The Best Travel Movies to Inspire Wanderlust (And the Worst)

Travel Chat

Nov 30

Bookmark this article as your guide to the best travel movies of all time. And, just for fun, some of the worst.

The best travel movies and travel films with easy access for renting and buying on Amazon. #travel #movies

The best travel movies and travel films

When it comes to putting together a list of the best travel movies, which should make the cut?

Should it include movies like Eat, Pray, Love or Into the Wild where the protagonist is largely, well, travelling as a traveller?

Or should it include movies that focus on a sense of place first and foremost, like the beautifully shot love letter to Japan that is Lost in Translation?

Then again, should travel be incidental to the whole thing, with an exciting plot carrying us forwards through stunning scenery that as a byproduct makes us want to travel somewhere?

I'm thinking of the golden fields in Gladiator or pretty much any James Bond movie when it comes to that.

Or is the answer, as usual, all of the above. 

Here is the complete list of the best travel movies of all time. Subdivided into different categories because I'm drunk on power. 

And then, at the end, you'll find the worst movies too. For fun ;-)

Oh, and if you want to buy or rent them, I've included some handy links. I may earn a small commission if you use them. Ta. 

The Best Travel Movies 


Volver - Spain

This curious exploration of women's lives in and around Madrid opens with an unpromising start: the cleaning of graveyards while the wind whips around. However, its colourful, kooky and characterful depiction of village life away from the tourist sites brings a deeper perspective to travel in Spain. 

Rent or buy on Amazon now.

Lost in Translation - Japan

While the book Wild Swans fuelled my desire to visit China, like many, it was Lost in Translation that opened my eyes to travel in Japan all those years ago.

The film captures the sense of disorientation beautifully, as well as leaving you with a ridiculous desire to don a pink wig and sing karaoke (or was that just me?!)

The shops above the Shinjuku crossing in Tokyo now have lines of tourists queuing to try to get the same shot.

And while the viewpoint is from the "outsider" rather than from locals, the way it's shot is so authentic that I'll let it into this list...just.

Rent or buy Lost in Translation on Amazon now.

Schindler's List - Poland

Wait, what?!

Yes, I know. Obviously this isn't a film about the beauty of Krakow. It's about the opposite.

BUT it brings to life this period of history in a profound way. While a visit to Auschwitz is memorable in its horror, more unsettling still is recognising the street scenes of Krakow from the film Schindler's List.

To my mind, it's the slow, early path towards genocide that we need to be vigilant for, before things get too difficult to stop.

Plus, seeing the white curve of Schindler's Factory in the film provides that brief sense of hope when you recognise it on the ground.

Rent or buy Schindler's list on Amazon now.

Quantum of Solace - Austria

Yes, OK, so the film itself isn't the strongest of the Bond offerings...

But it does highlight the amazing floating opera festival in Bregenz, Austria, as Daniel Craig dangles over an iris in the open air.

Bregenz itself prides itself on its arts scene and natural scenery (it sits on the edge of the 63 km long Lake Constance or Bodensee) yet is still rather unappreciated by the world at large. This film goes some way towards fixing that.

The Painted Veil, China

Based on the novel of the same name by Somerset Maugham, this beautifully directed film takes us to Shanghai in the old days and then on into rural China. Naomi Watts and Edward Norton are captivating and the puzzle stayed with me for months. 

Rent or buy The Painted Veil here.

Slumdog Millionaire

Part heartwarming, part heartbreaking, Slumdog Millionaire takes viewers to the slums of Delhi and on to the magnificent scenery the trains chew up and the call centres hem in. Performances are mesmerising and the plot has a thankfully upbeat finish. 

Rent or buy Slumdog Millionaire here.

The Modern Classics of Travel Movies

Most lists of the best travel movies of all time include these. Personally, I don't love them all but you could say that about anything. 

Vicky Christina Barcelona

Woody Allen mixes beautiful people in a beautiful part of Spain and, well, what can you say.

Eat, Pray Love

Much ink has been (digitally) spilled about Eat, Pray, Love - the true story of an American woman who decided to leave her job and travel the world. It's a sweet, surface level film that stars Julia Roberts but it also opened my eyes... to even more cultural differences between the US and Europe. In Europe, such plans are commonplace. In this film, it seems as though it's revolutionary. 

Into the Wild

Here, we have another tale of a rich American heading away from the supposed dream and into the wild instead. This movie takes place within the United States and the cinematography is absolutely staggering. It's a true reminder of just how wild and varied the US is. Just don't follow the travel side of it...

Rent or buy Into the Wild here.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

We move away from young, beautiful Americans into a silver Brit crowd who mix love and mayhem in India. It's fun, if a little predictable, and good to see more of India on screen. Slumdog Millionaire's Dev Patel provides some youth, as well as ace acting, as ever. 

Rent or buy The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel here.

Wild

I tend to enjoy Reese Witherspoon movies but still haven't found time for this one, the true story of an American woman who heads out into the wild. Perhaps, it's because I was so underwhelmed by Into the Wild and this sounds like the female version. 

Anyway, it's on everyone's best travel movies list so perhaps I should carve out a spot someday. How about you?

Rent or buy Wild on amazon here.

The Worst Travel Movies - A Case of Unfair Representation

Trainspotting - Edinburgh

Never has Scotland looked more unwelcoming. Brutal, ugly, terrifying. But surprisingly warm.

Ignore, ignore, ignore and travel there anyway! There are plenty of other things to do in Edinburgh. 

Black Swan - New York

Grey, grim and with mirrors following you around in a skin-peeling frenzy.

Happily, you can avoid all that and enjoy these iconic spots in New York instead.

Skyfall - Japan

The curious abandoned city of Gunkanjima near Nagasaki makes for our villain's lair in another Bond travelling extravaganza.

While it's not a cosy place to visit, you won't be made to shoot anyone in the head and the nearby Nagasaki is an exciting, friendly, interesting place. 

Definitely visit Japan. And Nagasaki. Even Gunkanjima - it is curious if chilling. 

Rent or buy Skyfall here.

Deliverance - Rural USA

Yikes! Kids, if you haven't seen this classic, make sure you have not a single outdoor plan afoot for at least a year. And stay away from banjos.

While the film isn't perfect, it's a chilling classic and certainly worth the few hours of your time. 

Rent or buy Deliverance here. 

The Constant Gardener, Kenya

John Le Carré's Constant Gardener brought to the screen is a beauty. A thriller that forces viewers to reexamine beliefs about all kinds of things. Kenya looks beautiful. London looks cold. Neither come out well from a travel point of view. But for movie watching? Don't miss this one. 

Rent or buy The Constant Gardener here. 

 

What do you think? Which are the best travel movies of all time? And which are, well, the worst?!


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About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.

  • Izy Berry says:

    I guess I’ll be watching Volver tonight!

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