Top 10 Travel Movies To Get You Going

by T-roy on January 7, 2010 · 114 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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Categories: Features, Reviews
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Anil January 7, 2010 at 8:36 am

Outsourced is a wonderful movie and much funnier after a trip to India.


Catherine March 26, 2013 at 5:43 pm

Amazing! I did a list of my own and I have Outsourced there too! Plus my friends don’t seem to know about it as well hehehe


ShannonOD January 7, 2010 at 9:08 am

Ooo – I love this list, and despite hearing great things I havent seen Outsourced yet :-) I hope to catch a few of these before I head out again.


AuthenticSeacoast January 7, 2010 at 9:46 am

Yes, movies are a great way to get the travel juices going. To get you thinking about visiting Nova Scotia in Atlantic Canada, here's a link to some movies that were filmed in our beautiful province:

We hope our seacoast vistas encourage you to add Nova Scotia to your 2010 travel list.


Babel January 7, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Into the Wild… such a great book an movie :(


Dave January 7, 2010 at 12:42 pm

This is the first I've heard of Outsourced, so I look forward to checking it out. I was glad to have watched Slumdog Millionaire after having visited India. I was able to relate to it much better.


Dave January 7, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Hi Shannon, T-roy came up with a good list, for sure. I was glad to see some of my favorites too, like Before Sunset, the Beach, and Eurotrip….I could go on. :)


soultravelers3 January 7, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Ha! We haven't seen one of these yet, but looks like an interesting list! We DO have “Lawrence in Arabia” and must admit we felt like him when we did our family camel trek deep into the Sahara in Morocco! ;)


AirTreks Nico January 7, 2010 at 2:59 pm

I love movie lists! I did one back in Oct that has a lot of overlap with yours. Here's mine:

I do love the movie City of God tho. It's haunting and harrowing and gives a glimpse at what goes down in the favelas of Rio. The DVD extras have amazing real-life footage. Totally gripping. Definitely in my top 10 of all time.


Nomadic Matt January 7, 2010 at 4:53 pm

what! seven years in tibet or a good eyar get honorable mention but shanghai kiss makes the list? i call foul!


Neeraj January 7, 2010 at 6:40 pm

Backpackers “want to know what it's like to live in India”… and they will learn that by watching Slumdog? lol – clearly, you have no idea what it's like to live in India!

Going a bit off-topic, this movie wouldn't have won any oscars if it wasn't directed by an Englishman. There were many Indian movies on the same topic that were overlooked – I highly recommend “Salaam Bombay (1988)” if you liked Slumdog.


foggodyssey January 7, 2010 at 11:17 pm

Nice list you made up and seen a few I haven't gotten to see yet. I remember when I first watched City of God and thought the movie made Brazil look like a modern-Western in a way. No rules and everything goes.


foggodyssey January 7, 2010 at 11:32 pm

Matt I said you could arrange them any way you like as it wasn't a perfect list. :) Shanghai Kiss was a wild card and but I just really liked it for some reason. Though I do love 7 Years in Tibet I just didn't know where to put it without taking another one out. What is your top 10 travel movies?


Dave January 8, 2010 at 12:17 pm

While I only spent 7 weeks in India back in 2008, I did feel as though I was in a better position to appreciate some of what I saw in Slumdog Millionaire than if I had not been there at all.


ottsworld January 8, 2010 at 12:40 pm

I'd love to add Revolutionary Road – if that doesn't make you realize the value and importance of travel – I don't know what will!


Nomadic Chick January 8, 2010 at 1:11 pm

I'm confused why Before Sunrise isn't in the top ten. Such a damn good movie.


Dave January 8, 2010 at 1:15 pm

I'm with you there. Before Sunrise is the quintessential travel movie in my mind.


Dave January 8, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Sherry – That's a movie I've been waiting to watch on my computer. Didn't realize it was related to travel.


Chaleigh January 25, 2013 at 4:39 pm

I think what Sherry is talking about is Kate Winselt’s characters passion for moving to Paris. In retrospect it isn’t a travel movie. It’s a movie about a quest. It’s a movie about a troubled marriage. Revolutionary Road is a metaphor. You get to understand & feel what people go through, when they try to make any sort of destination…life gets in the way.
It’s sad and intense, (especially, if you see your parents when you watch this).
If anything, it displays why so many people need to travel more. Need to experience life more. But, I hope you enjoy the movie.


ottsworld January 8, 2010 at 1:19 pm

Make sure you have a glass of wine when you watch it…it's pretty heavy…very heavy. Let me know what you think when you do watch it! I think I”m going to use it to promote Briefcase to Backpack!


AirTreks Nico January 8, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Exactly. The thing that amazed me the most was how young these kids were. 12 & 13 years old and already in full gangster mode.

I guess it says a lot. As a kid would you rather scrub floors and be poor, or deal drugs, live life in the fast lane but potentially die at 15.


foggodyssey January 8, 2010 at 10:27 pm

I agree… what does Revolutionary Road have to do with travel? “A young couple living in a Connecticut suburb during the mid-1950s struggle to come to terms with their personal problems while trying to raise their two children.”


MFR January 9, 2010 at 1:19 am

I am surprised to see the Darjeeling Limited not on your list.


Matthew January 9, 2010 at 8:59 am

I have to say that despite the shortcomings of Shanghai Kiss the scene with the cab driver makes the entire movie worth a watch for any traveler. It definitely captured the pure frustration of travel with a language barrier.

