Matthew Karsten on Expert Vagabond: 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 films, I feel the instant urge to pack up everything and head out to explore the world. Great travel movies like these have helped inspire my own personal travel goals over the years.
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 fantastic 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
The Motorcycle Diaries Movie The Motorcycle Diaries is one of my favorite movies of all time. The true story of two medical students embarking on a five month motorcycle trip across South America in order to use their medical training to volunteer for a remote leper colony along the Amazon river. Based on the personal journals of latin American revolutionary Che Guevara, it highlights the freedom, adventure, and personal discovery that is part of the travel experience. A beautiful movie about one of the most influential people to have ever lived, no matter whether you think his influence was positive or negative.
Secret Life Of Walter Mitty
Secret Life of Walter Mitty Movie The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty tells the story of Walter (played by Ben Stiller), an introverted, awkward, and anonymous photo editor at LIFE Magazine who’s real life is pretty boring. However Walter has a very active imagination. When his job is threatened, he embarks on the adventure of a lifetime, traveling the world from Iceland to Afghanistan in search of his hero while taking risks and conquering new challenges along the way. A mix of incredible visual landscapes, a beautiful soundtrack, and some humor is just icing on the cake. The perfect movie to inspire those yearning for something more out of life.
A Map For Saturday
A Map for Saturday Movie 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
180 Degrees South Movie 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 heroes. 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.
The Way Movie The Way is a beautiful and inspiring tale about a father walking Spain’s Camino de Santiago trail to honor his recently dead son. The experience is an eye-opening an emotional one for him, as he’s forced to make friends with complete strangers and examine his life during the 800km journey. It features a very eclectic mix of characters, all walking the path for their own personal reasons. The movie certainly made me more interested in traveling along the Camino at some point in my life.
Que Tan Lejos
Que Tan Lejos Movie 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 Movie 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.
L’auberge Espagnole Movie 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
The Darjeeling Limited Movie 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.
A Good Year
A Good Year Movie 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 beauty, and has fond flashbacks of his childhood 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 long to visit the South of France.
Lost In Translation
Lost in Translation Movie 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. The many little random experiences that present themselves while traveling are often the most memorable.
Lawrence Of Arabia
Lawrence of Arabia Movie Lawrence Of Arabia is the classic story of a young, eccentric British army officer who heads into the Arabian desert to gather intelligence about the Arab revolt against Turkey during 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 cheesy, overall the film is great.
Into The Wild
Into the Wild Movie 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).
Seven Years In Tibet
Seven Years in Tibet Movie 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
Y Tu Mama Tambien Movie 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
Vicky Cristina Barcelona Movie 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.
Encounters At The End Of The World
Encounters At The End Of The World Movie 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 Movie 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.
Indiana Jones Series
Indiana Jones Movies The Indiana Jones Series are not particularly accurate travel movies, but they sure are fun! These movies helped plant the seed of adventure 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. 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. But the last one, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, sucks monkey balls.