At a time when there is a global cap on travel, all we can do is dream. The rise in armchair travel has meant many are on the lookout for the best books, Netflix series and films to inspire wanderlust, live and vicariously and immerse ourselves in a faraway land we can’t actually venture to right now. So we’ve done some of that leg work for you and have put together our movie hit-list of some of the best travel movies of all time for whenever you are stuck at home and can’t travel!
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Table of Contents
- 1 Best Travel Movies to Inspire Wanderlust
- 1.1 Eat Pray Love (2010)
- 1.2 The Way (2010)
- 1.3 Out of Africa (1985)
- 1.4 The Terminal (2004)
- 1.5 Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011)
- 1.6 Brooklyn (2015)
- 1.7 Lion (2016)
- 1.8 The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)
- 1.9 Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
- 1.10 Wild (2014)
- 1.11 Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) & Midnight in Paris (2011)
- 1.12 The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)
- 1.13 Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)
- 1.14 Seven Years In Tibet (1997)
- 1.15 Into The Wild (2007)
- 1.16 Before Sunrise (1995)
- 1.17 The Bucket List (2007)
- 1.18 The English Patient (1996)
- 1.19 Tracks (2013)
- 1.20 Hector and The Search for Happiness (2014)
- 1.21 Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
- 1.22 The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
- 1.23 The Trip (2010)
- 1.24 The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
- 1.25 Patagonia (2010)
- 1.26 Map for Saturday
- 2 The Best Travel Movies with Locations You Can Actually Visit
- 3 Old Travel Movies from the Original Adventurers!
Best Travel Movies to Inspire Wanderlust
Eat Pray Love (2010)
One of the all-time favorite movies that inspire travel, starring Julia Roberts as Elizabeth Gilbert, who’s recent divorce triggers a journey of self-discovery in the form of a round the world trip visiting Italy, India, and Bali. We challenge anyone not to feel the wanderlust while watching this one.
The Way (2010)
Documenting the journey of a grieving father, this sweet Spanish film sees Martin Sheen as Dr. Tom Avery who walks the renowned pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago, an 800km hike from the French/Spanish border to Santiago in northwest Spain.
Out of Africa (1985)
Starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, this epic romance, set in Kenya in colonial times, it tells the story of a passionate love affair between a plantation owner and a big game hunter. When Sydney Pollack brought Karen Blixen’s autobiographical book of the same name to life, he clearly pulled out the ‘best’ bits to create this cinematic masterpiece. But whilst the book itself is considered a modern classic (IMO) it is as dull as dishwater. It baffles me that a woman can lead such an unusual and eventful life, yet write a book so dry and boring. Stick with the film version – click here to rent it on Amazon.
The Terminal (2004)
An American comedy-drama starring Tom Hanks as Viktor Navorski, who comes from the fictional nation of Krakozhia and becomes stranded in New York’s JFK airport. Denied entry into the USA, he also cannot return to his home country due to an outbreak of civil war. This one is reportedly based on the true story of ‘The Terminal Man’, an Iranian refugee who was forced to live in terminal 1 of the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris for 18 years.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011)
Starring Ewan McGregor as fisheries scientist Dr Alfred Jones and Emily Blunt as Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen follows the journey of Alfred to Yemen. Recruited by Harriet to help bring the sport of fly fishing to the Yemen desert, Alfred’s shy nature means that the two form a slow, but inevitable bond.
Brooklyn is a romantic historical drama that follows the life and tribulations of a young Irish woman torn between two places and two great loves. Set in the early 50s, the film follows Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) as she is forced to emigrate, moving to Brooklyn to find employment. Eilis finds herself being forced to choose between an old love and the love of her homeland of Ireland or new pastures and the progressive opportunities of life and a new love in New York.
Starring Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire fame, this heart-wrenching biographical drama depicts the life of a young Indian boy, separated from his family at a young age. Growing up in poverty and without family, the film unveils the trials and tribulations of the young boy, Saroo who is later adopted by a family in Australia and lives a life consumed by the dream of finding his native home. Disclaimer: this one is a serious tear-jerker. Be sure to have tissues to hand.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)
A British Comedy Drama with a sweet message, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel portrays a group of retirees who choose to spend their autumn years of life in a retirement hotel in India. With a star-studded cast including Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy, this one is vibrant and heartening- an ideal feel-good option for a day on the sofa.
