20 Great Travel Movies For Those Seeking Escapism
Travel movies allow us to extend beyond the confines of our living room or a movie theatre. It offers escapism free from boundaries or restrictions. A comfort that allows us to see different perspectives, cultures, and landscapes in a level of depth that everyday travel cannot always offer. Here is a list of movies about travel aimed to broaden your horizons and offer the perfect escape.
20. Eat Pray Love (2010)
To ‘find oneself’ through travel has become a familiar cliché over the years, and Eat Pray Love does not shy away from using this concept in its entirety. Despite the predictability, the film delivers a familiar message – the need to escape the everyday routine and seek more outside the mundane.
We experience this desire through Elizabeth Gilbert. A woman who questions the stable life she has built and yearns to live with passion rather than practicality. This longing takes her across the world in search of meaning and purpose. We see her indulge in Italian cuisine, showing freedom from established restrictions. India exposes inner truths and how always seeking more can lead to neglecting the present. Elizabeth’s final stop in Bali which represents healing and surrender in which she learns to value present moments and let go of her fears. The film offers a tantalizing image into the excitement and pleasure of cultural immersion, and how it can push you out of your comfort zone and ultimately towards freedom.
Watch Eat Pray Love Online on Netflix
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19. Sideways (2004)
This comedy-drama offers a playful depiction of travel as we follow two male friends, Jack and Miles, on their trip to California’s wine country as a last hurrah before Jack’s wedding. The amusing friendship between these two men consists of unapologetic honesty and witty humor as we see both men attempting to better the other.
Aside from the understated comedy, the film also delves into a variety of connections, form friendships, and emotional bonds, to broken and lustful relationships. The romantic setting reflects elements of sentimentality which helps the men get caught up in this charming world, despite their hidden deception. The environment, alongside the consumption of wine, also propels desires for intimacy, as well as helping to reveal inner truths and pain. All in all, we are able to see the comical complexities within friendships and how relationships have the power to break you or save you.
18. Lost in Translation (2003)
A tale of contrasts, Lost in Translation uses oppositions and differences to highlight disparate perspectives and truths. Scarlett Johansson stars as Charlotte and Billy Murray as Bob – two very different individuals with one thing in common; they are both lost in life and looking for some direction or purpose. Set in Tokyo, the culture shock combined with the inability to speak the language only adds to the sense of feeling lost, both internally and externally.
Contrasts are evident through the bright, fast-paced energy of Tokyo against the quiet, intimate setting of the hotel lobby – a place where Charlotte and Bob are able to reflect on their thoughts and choices. Their natural connection allows them to find familiarity and stability in a world moving too quickly, whilst adding much-needed fun and excitement into each other’s lives. Their relationship is never clearly defined, yet this is irrelevant as the focus is on their own personal growth and finding their own direction, which is why they are able to simply part ways at the end of the movie.
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17. The Way Back (2010)
Both an epic journey and a testimony of survival, The Way Back offers a different insight into the perils and trauma caused by the war alongside its countless victims. Set during World War II, we follow a group of prisoners escape the notorious Soviet Gulag prison camp and the battle for their right to freedom.
There is a strong sense of desperation and absolute determination as the group is willing to risk their lives in order to gain back the freedom which was stolen from them. We see them battling the elements from the harsh Siberian winter to struggling through the water-deprived plains of the Gobi desert. Each character has a story that reflects their personal struggles and the mass criminal injustice and corruption which was present during this period. However, it is clear that this extreme pain and suffering is what urges them to fight for their lives and their hopeful emancipation.
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16. Tracks (2013)
A remarkable true story, Tracks is an exploration of female independence and determination despite extreme adversity. The female in question is Robyn Davidson, based on her real memoir, we follow her nine-month journey through the harsh Australian desert with four camels and a dog. Robyn’s desire to go through with this perilous journey seems to be fuelled by her dissatisfaction with her current reality alongside the desire for challenging solitude.
As Robyn delves deeper into the desert, we see the contrasts and connections between the natural world and civilization. This connection can be seen through her National Geographic photographer, who Robyn agreed to meet occasionally in order to fund her journey. This unwelcome connection to the civilized world is both craved and detested. As well as the reliance on human interaction, Robyn’s simple belongings such as her alarm clock and radio beg the question – is it possible to completely detach ourselves? In contrast, the film also has a heavy focus on the beauty of the natural world and the practical and emotional dependence on animals. Towards the end, we see the striking image of a raw and naked Robyn, showing what it means to truly experience the natural state of humanity.
