When you’re planning a round-the-world trip for months, it can be difficult to keep the momentum going: there are times when the stress and sheer busy-ness of it all take over the excitement, and – particularly if you’re still working a full-time job -, other times when you just slip back into your old routine and completely forget that you’re about to put on your backpack and wave goodbye to everything you know to embrace your inner Indiana Jones – or Lara Croft – for a year.
At times like these, it becomes hard to project yourself into any kind of different setting, and your upcoming adventures can begin to feel a little unreal, fading into more of a vague dream than any sort of concrete prospect. This has certainly been the case for me lately, as I have caught myself watching TV in blissful abandon, cosily relaxing in front of one of my favourite shows only to be jolted awake by the sudden realisation that I will soon be very, very far away from this!
It seems hard to imagine that in a month’s time, my Monday evenings won’t be all about watching Revenge! (Which, by the way, is an awesome show.)
In those times of burnout and incredulity, I have found books and films – two of my lifelong allies – weapons of choice to keep me inspired and help me rekindle my wanderlust when it threatens to die out. In the midst of my zealous planning, I have been revisiting some of the great – and not so great – movies that first inspired me to leave my sofa and take to the road.
So, without further ado, and in no particular order – here is my list of 22 films about travel that are sure to make you scream ‘I want to go there!’ and send you (back)packing allegro pronto:
1. Into the Wild
Showcases: the US (inc. Alaska)
Adapted from the biographical book by Jon Krakauer, Sean Penn’s film tells the story of top student and athlete Christopher McCandless who, after graduating from Emory University, abandoned his possessions, gave his entire $24,000 savings to charity and hitchhiked to Alaska to live in the wilderness, working odd jobs and meeting a series of characters that shaped his life along the way.
I caught this on TV one night and was absolutely mesmerised (and I even have to admit to shedding a tear or two at the end!). Although controversial – you can either admire the hero’s uncompromising spirit of freedom and independence, or be less than impressed by his selfishness and ultimately fatal naivety –, the film features breath-taking scenery and conjures up feelings of wonder and adventure like no other.
2. The Motorcycle Diaries
Showcases: South America
A classic road-trip movie, based on young Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s memoirs of his journey across South America with his friend Alberto Granado on their rusty motorbike, La Poderosa. This is also a coming-of-age story and the film traces more than just a literal journey as the pair’s observations take on an increasingly political dimension, ultimately turning their travels into a formative voyage of self-discovery. A definite must-see for anyone thinking of heading to Latin America.
3. The Beach
Showcases: Thailand, beach holidays
Not as good as perhaps expected when it first came out, but not nearly as bad as critics made it out to be, Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Alex Garland’s novel is, well, very Danny Boyle-esque… But for all its genre-defying oddities, one thing the film achieved for sure was send legions of backpackers running to Thailand, tantalized by the promise of that ever-elusive paradisiacal spot. The community may be a little dysfunctional on The Beach, but damn, the setting’s picturesque and the sand’s fine!
4. Lost in Translation
Showcases: Japan (Tokyo and Kyoto)
Newlywed Scarlett Johansson strikes up an unlikely friendship with middle-aged actor Bill Murray in a Tokyo hotel.
Sofia Coppola captures mood brilliantly in this subtle, funny and poetic exploration of alienation and of the unexpected, accelerated relationships that can form between two people taken out of their comfort zones, whilst showcasing some of the attractions and idiosyncrasies of Japan. One of my all-time favourites!
5. Y Tu Mama Tambien
In Mexico, two teenage boys and an attractive older woman embark on a road trip and learn a thing or two about life, friendship, sex, and each other.
Another classic road-trip movie with just the right dose of sea, sex and sun, and a few life lessons learnt along the way to round it up nicely.
Showcases: Argentina, Wales
A little-known film that came out recently, Patagonia follows the parallel journeys of Argentinian grandmother and grandson Cerys and Alejandro in Wales, and Welsh couple Gwen and Rhys in Argentina, juxtaposing the green, well-watered landscapes of Cymru with the barren plains of Patagonia. Despite a rather contrived ending to the Welsh story, this is a really nice film with beautiful images and a recommended watch for anyone keen to practise their Spanish or Welsh.
7. Lord of the Rings (+ The Hobbit)
Showcases: New Zealand
Peter Jackson’s 10-hour-long epic may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but besides featuring travel odysseys and adventures galoree, it also works as a large-scale advertisement for New Zealand’s range of spectacular landscapes and has done much to boost tourism to the country since its release.
8. Before Sunrise/Before Sunset
Showcase: Vienna; Paris
Jesse (Ethan Hawke) meets Céline (Julie Delpy) on a train and invites her on an impulse to spend a day with him in Vienna. Expecting their acquaintance to be short-lived, the two open up candidly about their secret dreams and aspirations, forming a uniquely intense bond which is only broken by sunrise and the need to travel onward.