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
A charming independent American comedy, Little Miss Sunshine portrays the road trip journey of the Hoover family who travel 800 miles from New Mexico in a vintage yellow VW Campervan for their daughter to enter a beauty pageant in California. Enchantingly uplifting, we defy anyone who doesn’t start searching for VW campers on eBay after watching this one.
Based on the memoir of the same name written by American journalist Cheryl Strayed, the film follows the journey of Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) who embarks on the epic 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. Journeying through flashbacks of her tumultuous past and recent divorce, this is a powerful and emotional story of reconciliation and forgiveness and the therapeutic powers of long-distance hiking.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) & Midnight in Paris (2011)
Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a sophisticated romantic comedy from Woody Allen that explores the mysteries of love, from the perspective of both men and women. With an all-star cast featuring Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Javier Bardem, and Penelope Cruz, it is a smart and witty examination of love, lust, and marriage played by a flawless cast & set in a beautiful city – and was made and released before renewed allegations of sexual abuse were levied at Woody Allen (they had originally been made in 1992 but Allen was never charged).
Midnight in Paris tells the story of Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a screenwriter and aspiring novelist. Vacationing in Paris with his fiancee (Rachel McAdams), he has taken to touring the city alone. On one such late-night excursion, Gil encounters a group of strange – yet familiar – revelers, who sweep him along, apparently back in time, for a night with some of the Jazz Age’s icons of art and literature. The more time Gil spends with these cultural heroes of the past, the more dissatisfied he becomes with the present; and we get a glimpse of life in Paris throughout the film.
Both these movies are on this list because Google (and popular culture) deems them to be movies to watch as two of the top travel movies of all time, and also because they are highly rated by critics. I suppose the decision to watch them will depend on whether you can separate the alleged actions of Woody Allen and the scandal around him, from the art he has created. I’ll leave the decision up to you.
The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)
Following the travels of medical student Ernesto Guevara, the story recounts the memoir of the man who will become the internationally renowned Marxist (Che Guevara) in years to come. Traveling through Latin America in 1952 with his friend Alberto Granado, the voyage starts out as a hedonistic adventure and soon becomes a political discovery that evokes the political values he becomes known for in later years.
Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)
Be warned, this one is cheesier than a ‘quattro formaggio’ but a great choice if you simply want to indulge in a real guilty pleasure on a rainy afternoon. Recently divorced from her adulterous partner, American writer Frances Mayes (Diane Lane) buys a villa on a whim whilst on holiday in Italy in the hope that she will turn her life around and find love. Set in the beautiful undulating hills and cobbled streets of Tuscany, and with glimpses of the Amalfi coast, this is a good choice for anyone planning a trip to Italy.
Seven Years In Tibet (1997)
A blonde blue-eyed Brad Pitt plays the intrepid hiker who set out in 1939 to climb the killer Nanga Parbat, in the Himalayas, but ends up in a British POW camp which he escapes after several years to find solace in the forbidden (to foreigners) Tibetan city of Lhasa. There, in the Potala Palace, the young Dalai Lama is being trained by monks to take his place as the voice of Tibetan Buddhism.
The stirring tale of the bond that grows between Harrer and the Dalai Lama, known as Kundun (His Holiness) is beautifully played by 14-year-old Jamyang Wangchuk – and is enough to gloss over the fact shortly after filming, Herrer was discovered to be a Nazi. (From 1933 on he was a member of Hitler’s SA (storm troopers) and from 1938 on, was in the SS (the elite guard)) which the movie briefly acknowledges.
Into The Wild (2007)
A poignant and powerful account of the adventures of Christopher McCandless, a young graduate who donates his money to charity and embarks on an epic journey across Northern America and Alaska. Hitch-hiking along the way, Christopher runs with wild horses, kayaks in the Colorado River and camps out in extreme weather. An epic adventure with a dark twist at the end, if Alaska is on the bucket list- this one is a must-watch.
Before Sunrise (1995)
This classic romance drama has been dubbed as a modern-day ‘brief encounter’. Set in the beautiful streets of Vienna, the story depicts the bond between two travelers played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy and the romance that ignites between them. A classic one to watch for romance fans, the story evokes the feeling of how sacred the connections are between fellow travelers and the beauty of their brevity.