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15. Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
Many of us dream of the thrilling adventures experienced through travel. Sadly this is often restricted to the confines of our imagination. Likewise, this comedy focuses on proficient day-dreamer Walter Mitty. A man who blends perfectly into the beige despite being surrounded by colorful adventures and people in the pages of the magazine he works for. Although Walter is constantly surrounded by messages related to chasing life, he is only able to live out his fantasies through his humorous and imaginative mind.
Due to work commitments, Walter’s reality and imagination become blurred as he embarks on a life-changing trip to Scandinavia. The magnificent yet unforgiving landscapes allow Walter to let go of his rigidity and allow himself to experience the surreal and thrilling adventures he could have only dreamt of. The extreme environment perfectly aligns with Walter’s dramatic imagination and contrasts with his prior unremarkable routine. We see how adventure has always been an inherent part of him that was waiting to be unlocked. Once this happens, Walter is able to truly appreciate the reality, learning to make the most out of it.
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14. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Wes Anderson’s trademarks are seen throughout The Darjeeling Limited which help to bring this bizarre and outlandish comedy to life. The focus is on a dysfunctional family consisting of three brothers who journey across India in search of their absent mother. In keeping with Anderson’s signature style, the vibrant saturated colors help to accentuate the rich Indian culture whilst providing distinctive visuals.
The notion of traveling to India on a ‘spiritual journey’ is used for comic effect as the traditionally freeing experience is instead planned to perfection by the controlling older brother. Despite being incredibly out of place, the brothers are more than willing to assimilate to the culture, a contrast which is both absurd and humorous. Eventually, the brothers are thrust into real Indian life through a series of more somber events, forcing them away from the pretense of their superficial divine journey. In the end, they see past the spiritual facade and instead value the importance of their relationships, ultimately leaving behind all their baggage, literally.
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13. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)
When thinking of travel movies, young free spirits or those experiencing some form of mid-life crisis often come to mind. Therefore, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a welcome departure from the norm as it focuses on a group of retirees who travel to India in search of somewhere to spend their final days.
Complete with an all-star cast, each character is perfectly crafted to bring their own personal sense of humor as well as individual engaging storylines. Upon arriving in India, the somewhat conservative group encounter an immediate culture clash with the chaos and energy surrounding them. However, the more willing they are to open their minds, the more they see the color, life, and happiness derived from the simple pleasures surrounding them. Their experiences in India show that romance and adventure do not cease to exist at any age. The retirement homes’ manager, Sonny, also displays relentless positivity and determination, which clarifies that neither circumstance nor age should deter you from seeking happiness.
12. Before Sunrise (1995)
Serving as both a travel film and a romantic tale, Before Sunrise is unique as it doesn’t depend on theatrics or melodrama to create an impact. Rather, it relies on authentic moments and conversations to create an intimate viewing experience.
After meeting organically on a train traveling through Europe, American man Jesse and French woman Celine, spontaneously decide to explore Vienna for roughly 24 hours before parting ways. Within the first 10 minutes, the two individuals discuss deep subjects surrounding death and childhood struggles. This willingness to open up almost immediately shows a natural and warm connection between the two. As day turns to night, the pair exists in a dream-like bubble built on intellectual conversations and intriguing perspectives whilst developing a strong romantic bond. The simplicity of this premise is often poetic and it’s refreshing to watch a relationship grow based purely on honest conversation, free from superficiality or pretense.
Watch Before Sunrise Online on Netflix
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11. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
As the name suggests, Little Miss Sunshine revolves around a young girl named Olive, who, despite her quarreling dysfunctional family, is able to bring positivity and an untainted innocence to the chaos often surrounding her. Olive’s charming personality is enough to convince her family to drive her across the country to attend a beauty pageant. Ironic, as the stereotypical superficiality and polite mannerisms in the pageant world are a fry-cry from the blunt honesty and pessimistic attitudes the family often amusingly exhibits.
In contrast with Olive’s bright personality, the film deals with issues such as suicide, death, and depression through raw and painful moments. Yet, comedic elements brought on by dark humor create a refreshing balance between somber and silly. The chaos of the trip alongside their faulty vehicle represents the chaos within the family itself and how they have to pull together in order to move past bad habits and traumas. Olive’s doubts regarding her appearance also send a strong message. The need to reassure a young girl that she is beautiful and unique just the way she is, sends a message that perhaps we should be just as kind to ourselves.
10. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona is shrouded in romance and passion while exploring all the intense emotions that come with such desires. Vicky and Cristina are two friends who travel to Barcelona for the summer, the pair have contrasting personalities as Vicky seeks structured stability whilst Cristina prefers exciting spontaneity. Upon arrival, they meet the alluring artist Juan Antonio and later his turbulent ex-wife Maria Elena.
