While we’re in the midst of the current pandemic, it’s hard to think about traveling: we miss it, but since we can’t travel, the best we can do is daydream about it, or plan future adventures.
In the meantime, here are 15 of my favorite travel-inspirational films to give you something to daydream about! I’ll post more lists over the next few weeks.
Links are included in each recap to view the trailer for the films, as well as potential books or other guides to help you discover more about the subject matter.
15. The Way (2011)
Based on the book Off the Road: A Modern-Day Walk Down the Pilgrim’s Route into Spain by Jack Hitt, and adapted for the screen and directed by Emilio Estevez, The Way tells the story of a father who receives a phone call and discovers that is estranged son has died while traveling the historic El Camino de Santiago, also known as “The Way”, in Spain. Once he arrives there and receives his son’s cremains, he decides to take the pilgrimage himself.
It is not simply a film about self-discovery and growth, but a tale about the adventures that people have while taking one of these pilgrimage walks. There are no limits to the backgrounds or ages or lifestyles of the hikers, or what inspires them; they become bound together on a common quest with a shared goal. It is powerful and moving, and also shows you the beautiful northern Spanish countryside that the historic Camino wanders through.
14. Seven Years in Tibet (1997)
Based on Heinrich Harrer’s memoir of the same name, Seven Years in Tibet tells the story of Heinrich Harrer, one of the first Europeans to ever enter Tibet. An Austrian who was also a Nazi, Harrer was in India when WWII broke out. He was jailed, and eventually escaped, traveling over the Himalayas – without permission to be in Tibet – and eventually reached the city of Lhasa.
He became friends with the young Dalai Lama, a friendship that changed his life and his world outlook; and later, when the Chinese invaded the country in 1950, they fled the country together. You’ll have to make an effort to ignore Brad Pitt’s accent in this (Empire magazine ranked it third on all-time worst movie accents) and instead focus on the beauty of the landscapes. Director Jean-Jacques Annaud snuck a film crew into Tibet, and about 20 minutes of their footage made it into the final film; the rest was filmed in Argentina.
13. Out Of Africa (1985)
Danish author Karen Blixen (a.k.a. Isak Dinesen, played by Meryl Streep) was 28 when she moved to British East Africa (now Kenya) in 1913 to marry Baron Bror von Blixen-Fnecke. Based on her memoir of the same name, Out Of Africa tells the tale of her marriage of convenience (and later subsequent divorce), and her love affair with big-game hunter Denys Finch-Hatton.
About 70% of the film was shot on location in Africa. Out of Africa won a number of accolades, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography. If you’ve ever dreamed of a safari to Africa, this film can help give you a taste of the majesty of the Dark Continent.
12. Score! A Hockey Musical (2011)
Yes, the premise of Score! is downright goofy – a hockey-centered comedic musical. The story centers around Farley Gordon, a home-schooled teenager who becomes an overnight hockey sensation while he navigates the rough waters of instant fame.
Musical numbers aside, it is a cute love story between Farley and his best friend Eve, and most of all, a love letter to the city of Toronto and the sport of hockey. Loaded with hockey and celebrity cameos, if you love hockey, you’ll probably get a few laughs from the film.
You can watch the entire film for free on YouTube.
11. A Walk in the Woods (2015)
It really shouldn’t be a surprise that a number of great travel-inspiring films are based on personal memoirs, and here is another one: A Walk in the Woods (starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte) is based on Bill Bryson’s 1997 hilarious tale of attempting to walk the Appalachian Trail, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.
Originally completed in 1937, the trail continues to evolve each year. Three million people hike stretches of the Appalachian Trail each year, with under 1,000 people per year doing a full “thru-hike”, or complete hike of the ~2,200 distance between Georgia and Maine. The fastest completion of a thru-hike was set in 2018 (41 days, 7 hours, 39 minutes); but the average hiker takes 5-7 months.
10. Bottle Shock (2008)
In 1976, a British wine merchant living in Paris named Steven Spurrier held a blind tasting of French versus American wines at an event that came to be known as the “Judgement of Paris”. It was covered by just one reporter, named George M. Taber, who went on to write a book about the event called Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine.
In 2008, that book was the inspiration for Bottle Shock – and while the film took a few liberties with the true-life narratives, it’s a valentine for Napa Valley and the American spirit of hard work. The late Alan Rickman (who plays Spurrier) is our curmudgeonly guide between the French and American wine worlds; and Dennis Farina plays a great supporting role.
9. The Darjeeling Limited (2009)
Wes Anderson is known for his films which are filled with brightly-saturated, vibrant imagery, and dysfunctional families that are searching for a more… normal life.
The Darjeeling Limited is no exception to his style. Three brothers (played by Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman) who have not seen each other in a year, since their father’s funeral, reunite on the title train in India. They eventually travel to see their mother, who they have also not seen in years, and who is now a nun at a convent in the Himalayas.
Most of the film was shot in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, and the Himalayan scenes were filmed in Udaipur. India’s amazing, colorful landscapes are perfect for Anderson’s style, and the film garnered a lot of accolades and some minor awards.
8. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
James Thurber’s 1939 short story of the same title was the inspiration for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, telling the story of a man – Walter Mitty – who manages the photo files of Life magazine. The magazine is about to cease publication and convert to only-online presence, and Mitty feels he has the perfect picture for the cover – only he cannot find the negative for it. His pursuits take him to Iceland and the Himalayas – these lush, stunning landscapes are really spectacular on the big screen, but your TV will just have to do! – and he has many adventures along the way.
Starring and directed by Ben Stiller, this is a bit of a departure from his usual manic-comedic roles, although this film can be classified as a comedic drama. The gorgeous scenery will have you eager to leap aboard a flight to Iceland.
