camp, he ends up breaking out with another man and sneaking into the holy Tibetan city of Lhasa. He befriends the young Dalai Lama just as the Chinese attempt to invade Tibet by force. Both men are from totally different worlds, yet become great friends and learn from each other. The character starts off as a selfish prick, but slowly changes his outlook on life when confronted with new experiences in a very foreign land. It’s a good movie that shows you how travel adventures can transform your life.
Y Tu Mama Tambien is about two best friends who meet an older woman at a family wedding in Mexico City. They convince her to come with them on a road trip to a magical hidden beach that doesn’t exist. She agrees when she finds out her husband has been cheating on her. They head out to find a beach that matches their made-up story. Along the way there is passion, conflict, and jealousy. The film is unrated and has some pretty risqué scenes in it, and may not be for everyone. Their trip reveals the harsh realities of poverty that exist outside their privileged life of the city. It’s an eye opener that all travelers experience at some time in their wandering.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona is the tale of two friends who take a vacation to Barcelona, where they meet a mysterious painter, Juan Antonio, who asks them to spend the summer with him. Vicky is the more reserved of the two, engaged to be married, while Cristina is more of a free spirit. The relationship between the three is sexually charged, and drama ensues. Things only get more complicated when Juan’s mentally disturbed ex-wife shows up. The movie is quite entertaining, and is set in the beautiful landscapes & cityscapes of Spain. I especially enjoy it because it shows how travel can open you up to new experiences. You learn what you’re really made of on the road.
A Good Year is about a high powered London stock broker who’s favorite uncle passes away, leaving him a chateau and vineyard in France. When he visits to quickly prepare the property to be sold for millions, he gets addicted to the laid back, stress-free lifestyle of the French countryside. He falls in love with a local goddess, and has fond flashbacks of his childhood at the chateau under the care of his womanizing uncle. The whole thing is very funny, and it’s a great date movie! The underlying theme is that there is much more to life than money, plus it will make you want to visit the South of France!
Encounters at the End of the World is an incredibly beautiful and funny movie about the people and animals who live in Antarctica. The film is done by Werner Herzog, one of my favorite directors. The individuals that work at the National Science Foundation research station are full of character, and most are permanent world travelers. Even if you’ve seen Discovery channel shows about Antarctica, this is totally different and fresh. I liked it much more than I thought I would, and it has earned a spot on my best travel movies list because as soon as it was over I wanted to pack up and head down there for a bit!
UP is about an old man who spent his life dreaming of world travel and adventure with his wife, only for the both of them to grow old without ever taking any action. Then he finally decides to do something about it, and ends up having the adventure of a lifetime! This animated movie had it all, and was definitely not just for kids. Most people spend their whole life pushing travel goals off to the future, when they should be living those dreams right now. Life is short, and you have to fill it with interesting experiences as often as you can. This movie does a good job of emphasizing that theme.
The Indiana Jones Collection of films are not particularly accurate travel movies, but they sure are fun! These movies helped plant the seed in my head many years ago. Who wouldn’t want to go searching for lost artifacts in remote jungles and deserts all over the world? Indy’s wild adventures have inspired many travelers over the years. It’s movies like these that make you wonder about remote corners of the globe. Sometimes group tours won’t cut it. Heading out by yourself into the unknown is a whole different kind of travel experience, and very rewarding. The Indiana Jones movies can help give you the courage to jump out there and do it.
Know of Any More?
Do you have a favorite travel movie? Tell me in the comments.
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