The air of romance is amplified by the poetic Catalan settings from intimate music performances to candlelit restaurants and antique amusement parks. The film succeeds in portraying the dream-like summer romance as each character demonstrates a free-spirited nature and the willingness to try new and compelling experiences. We are able to see all the strong emotions brought on by romantic encounters; anger, sensuality, guilt, resentment, and lust are all explored. Alongside these poetic depictions, there is also an injection of humor thanks to the straightforward narration and often blunt interactions – creating a distinct balance of light-heartedness and amorous intensity.
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9. Karwaan (2018)
This sentimental film offers a unique perspective on travel as it helps to highlight the rigidity of tradition in contrast to the often uncomfortable modernity. We see these two elements represented in the central characters Dulquer and Mithila, a mismatched pair who accompany the protagonist Irrfan Khan on his road trip throughout India.
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Initially, the trip is purely practical as Irrfan is traveling to Kochi to collect the body of his deceased father in exchange for the body of Mithlia’s grandmother due to a bizarre mix-up. However, despite the strange circumstances, the timing couldn’t be better as Irrfan is merely tolerating his current existence and his need to escape is simply driven by his practical nature. Although, throughout the journey, we catch glimpses of different lifestyles, languages, and attitudes through an often humorous lens. This diversity reflects Irrfan’s changing mindset as his travel companions force him to question traditional values and to open his mind, freeing himself from restricted judgments. This thought-provoking journey coupled with the death of Irrfan’s father seems to mark the end of the imaginary barriers which were holding Irrfan back from his passions, as well as the closure and approval needed to follow his aspirations.
Watch Karwana Online On Amazon Prime
8. Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)
From the outset, it’s clear that Alfonso Cuaron‘s Y Tu Mama Tambien isn’t just another coming-of-age movie. Hidden messages and paralleled storylines exist throughout, assertively highlighted by the narrator, who speaks only when everything is silent. Class divisions can be seen immediately in the two central characters, Tenoch and Julio, who come from differing economic backgrounds. We follow the boys as they travel through Mexico with Luisa, an older woman, with the aim of finding a paradise beach.
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The young men are reckless in their behavior, engaging in mindless sex and alcohol consumption without fear of consequences – a fact which shows both their naivety and immaturity. Their unconventional relationship with Luisa derives from her own pain and her need for control and admiration after feeling abandoned and lonely. As the relationships become more complex, the boys begin to realize that their behavior has consequences and that they are not invincible to heartache or confusion.
In a coexisting storyline, there is significance in the theme of concealing hidden truths. Julio and Tenoch hide their judgment of each other’s backgrounds as well as their hidden desires. Luisa hides her life-changing secret. Poverty is hidden from society which often opts to turn a blind eye. A movie of many messages, both subtle and effective.
7. Wild (2014)
Unlike other movies in the travel genre, the roots of this journey are not founded on liberation or positivity, instead of focusing on the raw emotions and pain which are used to fuel solo traveler Cheryl’s 1100 mile hike. The impactful opening scene starts as it means to go on, by showing the real and relatable struggles involved in taking on such a challenge whilst demonstrating Cheryl’s incredible endurance.
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The trip serves as an emotional rehab and an escape from the self-destructive behavior Cheryl surrounds herself with. We get to know her through distressing flashbacks and how her time alone forces her to open up and confront these painful wounds. Despite showing the harsh realities of loneliness, ultimately we see that the journey is necessary for her to move on with her life, to have a goal with something to fight for, and eventually start valuing herself. By experiencing this ‘wilderness of grief’ she is able to finally let go of her past and become the person she was meant to be.
6. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011)
Drama, romance, adventure, and even a couple of extravagant musical numbers – Zindagi Na Dobara has a perfect blend of everything without being sloppy. This entertaining assortment is led by Kabir, Arjun, and Imran, three old friends who decide to travel across Spain for Kabir’s bachelor celebration. From the artistic streets of Barcelona to the deep blue waters of the Costa Brava, the beauty and culture of Spain slowly push them to embrace life more freely.
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The film cleverly shifts the focus onto each of the characters throughout, which helps to illuminate their individual complexities, desires, and emotions. Moments of adrenaline and excitement, such as skydiving and bull-running, serve to push the trio past their comfort zones and face their fears head-on. As well as personal growth, we see the friends trying to reignite their status as ‘The Three Musketeers’ and move past old resentments. Despite the highs and lows, the friends’ mischievous relationship and childlike bickering remain consistent, adding a good dose of lighthearted and engaging humor.