7. A Good Year (2006)
In A Good Year, Russell Crowe plays Max Skinner, a high-octane British investment banker who inherits his uncle’s chateau and vineyard in Provence, a place that he spent his childhood summers. The film is loosely based on Peter Mayle’s novel of the same name.
Skinner visits the property, expecting to ready to hastily sell it so he can get on with his very busy life, and finds it is poor repair. As he hurries around the property taking pictures, he falls into the empty swimming pool, and is stranded there until Fanny (played by Marion Cotillard) is able to back-handedly rescue him — but because of his mishap, he misses an important work conference call, which causes him to be suspended from work for a week. As he spends the week trying to defend his job while simultaneously trying to ready the estate from work, he comes to understand that he has missed the idyllic Provincale lifestyle, and wonders if the high-stress London workaholic career he’s had is still what he wants out of life. A lovely ballad to Provence!
6. The Bucket List (2007)
In The Bucket List, billionaire health care magnate Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) is infamous for his cost efficiency. “I run hospitals, not health spas. Two beds to a room, no exceptions!” His philosophy kicks himself in the butt when he becomes ill, and ends up in one of his own hospitals, finding himself roommates with Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman), a blue-collar mechanic. Both men have terminal lung cancer, and they eventually begin to find common ground together.
Carter has been writing a ‘bucket list’, but after discovering he has less than a year to live, he throws away the list. Edward finds the list, and unexpectedly proposes financing the bucket list for the both of them. The two men go on a series of adventures, facing the end of their lives with a joie de vivre, traveling around the globe. The film is a good reminder to not only appreciate every day as if it’s your last, but to also travel when you have the chance.
5. Roman Holiday (1953)
What do you do when you’re a princess (Ann, played by Audrey Hepburn) and you’re having a bit of a breakdown due to your overloaded schedule? Why, you run away and have marvelous adventures around Rome with a handsome reporter, Joe (Gregory Peck), of course, doing all the things she always wanted to do, but could never do as a proper princess.
Roman Holiday is a classic romantic film set against the beauty of 1950s Rome, shot at some of the most famous sites in the city, including the Mouth of Truth at Piazza Bocca della Verità – a scene often homaged in later films, like 1994’s charming romantic comedy Only You.
Hepburn won Best Actress for the film, and it was nominated for Best Picture. It continues to inspire travelers to Rome even now, painting an image of a lovely, joyous Italian city.
4. French Kiss (1995)
French Kiss is a perfect romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan and Kevin Klein. Kate (Ryan) is an American who is in the process of completing her Canadian citizenship in order to marry her fiancee, Charlie (Timothy Hutton). Charlie has to go to Paris for work, and wants Kate to come with him – but she is terrified of flying – so he goes alone. A few days later, he drunkenly breaks up with her by phone call, saying he has found “the one” in Paris. Anguished, Kate manages to get on a plane in her determination to win Charlie back – and it is on that flight that she meets Luc (Klein), a small-time French crook who is on his way back from the States after a score. Luc uses her to smuggle his loot into France, but then struggles to keep up with her as she chases through France, trying to find Charlie.
This is one of the best romantic comedies of the 1990s, and Ryan and Klein play off each other perfectly. Travel ranges from Paris to the Côte d’Azur. Pair it up with A Good Year, Bottle Shock, and your favorite French-inspired foods and wines for a great weekend of French travel inspiration.
3. Romancing the Stone (1984)
There’s a scene early in Romancing the Stone that will make all travelers laugh: Jack (Michael Douglas) and Joan (Kathleen Wilder) have been hiking through the Colombian jungles. Frustrated by their progress, Jack takes out his machete and whacks the high heels off Joan’s shoes.
“Those were Italian,” Joan bemoans, picking up her beloved shoes.
“Now they’re practical,” Jack glibly replies.
This mid-1980s comedy is a romance, sure, but it’s also a solid comedy that will give you plenty of laughs. Jack clearly takes influence from Raiders of the Lost Ark‘s Indiana Jones, wearing a similar outfit and having a skill with a machete, though he’s more of a freelance opportunist to Jones adventurous researcher.
2. Midnight in Paris (2011)
In Midnight in Paris, Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is a Hollywood writer on vacation in Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her family in Paris. He is also struggling to write his first novel, and he is hoping that the city he once lived in will help give him the inspiration he needs to complete it.
The couple runs into friends in Paris, and Inez happily takes up going out and about the city with them. Gil – who is very nostalgic by nature – suddenly finds himself transported back to 1920s Paris, which he regards as the city’s golden age, where he meets Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others. He can’t believe this isn’t a dream at first, but soon he is seeking out the transformation every night, making friends with the literary and artistic elite of 1920s Paris.
He then meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard), girlfriend to Pablo Picasso, and finds himself falling in love with her – and doubting his relationship with Inez. Adriana, he finds out, has a nostalgia for what she thinks is Paris’s golden age – the Belle Époque, and Gil begins to wonder if any of us are ever truly satisfied with the age that we live in. A lovely tour of modern Paris and a salute to its history as a hotbed of art, music, literature, and politics.
1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
In 1981, Steven Spielberg introduced us to one of the most beloved action figures of all time, Indiana Jones, in his film Raiders of the Lost Ark. From the jungles of South America to the frozen villages of Nepal to the deserts of Egypt, Raiders is the film that set the standard for action and comedic adventure in the forty years since, with a leading man who created the larger-than-life casting mold for leading men ever since – and probably inspired many people to have an interest in archeology.
Get your popcorn, put Raiders on, and this timeless film continues to entertain.