Top 10 Travel Movies To Get You Going

by T-roy on January 7, 2010 · 121 comments

Have you ever watched travel movies, and while the credits were rolling up, thought to yourself “I so want to travel there now?”  Movies are a great way to inspire, motivate and bring to light unique places in the world.

To be honest though, a Top 10 list is a joke and almost impossible to do.  I know some will be mad at this list (you didn’t have Indian Jones anywhere, what the hell you bastard!

Which is why I added to to the Honorable Mentions), others confused (Why is City of God on this list?) and maybe, just maybe, a few will agree but for the record there is no perfect list.  For me though, after I watched these travel movies, I wanted to book a flight the next day and head there, so maybe you will too.

So to keep it civil and fair, if you have a movie to add, please do so in the comments section.  I know I couldn’t fit them all in but would love to hear your favorites, or even your Top 10 list as well.

Drumroll please…

10) The Beach

The Beach

Ok I know, some of you will stop reading right now just because of this one but you have to admit when you first watched it, it made you want to look for Daffy in Thailand.

It’s been overused and abused by the backpacking community as the staple for what backpackers should do, and if you have traveled more then a few months, odds are you have seen The Beach in your hostels at least 10x.

That being said, it’s still a good movie and made me want to see Phi Phi Island in person one day (which I did and loved it!).

After receiving a not-so-secret map to a secluded island from a stoned-out loony (Robert Carlyle, full of dark portent and spittle), Richard sets out to find the hidden paradise with a young French couple (Virginie Ledoyen, Guillaume Canet).

What they find is a tropical commune existing in delicate balance with Thai pot farmers, and before long–as always–there’s trouble in paradise. There’s trouble in the movie, too, as DiCaprio is reduced to histrionics when the plot turns into a muddled mix of Lord of the Flies and Apocalypse Now, with shark attacks tossed in for shallow tension. –– Jeff Shannon

9) City of God

City of God

This movie doesn’t show the traveler the perfect beaches of Brazil, or the famous sites.

What it does do is show you the struggles of real life in one of the most dangerous cities in the world, Rio de Janerio, Brazil.

The whole movie is in Portuguese, but you don’t even notice having to read the subtitles because it grabs you from the start and never lets go.

It will make you think twice about traveling to Rio, but at the same time it will make you want to see it that much more.

Celebrated with worldwide acclaim, this powerful true story of crime and redemption has won numerous prestigious awards around the globe! The streets of the world’s most notorious slum, Rio de Janeiro’s “City of God,” are a place where combat photographers fear to tread, police rarely go, and residents are lucky if they live to the age of 20.

In the midst of the oppressive crime and violence, a frail and scared young boy will grow up to discover that he can view the harsh realities of his surroundings with a different eye: the eye of an artist. In the face of impossible odds, his brave ambition to become a professional photographer becomes a window into his world … and ultimately his way out! —

8) Shanghai Kiss

Shanghai Kiss

This one doesn’t get much attention but I found it worthy because I think too many people can relate to it.

Mid-life crises, unexpected trip to China, and bang next thing you know it’s life changing.

It’s filled with lots of cultural interactions from East meets West, and after watching it you’ll want to see China too.

Be sure to pay extra attention to the taxi scene because you will encounter this in your travels at some point.

Set in two dichotomous worlds, Shanghai Kiss tells the story of a Chinese-American actor who doesn’t quite fit in anywhere. In his hometown, he’s considered a foreigner even though he’s American. And in his family’s native China, his mannerisms make him stick out in sea of familiar faces.

Ken Leung (The Sopranos) does a wonderful job portraying Liam Liu, a complicated young man whose flirtation with the teenage Adelaide (Hayden Panettiere, Heroes) is reminiscent of Timothy Hutton’s cautious infatuation with the Natalie Portman character in 1996’s Beautiful Girls. — Jae-Ha Kim

7)  Eurotrip


Who doesn’t love this movie?

I mean it has everything: funny one-liners, covers most of Europe, highlights all the unique things about each country (the drinking of Absinthe in Amsterdam was priceless!) to why we travel in the first place… to score and get laid!

This movie will have you laughing, and make you want to buy a one-way ticket to Europe to see for yourself why “Scotty doesn’t know…”

Eurotrip views the Old World as a goofy parade of soccer hooligans, horny camera saleswomen, and pawing lechers reeking of cologne.

After being dumped by his girlfriend, Scotty (Scott Mechlowicz) discovers that the German e-mail correspondent he thought was a guy is actually a hot girl–so naturally he jets off to Europe to find her, joined by his friends Cooper (Jacob Pitts), Jamie (Travis Wester), and Jenny (Michelle Trachtenburg, trying to leap into sexier roles after her adolescent characters in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Harriet the Spy). — Bret Fetzer

6) Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation

Written by Fancies Ford Coppla’s daughter, Sofia Coppola, this movie throws you right in the middle of modern day Japan from a perspective of someone who knows nothing about its ways.

You will feel just as lost as Bill Murray was but at the same time totally ok with it.

If you want the feeling of being in a new country and not understanding anything… this movie is the one!

