Inspiring Travel Films

Most of the travel world is grounded due to the Coronavirus, so I thought I would come up with a Top 10 list of interesting inspiring travel films to pass the time.

This was supposed to be a quick travel blog on my top 10 travel films.
Because, well… everyone loves a top 10 list.

Then it transformed into the greatest travel films ever.
But this is subjective and it didn’t seem quite right.

Eventually it became this. Whatever this is.

In mostly no particular order:

Baraka (1992)

Containing no dialog and thus needing no translation, it speaks the universal language of film through moving images.

Ron Fricke’s “Baraka” takes the viewer on a 65mm Todd-AO journey in 24 countries and across 6 continents. There will never be another movie like it that records natural events intertwined with human life and presents them this honestly to the viewer, allowing them to reflect on their place in this world.

Roger Ebert once said about it “If man sends another Voyager to the distant stars and it can carry only one film on board, that film might be “Baraka.” As usual, he was right. You can read his much more eloquent review of it here.

The Indiana Jones Trilogy

While not travel films in the classic sense, the Indiana Jones films are the perfect mix of excitement and adventure in the context of historical fiction. These fantasy adventures filmed in real world locations really captured my imagination when I was young. Still to this day, whenever I’m travelling somewhere I picture the Indiana Jones travel map animation in my head with the music playing in the background.

Whether it was the chasing the grail through The Canyon of the Crescent Moon in Petra or opening the ark in Sidi Bouhlel, Crete – fact or fiction is irrelevant when enjoying exciting stories in exotic locations.

As seen in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - The Treasury (Petra, Jordan) 35mm film scan from 1996.  Inspiring travel films.

A Map for Saturday (2007)

I just heard of this a few days ago. Oddly, I’m quite happy that I watched it now rather than when it came out.

It is not a film about the main traveller Brook or what he sees. It was about the act of travelling itself. This is important. Rather than showing off sights, he gets under the skin of why people travel and the phases they go through on their journey.

At first it felt slightly dated, but eventually it grew into something which uniquely captured that era of travelling.

It’s a documentary which takes places in the final moments before wi-fi and mobile phones changed independent travel forever.

Travelling before wi-fi and mobile data everywhere was… different.
Less things were planned. That was nice.

People were forced closer together. We all relied on each other a lot more and it felt like there was a much closer connection between travellers. We had nothing to do at hostels except hang out and meet people. Less was known about the world and more focus was on discovering things as you go. It was easier to get a room at the last minute. Travel was spontaneous. We got lost more. We didn’t care.

Was it better back then? No, it was just different.

Always having a map now is awesome. We have more of a connection to home, family and friends, and we miss them less. I feel like I am able to see a lot more now as well and read about places and history as I go. I really enjoy this. This film was a nice nostalgic look on the contrasts between these two different eras of travelling.

Highway 61 (1991) / Roadkill (1989)
Goin’ Down the Road (1970) / One Week (2008)

Yes, that’s more than 1 film.
No, I don’t care.
Four excellent Canadian road trip films.

The world's 2nd largest fire hydrant as seen in "One Week".  Elm Creek, Manitoba, Canada. Inspiring travel films.

National Lampoons Vacation Film Series

You could write an entire blog post on comedy travel films including “The Hangover Part 2”, “Road Trip” and “Euro Trip”, but they all have their foundations built on the National Lampoon’s Vacation film series.

And always remember these wise words after one of those long, tiring, useless travel days seeing absolutely nothing…

I think you’re all fucked in the head. We’re ten hours from the fucking fun park and you want to bail out. Well I’ll tell you something. This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest. It’s a quest for fun. You’re gonna have fun, and I’m gonna have fun… We’re all gonna have so much fucking fun we’re gonna need plastic surgery to remove our goddamn smiles! You’ll be whistling ‘Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah’ out of your assholes!”

In Bruges (2008)

Ever since Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” and “Annie Hall“, I’ve always considered locations as characters in films.

“In Bruges” captures this like no other.
It’s like a fucking fairytale or something.

In Bruges.  It's like a fucking fairytale or something.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

I just really enjoyed this film. A solid eccentric road trip film about using travel to take control of your life when it feels like you’ve lost control. This is the theme of most films on this list and Priscilla does it with flair.

Midnight Express (1978)

One of my favourite travel films ever.
It’s not an inspiring travel movie.
But definitely a film everyone should watch before travelling.

The Way (2010)

“The Way” was a film I only recently discovered after a recommendation from a friend when discussing inspiring travel films. About a fathers accidental pilgrimage to Spain, it was another film which focused on the journey and not the destination.

Directed by Emilio Estevez and starring his father Martin Sheen, I enjoyed walking The Camino along with them. And like most real life adventures, it brings a group of people together that would have not have met in everyday life. Fans of “The Way” may also enjoy “Into the Wild” and “Wild” as well.

Before Sunrise (1995)

Backpacking through Europe?
A chance encounter?
A one night romance on the streets of Vienna?
A scene in the same ferris wheel as The 3rd Man?
What more could you ask for.

Wiener Riesenrad giant ferris wheel in Vienna as seen in "The 3rd Man" and "Before Sunrise."  Inspiring travel films.

And finally… Up (2009)

This 2009 film from Pixar/Disney is really mean.
It made me cry.
A lot.

But it teaches you two valuable lessons in life:
1. Enjoy the moment.
2. Don’t just talk about going on a trip, book it. Hopefully we all get to soon.

Still Bored? Here are a few more…

My friend Marc recommended grouping films by genre and I thought this was a good idea if you were looking for additional inspiring travel(ish) film ideas.

Road Trips: Leningrad Cowboys Go America, Easy Rider, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Thelma and Louise

Comedies: The Hangover Part 2, Road Trip, Euro Trip, Borat

Space/Sci-Fi Travel: The Farthest, The Right Stuff, The Martian, Stalker, Until the End of the World

Horror: Hostel, Cannibal Holocaust, Transsiberian, Midsommer

Classics: Roman Holiday, It Happened One Night

Miscellaneous: Timbuktu, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Babel, Amelie, Withnail and I (obviously), Apocalypse Now, Wings of Desire

Withnail and I.  Phone box in Bampton (2012).  We've gone on holiday by mistake!

Still bored? Check out my other travel blogs!

If you are interested in film, check out my exploration of an abandoned movie studio in Nigeria.

Anything I missed? Let me know!


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