The Bucket List (2007)
Jack Nicholsons Billionaire Edward Cole and Morgan Freemans car mechanic Carter Chambers are complete strangers until they find themselves in the same hospital room. With seemingly nothing in common, at first, the men discover they are the same in two ways: a need to come to terms with what they have done in life and who they are, and a desire to each complete their own bucket list of things they want to see and do before they die.
Against their doctor’s advice, the men leave the hospital and set out on the adventure of a lifetime visiting places like the Taj Mahal in India, the Pyramids of Giza (Eygpt), walking along the Great Wall of China and going on Safari in Tanzania. This light-hearted caper is a favorite travel movie of mine, simply because if it doesn’t inspire you to travel when you can and do the best you can with the time you have, nothing will.
The English Patient (1996)
The title character, a man burned beyond recognition who speaks with an English accent (Ralph Fiennes), tells his story to Hana, a young Canadian nurse (Juliette Binoche) caring for him in a series of flashbacks, revealing his true identity and the love affair he was involved in before the war. The past and present are continually intertwined as the story unfolds and two more characters arrive at the villa: a Indian-Sikh sapper (bomb disposal expert), and a Canadian thief, each with their own connection to Hana.
Budding solo travelers will enjoy the story of Robyn Davidson, who leaves behind her urban lifestyle to embark on a 2,000-mile journey through the vast Australian desert. Yearning for solitude, she is accompanied by her dog Diggity and four camels for an epic journey from Alice Springs to the shores of the Indian Ocean.
It’s a glimpse into travel in the Australian outback, in a manner that many will never experience.
Hector and The Search for Happiness (2014)
Disillusioned with the tedium of his existence, psychiatrist Hector (Simon Pegg) confesses to his girlfriend (Rosamund Pike) that he feels he is a fraud for dispensing recommendations to patients who never seem to improve or get any happier. Summoning up the courage to break out of his boring routine, Hector gives his starved curiosity free rein and embarks on an international quest to find the right formula to bring him joy and vitality.
Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
How could there be a best travel movies list without featuring one of the original silver screen explorers?! Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones has inspired the adventures of many an intrepid explorer – even if they never made it to Egypt! But in watching one of the greatest adventure movies you’ll be transported to the hustle and bustle of the streets of Cairo, where you can eat dates and sip tea to your heart’s content!
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
Avid daydreamer Walter (Ben Stiller) fantasizes about adventure whilst working as a negative assets manager for a magazine. A fortunate turn of events breaks his life of monotony and he is sent on an important quest, triggered by a photojournalist colleague, to source a missing negative. The treasure-hunt style adventures see Walter visiting Greenland, Iceland, and the Himalayas – and will make you want to too as you’re watching the movie!
The Trip (2010)
This British sitcom turned film franchise features fictionalized versions of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (as themselves) as they embark on a restaurant tour of the North of England. Coogan is miserable both professionally and personally, and his sort-of friend Brydon seems to be there simply to antagonize him. There are moments of sheer comedy genius and some uncomfortable conversations, as both ‘characters’ emphasize certain personality traits. Take a little tour around the North of the UK with them; you won’t regret it!
The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Wes Andersons story examines the relationship between three estranged brothers (played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman), that each have their own problems. Together they set out on a train journey across India, in an attempt to rediscover their lost bond after the death of their father – and unbeknown to two of the brothers, are headed towards a reunion with their absentee mother in a Himalayan Ashram. It’s heartbreaking and hilarious in equal measure as the brothers argue, sulk and cajole their way across India.
The enriching nature of travel is the running theme of this charming drama which explores the historical connections between Argentina and Wales. Following the travels of Gwen and Rhys, a couple from Cardiff who venture to Argentina when Rhys (a photographer) is commissioned to document the historic Welsh chapels of Patagonia. As Rhys and Gwen hope to rekindle their relationship, an elderly Welsh-Argentine lady travels back to Wales to rediscover her Welsh roots.
Map for Saturday
A Map for Saturday is a docu-film created over one year of travel through 26 countries. It reveals a world of long-term, solo travel through the stories of trekkers on four continents. Created by Emmy winning producer Brook Silva-Braga, who left his comfortable HBO job to travel, intersects with two dozen solo travelers along the way who help tell the stories of the destinations he visits.
There are backpackers helping neglected Thai tsunami victims and travelers who explain why Nepal’s guesthouses are empty and why Brazil’s stoplights are ignored. But despite the interesting tales, A Map for Saturday ultimately tracks the emotional arc of extreme longterm travelers; teenagers and senior citizens who wondered, “What would it be like to travel the world?” Then did it.