In Before Sunset, Jesse and Céline are unexpectedly reunited nine years later in Paris and have one afternoon to catch up on each other’s lives and contemplate a future together, all the while roaming the streets of the French capital.
The ultimate romcom and another of my all-time favourites, the Before Sunrise/Before Sunset double bill revolutionised the genre and splendidly captures the beauty of chance encounters on the road, while offering a free tour of the two European capitals.
9. Two Days in Paris
Showcases: Paris, Venice
Julie Delpy directs and stars in this light-hearted romantic comedy about cultural differences and stereotypes, pitting the prudish, health-obsessed American interior designer Jack against liberated, temperamental French photographer Marion and her colorful family. With some truly laugh-out loud moments.
10. My Blueberry Nights
Showcases: the US
A young woman takes a soul-searching journey across America to resolve her questions about love while encountering a series of offbeat characters along the way.
Directed by In the Mood for Love‘s Kar Wai Wong, this is a pleasing romantic drama featuring slices of forgotten America, great music and beautiful cinematography.
11. The Constant Gardener
A widower is determined to get to the bottom of a potentially explosive secret involving his wife’s murder, big business, and corporate corruption.
Based on John Le Carré’s novel, this excellent political thriller is set against the mysterious backdrop of Africa (mainly Kenya), giving a flavour of this less-visited continent and ending on some truly awe-inspiring shots.
12. Vicky Christina Barcelona
Vibrant Barcelona stars in this sensual romantic drama, in which two American friends, free-spirited Scarlett Johansson and conservative Rebecca Hall, are confronted to the charms and excesses of la pasion latino in a summer of self-discovery and temptation, complete with Spanish art, flamenco music and fiery ménage à trois.
13. Midnight in Paris
Much like Amélie, I found Woody Allen’s second European film rather tedious, full as it was of American-centric, clichéd nostalgia about the ‘capital of love’, but it remains an entertaining choice if what you want to see is precisely that, i.e. the idealised, eternal Paris of romantic yore, declining its literary affairs to the sound of accordions.
14. La gloire de mon Père/Le château de ma mère
Lavender-smelling, cicada-lulled, pétanque-playing Provence is the shining star of these bittersweet tales of childhood based on French author Marcel Pagnol’s autobiographic novels. This two-part biopic is wonderfully evocative of one of France’s best-loved regions and likely to leave you pining for a holiday in the sun-bathed Sud.
If you need more to convince you, check out the equally successful film adaptations of Pagnol’s Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources.
15. On the Road
Showcases: the US, Mexico
Better than the reviews suggest, last year’s adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s cult beat novel makes the best of the book’s disjointed material and offers a pretty faithful rendition of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty’s hedonistic take on the American dream, following their chaotic wanderings across the US and Mexico.
16. Paris, Texas
Showcases: the US
A man wanders out of the desert not knowing who he is. His brother finds him, and helps to pull his memory back of the life he led before he walked out on his wife and son four years before. As his memory returns, he makes contact with various people from his past.
Wim Wender’s masterpiece takes us on a tour of the US in which the landscape becomes a character in its own right, enhanced as it is by superb photography.
17. The English Patient
Showcases: Italy, Egypt, Lybia
At the close of WWII, a young nurse tends to a badly-burned plane crash victim. His past is shown in flashbacks, revealing an involvement in a fateful love affair.
Another splendid love story and epic journey, taking us from Italy to the Middle East and North Africa.
18. Eat, Pray, Love
Showcases: Rome, India, Bali
A not-hugely-inspired Hollywood rendition of Elizabeth Gilbert’s travel memoirs, the film chronicles the writer’s year-long quest for food in Italy, spirituality in India, and love in Bali. Still, the movie deserves a watch if you’re a fan of the book or are looking for a few hours of easy escapism.
19. In Bruges
Okay, so arguably this darkly comic, grotesquely gory thriller is more likely to deter you from ever visiting the ‘Belgian Venice’, but at least it has the merit of putting Brugge on the map… and by slashing its quaintly pretty, fairytale-like image, it makes the picture-perfect Flemish city that little bit more intriguing, and might just titillate you enough to persuade you to go check it out for yourself.
20. Slumdog Millionaire
Boosted by a great soundtrack and slick cinematography, Danny Boyle’s 2008 commercial success portrays the many facets of developing India, from the slums of Mumbai to the Taj Mahal.
21. Che (Part I and Part II)
Guillermo del Toro’s two-part biopic picks up the Che Guevara story some years after The Motorcycle Diaries left it and follows the famous Argentinian revolutionary’s struggle as a guerillero leader in the Cuban jungle.
22. Pot Luck (L’auberge espagnole) and Russian Dolls (Les poupées russes)
Showcases: Barcelona, Paris, London, Moscow
More Spanish mayhem in this fun comedy exploring the joys of multi-cultural flatsharing among Erasmus students on their year abroad. The sequel takes the group of international friends, now young professionals, to Paris, London and Russia.
Love/hate any of these, or thinking of a film I’ve missed off the list? Leave a comment below!
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