Like a good dream, Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation envelops you with an aura of fantastic light, moody sound, head-turning love, and a feeling of deja  vu, even though you’ve probably never been to this neon-fused version of Tokyo. Certainly Bob Harris has not. The 50-ish actor has signed on for big money shooting whiskey ads instead of doing something good for his career or his long-distance family.

Jetlagged, helplessly lost with his Japanese-speaking director, and out of sync with the metropolis, Harris (Bill Murray, never better) befriends the married but lovelorn 25-year-old Charlotte (played with heaps of poise by 18-year-old Scarlett Johansson). Even before her photographer husband all but abandons her, she is adrift like Harris but in a total entrapment of youth. — Doug Thomas

5) Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire

Director Danny Boyle must know something about movies that involve exotic locations and traveling (he also directed “The Beach”, see #10).

The plot, the acting, the travels through India and the soundtrack all make this movie awesome!  Never mind all the awards Slumdog Millionaire won because this means little to a backpacker…

we want to know what it’s like to live in India and this movie delivers on that in a new way.

Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is just one question away from winning a fortune on India’s version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”

But how has this uneducated young man from the slums succeeded in providing correct responses to questions that have stumped countless scholars before him?

And will he ultimately win it all or lose everything, including his true love?

4) Under the Tuscan Sun

Under the Tuscan Sun

This one is for you ladies out there!

Getting a divorce, buying a shamrock villa in Italy and learning to cook has never looked so good until after you have watched this beautiful movie.

It’s the romantic idea all women have, and makes you want to put your corporate life behind and just soak up another cultural.

Based on the #1 New York Times best-selling book, Under The Tuscan Sun follows San Francisco writer Frances Mayes (Lane) to Italy as a good friend offers her a special gift — 10 days in Tuscany.

Once there, she is captivated by its beauty and warmth, and impulsively buys an aging, but very charming, villa.

Fully embracing new friends and local color, she finds herself immersed in a life-changing adventure filled with enough unexpected surprises, laughter, friendship, and romance to restore her new home — and her belief in second chances. —

3) Into the Wild

Into the Wild

A must see and an obvious choice!

It’s what most backpackers dream of doing one day, and although the guy took his travels to the extreme, it has inspired many people to let go and see the world in a new way.

If you want the feeling of leaving everything behind in search of proving to yourself that you can see the world, consider Into the Wild your #1 movie.

This is the true story of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch).

Freshly graduated from college with a promising future ahead, McCandless instead walked out of his privileged life and into the wild in search of adventure.

What happened to him on the way transformed this young wanderer into an enduring symbol for countless people — a fearless risk-taker who wrestled with the precarious balance between man and nature. —

2) The Motorcycle Diaries

The Motorcycle Diaries

If you haven’t seen this movie… shame on you!

It’s all in Spanish but who cares, as who doesn’t want to take a motorcycle trip across a continent with your best friend, living from town to town, using your wits to get by and in the process you learn a valuable lesson in life.

Oh, plus start a military coup, win a revolution, and become an icon for sticking it to the man.  Yeah, you’ll be pumped after this movie.

The beauty of the South American landscape and of Gael Garcia Bernal (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Bad Education) gives The Motorcycle Diaries a charisma that is decidedly apolitical. But this portrait of the young Che Guevara (later to become a militant revolutionary) is half buddy-movie, half social commentary–and while that may seem an unholy hybrid, under the guidance of Brazillian director Walter Salles (Central Station) the movie is quietly passionate.

Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna, a lusty and engaging actor) set off from Buenos Aires, hoping to circumnavigate the continent on a leaky motorcycle. They end up travelling more by foot, hitchhiking, and raft, but their experience of the land and the people affects them profoundly. No movie could affect an audience the same way, but The Motorcycle Diaries gives a soulful glimpse of an awakening social conscience, and that’s worth experiencing. — Bret Fetzer

1) Outsourced


And the #1 pick is another movie that most people don’t know about, but Outsourced covers everything.

Love in a foreign country, forgetting your Western ways, adopting local customs, finding yourself at the end of the road and knowing what you want.

If you watch this movie and don’t want to see India, then sorry my friend you are a lost soul.

There are so many things about this movie that people can learn from when traveling.

I found it to be beyond inspiring!

Todd Anderson (Josh Hamilton-Kicking and Screaming, The Bourne Identity) gets the bad news from his boss: his job has been outsourced. Adding insult to injury, Todd must travel to India to train his own replacement.

Through a series of hilarious misadventures, this charming, critically acclaimed romantic comedy reminds us that sometimes getting lost is the best way to find yourself. —

~~ Honorable Mentions ~~

If you have a movie to add, please do so in the comments section.  I know I couldn’t fit them all in, but would love to hear your favorite, or even your Top 10 list as well.


Photo Credit:  Cover photo of DVD’s

About the Author:

is the author of 30 posts on Go Backpacking.

T-roy is taking an extended holiday from being responsible. Quitting his 6-figure salary job that was killing him with 12hr work days, he decided that this wasn't the life. He moved to Thailand and spent 3 months living a humble backpackers life and loved the experience so much he kept going. He now resides in Medellin, Colombia doing photography work while running his own travel blog:

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