It’s a travel movie that shows a little bit more of what it is actually like on the road, on a long term backpacking adventure, and the highs and lows such a journey encompasses.
The Best Travel Movies with Locations You Can Actually Visit
Grand Budapest Hotel
Set in the imaginary Republic of Zubrowka, West Anderson’s 2014 outing was filmed largely in Görlitz, the easternmost town in Germany. The art nouveau interiors of the abandoned Görlitzer Warenhaus department store doubled as the hotel lobby, and Anderson also used other parts of the pretty town to set the scene, such as an old storefront, which was transformed into Mendl’s bakery.
Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Every Lord of the Rings/Hobbit fan knows that New Zealand provided the background to the franchise. Matamata, on North Island, doubles as the Shire, and the Hobbiton set, with its 44 hobbit holes, is open for tours. In Tongariro National Park, Mount Ngauruhoe doubled as Mount Doom, while Mangawhero Falls was where scenes of the Ithilien Camp were filmed. And if that wasn’t enough Queenstown, Glenorchy, and Arrowtown serve as Middle-earth. New Zealand is undoubtedly Lord of the Rings territory and I dare anyone to say otherwise!
Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade (1989)
The third and final installment of the original Indiana Jones film series takes our beloved explorer to a bucket list destination of mine that I was able to visit in 2017 – the once lost city of Petra in Jordan.
As we follow Indy in his quest for the Holy Grail we are taken to Al Khazneh (The Treasury) which was carved into the sandstone rock face in the magical pink city of Petra in the first century A.D. It looks epic on the screen, and even more incredible in real life. Please try and get there at least once in your life.
A much-loved classic, Amelie follows the life of a lonely, but quirky and lovable introvert who finds interesting ways to spread joy, helping people to find happiness, doing secret good deeds and changing the lives of others from afar. Oozing whimsical Parisian charm, this enchantingly eccentric story will leave you feeling inspired, uplifted and most likely yearning for a French adventure.
And if you want to grab a coffee in the cafe where Amelie worked – you can! The Cafe des 2 Moulins in Paris is adored by locals and tourists alike so be sure to stop by for a coffee fix during your trip to Paris.
Lost In Translation
An American actor Bob (Bill Murray), lands in Tokyo for an ad-film and ends up meeting Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), who’s been left behind by her photographer husband. Gradually, the two discover a friend within each other and you can retrace their steps!
Visit the Park Hyatt in Tokyo where the pair meet in the top floor bar; walk the famous crossing at Shibuya and you can ever sing karaoke in the same place as Bob and Charlotte at Karaoke Kan, Shibuya-ku. Queue up ‘What’s so funny ’bout Peace, Love & Understanding’ by Elvis Costello if you really want to recreate the moment!
The Beach (2000)
Flying the flag for Thailand, The Beach is an adventure drama directed by Danny Boyle and based on the book of the same name by Alex Garland. Recounting the tale of a young and adventurous American traveler, Richard (a young Leonardo DiCaprio), who befriends two fellow backpackers and travels with them to the island of Koh Samui where they unveil another beguiling island and its community.
Ko Phi Phi Leh, off Thailand’s west coast provided a beautiful setting for the big-screen adaptation of Alex Garland’s novel, although it is not quite as hidden as it appears on film. It can be easily reached by boat from Krabi and Phi Phi Don – and is today, swarming with tourists practically all the time.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
A must-watch for fans of New Zealand, this quirky but uplifting film follows the adventures of Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) and ‘Uncle Hector’ (Sam Neill) as adoptive ‘father and son’ pair who camp out in the New Zealand wilderness to escape the authorities who are trying to reinstate Ricky back into the childcare system after the death of his foster mum.
If New Zealand wasn’t on the bucket list, it will be after watching this one – and if you want to see these beautiful landscapes for yourself (without getting lost) head to the North Island Volcanic Plateau and the Waitakere Ranges.
James Bond (various)
James Bond has been traveling the world on our screens (in various guises) since 1962, and with 24 films under his belt, he is one of the most well-traveled characters to ever hit our screens. Although we will admit he generally isn’t traveling for pleasure – the places he visits have some of the most beautiful scenery – and in the latest installment (Spectre) the clinic high in the snow-covered mountains appears to be on top of the world. If scenes like these don’t inspire your wanderlust, I don’t know what will.