Watch Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara Online on Netflix
5. Green Book (2018)
Travel movies are often deeply personal and aim to show a journey of personal growth. Whilst Green Book succeeds in doing this, it also sends a strong and poignant message on racism and discrimination in western society, a message which is sadly still relevant to this day. Based on a true story and set in 1960’s America, we follow Italian American Tony Vallelonga who accepts the job to drive pianist and African American Don Shirley for his tour across the Deep South.
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Interestingly, the film immediately offers a different perspective as it reverses the stereotypical race roles of the ’60s, by having a white man working for a black man, much to the bafflement of others. Racial discrimination is evident as we see Don battle with his own identity, consistently distancing himself from his own racial stereotypes and culture, whilst trying to seek acceptance from the white upper class. Despite Don’s efforts to fit in, he is subject to relentless racism and belittled to nothing more than a novelty, meaning he is often forced into a state of not belonging anywhere. In contrast, Tony’s freedom to do whatever he pleases without judgment clearly shows white privilege and often his ignorance. The scene in which the pair get stopped by the police is a stark and unsettling reminder that not much has changed in modern-day America.
4. Lion (2016)
Based on remarkable true events, Lion follows the life of Saroo Brierley, who was mistakenly identified as an orphan as a child and subsequently taken from his home country in India to Australia with his new adopted family. Unable to speak the language and too young to handle the situation, Saroo eventually submits and adapts to his new life in Australia.
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As Saroo grows older, he is haunted by memories of his childhood and the feeling that his life and family in India were unfairly stolen from him. Although being grateful for his adoptive parents and the privileged life they gave him, his heart pushes him towards finding his roots in India. Questions surrounding identity are explored in-depth as Saroo deals with his own sense of not belonging in Australia but being disconnected from his past. The story is both incredibly heartbreaking but hopeful as we see Saroo’s determination to restore his identity and seek out his loved ones despite all the odds stacked against him.
Watch Lion Online on Netflix
3. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
Written and directed by Taika Waititi, he stays true to his hilarious comedic style with this cinematic gem, filmed in his native country of New Zealand. This off-beat tale centers around a young troublesome boy who is fostered by an older couple in rural New Zealand. The story takes a bizarre turn as the boy Ricky and his foster guardian Hector are subjected to an amusingly extravagant manhunt throughout the New Zealand wilderness.
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The laugh out loud comedy takes center stage with blunt and honest interactions. However, the film also includes more subtle yet serious undertones. It’s clear that Ricky uses his rebellious attitude to mask his need for stability and belonging, whereas Hector’s hard-shelled persona conceals a softer side. Despite this, the two make unlikely allies and their raw and authentic relationship coincides perfectly with the natural and unrefined New Zealand landscape surrounding them. Hunt for the Wilderpeople has everything from adrenaline-fuelled adventure to the ultimate comic duo – yet underneath that, we see two people able to heal each other, knowing that someone will be there for them unconditionally.
2. The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)
Based on the memoir with the same name, Motorcycle Diaries offers a glimpse into the making of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, when he existed as a young wide-eyed medical student, known simply as Ernesto. Accompanied by his good friend Alberto Granado, the two set off on an old motorcycle across South America on their final adventure before dedicating their lives to study and work.
Initially, we see the humorous pair travel through humble towns surrounded by beautifully untainted landscapes. Their time is made up of intimate moments, spontaneous romance, and engagement with traditional communities. However, as their experiences and connections become more meaningful, their fanciful dreams soon turn towards desires for significant change. We watch as they connect to the highs and lows of human experience and their invisible struggles, which offers an unexpected intensity and change in perspective. Divisions within society become more evident and increasingly impossible to ignore, from different classes to the sick and healthy. The economic struggles and extreme poverty clearly contributed to Che Guevara’s mindset, yet despite this intensity, the film still shows a surprising innocence and an initial naivety to this rebellious leader.
1. Into the Wild (2007)
Inspired by a true story, Into the Wild follows the journey of Chris McCandless as he makes the decision to completely erase himself from his current life and travel to Alaska, to seek his version of absolute freedom.
Chris’ unique perspective means that he is able to see the superficiality in finding happiness through material possessions and fancy job titles. He consistently questions the unsaid rules and pressured expectations that are imposed by societal norms, and challenges the concept that adhering to such expectations will actually bring him genuine happiness. Instead, he longs for ultimate freedom, to exist without any corrupting influence and to challenge himself both mentally and physically.
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Despite his willingness to separate himself from society, he meets people on his journey who are able to teach him valuable lessons and show that human connection can sometimes be both necessary and meaningful. In spite of the pleasure Chris gains from these interactions, his determination to assimilate himself within nature and free himself from restrictions remains undeniable. This powerful film forces the audience to question what true happiness really means and whether we can truly be free to explore ourselves within the constraints of society.