I recently raised the question on my Facebook page: What are your favourite movies about travel?
The question drew quite a few answers that ranged from the predictable nominations for films such as Into the Wild and The Motorcycle Diaries to less conventional picks such as Like Crazy and National Lampoon’s Vacation (although I’m pretty sure this last one was intended as tongue in cheek).
It got me thinking about what movies I consider to be the best movies about travel. There are too many to count, but I’ve done my best to limit it to just ten.
Honorable Mentions: The Beach, Road Trip, National Lampoon’s European Vacation, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and Sex Drive.
Ones I Haven’t Seen: The Motorcycle Diaries and Like Crazy.
Reader Suggestions: Only You, Under the Tuscan Sun, A Map for Saturday.
Am I missing any? Enlighten me!
#10 – The Inbetweeners Movie
This one is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine, but it’s set in Greece so it totally qualifies as a travel movie! It may be full of gross out humour and sex jokes, but the hallmarks of a good (albeit very blokey) trip are there: booze, a bit of heart-break, embarassment, dodgy accommodation, cultural confusion, arguments, parties, and mates just having a good time.
I want to go there: The boys get more than a little silly in Malia, Crete – one of many ‘party islands’ in the Mediterannean that draw British teens and travelers like bees to honey.
#9 – Eurotrip
At about the same maturity level as The Inbetweeners, this slightly older road trip comedy showcases much more of Europe as a group of American friends travel across the continent trying to reunite one of their number with his (of course) smoking hot German pen-pal.
They drink absinthe in Amsterdam, encounter football hooligans in England, deal with handsy Italians, get stranded in a scary former Soviet State, have a run in with the Pope, and there’s some awkward incest, public nudity, and dominatrix stuff in there to keep the American audience pleased.
It might not be a particularly accurate depiction of Europe, but it certainly does a good job of showing just how silly life on the road can be with the right company.
I want to go there: The action starts in London, progresses to Paris, and then hits Amsterdam, Bratislava (Slovakia), and the Vatican City for the grand finale.
#8 – Midnight in Paris
I saw this one on a flight from the United States back to China last year and immediately fell in love with it. A writer in a less than happy relationship wanders the streets of Paris at midnight and is inadvertantly whisked back in time to when the city was the place to be for the creative elite.
Set against the backdrop of Paris then (in the 1920s) and now, Midnight in Paris has single-handedly convinced me that someday I would like to visit Paris so I can try and organise my own meeting with Earnest Hemingway, Salvador Dali, and Pablo Picasso.
I want to go there: Paris is a pretty easy place to find on a map, and it’s not as hard as you’d think to find cheap apartment accommodation in Paris either.
#7 – Sideways
A little more low key than the road trip movies at #9 and #10 on the list, Sideways follows a pair of friends on a tour through the Santa Barbara wine country in California.
Maybe it’s because it (like Midnight in Paris) features a down on his luck writer, but I remember being really drawn to this movie back when I first saw it. The struggle between the mild-mannered Giamatti and Haden-Church’s self destructive need to get laid ‘one last time’ reminds me of a few trips I’ve had in my time as well.
Sadly, I was never the sex crazed casanova.
I want to go there: The film takes place in California’s Santa Ynez Valley.
#6 – The Hangover
Aaand we’re back to gross out humour. These movies may be more about laughs and stupid antics than travel, but the first and second (I’ve yet to see the third) do feature travel rather prominently.
Whether it’s a bachelor party in Las Vegas or a few days spent hopelessly lost in Bangkok, both films feature the classic elements of any unforgettable trip: booze, sex, misunderstandings, arguments, cultural confusion, and a little danger.
None of us may know an Alan or a Phil – but we know people who are watered down versions of them. Hell, we may even be one of them. Myself? I’ve always felt that Bradley Cooper and I are remarkably similar in appearance…
I want to go there: The first film takes place in Las Vegas. The second takes place in Bangkok, Thailand.
#5 – Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
We go back a ways here to snatch this absolutely classic Steve Martin/John Candy double. One of the all time great comedies is all about travel. Well, it’s all about when travel goes wrong. It’s also about those unlikely friendships we’re forced to forge when we’re on the road, and John Candy does it better than any today could ever hope to as the sympathetic baffoon.
I want to go there: Martin and Candy travel (by plane, train, and automobile) between Chicago and New York in the United States.
#4 – Up!
This one would be high on any list of movies I wrote. I’ve seen it a half dozen times and I’ve welled up a half dozen times. It is most definitely a better love story than Twilight.
A surly old widower, a young Asian-American kid with an absentee father, a talking dog, and a giant bird travel by house (with balloons, of course) to a mysterious jungle kingdom to fulfill the dreams of Carl Frederickson’s recently deceased wife.
The reason I love this movie isn’t so much the travel, but the message behind it. In choosing to marry Carl, the late Ellie didn’t give up her dreams of adventure – she simply chose to have an entirely different adventure with the man she loved. It’s a wonderfully bittersweet and romantic film and one I’d recommend to anybody.
I want to go there: Alas, ‘Paradise Falls’ does not exist – but it was based on Venezuela’s Angel Falls.
#3 – The Darjeeling Limited
Three estranged brothers travel across India on one of its notorious trains in hopes of reuniting with their mother. In true Wes Anderson style, this one is delightfully off-beat and quirky; full of almost unlovable characters who are somehow charming.
This one portrays travel with bickering family members brilliantly, but also shows bits of India’s culture and beauty along the way.
I want to go there: There is no real ‘Darjeeling Unlimited’ train, but the film was shot in Rajasthan and India does boast several luxury trains you could recreate the action aboard.
#2 – Into the Wild
The heir apparent to the throne, this biopic about the ill-fated Christopher McCandless (aka Alexander Supertramp) has inspired countless people across the world with its message of shrugging off society’s expectations and getting out to explore the world.
While it does end with McCandless death from starvation in the Arctic, the journey to get to that grim place is uplifting and beautiful. I challenge you to watch the movie and not want to shrug on a backpack and go see something – work be damned.
I want to go there: McCandless’ journey takes him through Arizona, Northern California, South Dakota, the Grand Canyon & Colorado River, Las Angeles, Mexico, and eventually Alaska.
#1 – Lost in Translation
No movie has better summarized and shared the feelings of loneliness, alienation, and general confusion that a traveler in Asia for the first time experiences better than this one.
Having seen it before I went to live in South Korea, I never truly appreciated the relatively slow paced, atmosphere driven film. But after you’ve been in Asia and seen its bright lights, ‘strange’ cultural quirks, and felt that isolation for yourself – you really get an appreciation for how true to life this film is.
The other films on this list may glorify travel; Lost in Translation tells it as it often is; lonely, confusing, amusing, uplifting, strange, and sad. Often all at once.
I want to go there: The film takes place in Tokyo, but you’ll find these brightly lit, crowded cities across eastern Asia.
What do you think? What are your favourite movies about travel? Have I made any glaring omissions? Are you horrified that I’ve included a film you hate?
Share the wealth! I’d love to see a few more movies about travel.
Note: I left Eat, Pray, Love off on purpose. Awful fucking movie. Awful fucking book.