Now, you may be wondering why out of all the James Bond films I chose Skyfall for the image and it’s a combination of a few factors. First, Javier Bardem plays an incredible villain and his lair on the abandoned Hashima Island had me reaching for Google the minute I saw it. It’s real, it is abandoned, and its history is fascinating. Second, the views of Glencoe in Scotland are incredible and both are sites that you can visit and see with your own eyes (although Hashima Island is a bit more difficult to get to than Glencoe!)
I also think Skyfall leads perfectly into Spectre (with another incredible villain in Christoph Waltz) and revitalizes the franchise a little bit after less than stellar reviews for their prequel, Quantum of Solace (but that’s just me). Either way, if you want to start a James Bond marathon whilst you are stuck at home, there are hours of entertainment there just begging to be watched during a movie night (or movie marathon!) which is why the James Bond franchise are some of my favorite movies about travel.
Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994)
This flamboyant cult favorite follows two drag queens (Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce) and a transsexual (Terence Stamp) woman as they travel across the Aussie Outback. Several locations were used in filming which can all be visited and include the South Australia mining town of Coober Pedy and the Northern Territory’s dramatic Kings Canyon.
Thelma and Louise (1991)
Later becoming known as a statement feminist film, Thelma & Louise portrays the adventures and misadventures of the meek and mild Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) as they begin a journey on an innocent fishing trip before fleeing to Mexico after unforeseen circumstances arise.
To hit the road and visit the filming locations yourself head to the Cowboy Country Bar in Long Beach; or the motel where the friends meet up with J.D. (Brad Pitt) is the Vagabond Inn in downtown Los Angeles. The desert scenes, meanwhile, were around Moab, Utah – including those supposedly featuring the Grand Canyon.
Old Travel Movies from the Original Adventurers!
Movie making has come a long way over the years, but that doesn’t mean the classics don’t have a place on our best travel movies list. They may be showing their age now (most are over 50 years old so we shouldn’t judge!) but these classic films were the pioneers, the original wanderlust inspiring films of lands far away, and these movies helped shape the travel films of today.
Easy Rider (1969)
A tale of two bikers hitting the road to fuel their American dream, encompassing money, drugs, sex and violence.
Written by Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Terry Southern, it was produced by Fonda, directed by Hopper and starred both of them alongside Jack Nicholson.
Roman Holiday (1953)
Starring Audrey Hepburn as a royal princess wanting to see Rome on her own and subsequently falls in love with Gregory Pecks’ reporter. A true classic and wholesome comedy that introduced Hepburn to the masses and made half the world want to run out and buy a Vespa!
Romancing the Stone (1984)
Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito star in this jungle caper which is the first movie in the trilogy. A fun romance/adventure film sees Turner make her way to Columbia to rescue her kidnapped sister, but soon realizes she is in over her head, when the kidnappers demand the treasure map she received from her murdered brother in law as ransom.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Due to his knowledge of the native Bedouin tribes, British Lieutenant T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) is sent to Arabia to find Prince Faisal (Alec Guinness) and serve as a liaison between the Arabs and the British in their fight against the Turks. And with most of the desert scenes filmed in Jordan, you can visit those otherworldly landscapes – which look much the same now as they did 60 years ago – at Wadi Rum in the Southern part of Jordan.
So, there you have it, your ultimate Quarantine viewing list. With stunning cinematography covering dream destinations from Paris to Alaska, South America, India, and New Zealand, we reckon there should be something here for everyone to indulge in a little travel daydreaming. Sit back, grab the popcorn, and embrace a lockdown binge of the Best Travel Movies.
And if you liked this armchair travel guide to the best travel movies to inspire wanderlust, take a look at the other armchair travel guides, recent posts, packing tips, travel accessories, travel resources, travel guides, travel tips, ultimate guides and packing lists in this series:
- The Ultimate Road Trip Packing List – & Road Trip Playlist(!) keeping you and your care happy, entertained & healthy on the road
- Iconic Destinations around the World: The Best Places to visit in America, Incredible Places to Visit in Indonesia; Bucket-List experiences in South Africa
- Get Eco Friendly on your travels: The Best Solid Toiletries (that you can take in your carry on) and Eco-Friendly Gifts for travel lovers.
- Travel Gear: Hardside Luggage & Carry On Luggage, travel tripods, camera backpacks & travel yoga mats!
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