Eurotrip has to be my favorite comedy of all time and is half the reason I went to Europe.


Dave January 9, 2010 at 10:00 am

MFR – I enjoyed Darjeeling Limited a lot too, though the train rides were more of a 1st class experience, then the typical 3AC (3rd class air-conditioned) rides I enjoyed.


Dave January 9, 2010 at 10:01 am

Shanghai Kiss is a new one to me, but Eurotrip is high on my list as well.

Being a bit older, I also have to mention National Lampoon's European Vacation (definitely a classic). “Look kids, Big Ben, Parliament…” (repeat as they can't get out of the traffic circle.


foggodyssey January 9, 2010 at 10:51 am

Dave- Looks like maybe I'll have to make another list to add all the recommendations from everyone. :)


michaelapotter January 9, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Revolutionary Road doesn't have to do with travel but the lack of travel in their lives. Unhappy in their lives and careers, they decided that they would pack up and move to Paris. They were at their happiest when they were planning this significant life change, despite the naysayers. Then “life” intervened…

And I think Sherry's comment above about enjoying it with a glass of wine (I say bottle) pertains to Revolutionary Road, not Slumdog.

While I'm commenting, I'd love to add The Devil Wears Prada to the list. It's not about travel but does a gorgeous job of capturing NYC and Paris. I saw it for the first time while volunteering in Peru and it made me tremendously homesick for NYC.


Dave January 10, 2010 at 2:38 pm

I'll speak up and admit that I've seen The Devil Wears Prada, and agree that it does capture the feel of NYC and the romance of going to Paris.


Ralf January 25, 2010 at 2:32 am

While this list is good, there is one glaring omission: “A Map for Saturday” is really a stunning and very authentic documentary of a guy who quits his job and travels around the world, backpacker-style. Its so inspiring and charming and instantly makes you want to quit your job and do it too. Ok, the film is not a mainstream blockbuster like most of the other titles you listed, but just check it out (just google for “A Map for Saturday”, theres a trailer on youtube and on their website).


Rui January 25, 2010 at 11:43 am

One of the best travel films i have ever seen, backpacking, life changing one is: The Art Of Travel!


Dave January 25, 2010 at 12:19 pm

I picked up a copy of The Art of Travel on for $5 (shipped!). Haven't watched it yet, but excited. :)


janateneva January 26, 2010 at 4:18 pm

great selection…i really wanted to stop reading at the beach…but i am glad i kept reading:)
I would add “Up in the air” here too: it has so much of the new/modern miles/bberry-every-day-business-traveller-life:)


GlobalButterfly February 11, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Motorcycle Diaries is one of the MOST incredible movies!!!


Chelle11 March 20, 2010 at 8:44 am

Loved the list….it pretty much included some of my all time favourites (Motorcycle Diaries, Under the Tuscan Sun & City of God) and movies I watch all the time when I am not travelling just to remind me of why I love travelling so much!
Here's a few others you might be interested in – The Big Blue (starring Jean Reno and Jean Marc Barr), Che Parts 1&2 (starring Benicio Del Toro) & The Spanish Apartment (about a group of multi national students sharing an apartment in Barcelona).
I am a huge lover of foreign films and just watching them helps to fuel my love for other cultures and their way of life – if you can get past the subtitles I suggest you try them too as they also often have much better stories to them than a lot of Hollywood made movies.


Dave March 23, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Chelle – thanks for sharing your favorite travel vids!


Lisa July 10, 2011 at 11:29 am

It’s actually called l’auberge espagnoel, a real great movie! I felt happy for days after watching it. 


Steve April 16, 2010 at 1:43 pm

I thought that “The Beach” would have been number one. Or maybe I am biased since I have been all over Thailand. Weirdly enough, I had the chance to go to the island that this movie was filmed on and it has become a huge tourist destination because of this film's success. I went to Koh Samui instead.


Dave April 20, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Hey Steve,

I think it’s because The Beach was popular that Troy didn’t list it first. I also went to Koh Phi Phi where scenes were shot. Beautiful island.


Ukmale111069 December 23, 2010 at 2:49 am

umm you went to Koh Samui to escape the tourists?


Steve April 16, 2010 at 6:43 pm

I thought that “The Beach” would have been number one. Or maybe I am biased since I have been all over Thailand. Weirdly enough, I had the chance to go to the island that this movie was filmed on and it has become a huge tourist destination because of this film's success. I went to Koh Samui instead.


Stephanie Figueroa June 14, 2010 at 4:38 pm

This list made me go see “EuroTrip.” Mr. “MISCUSI!!!” was hilarious!


Dave June 14, 2010 at 4:54 pm

I love the Lustra theme song “Scotty Doesn't Know” I was just watching it on TV the other day. A classic!


Amanda_photographer June 25, 2010 at 6:44 pm

I LOVE movies. I've seen the majority, but not Outsourse. Thanks for the recommendation!


Stephanie Wafzig July 25, 2010 at 4:37 am

I see that Vicky Christina Barcelona got an honorable mention but it should definitely be in the top 10.


cangaceiro August 9, 2010 at 4:29 am

Seven years in Tibet was made… in the Andes! province of Mendoza, Argentina, my country, and the scene at a railwaystation in the city of La Plata, my birthplace, where the producers found that location very similar than the original place. Good night


Stacy August 23, 2010 at 6:53 pm

So glad Outsourced made this list — it is such a charming movie! Def made me wanna visit India…


foggodyssey August 23, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Glad it helped and hope you liked the movie! It's one of my personal favorites and it cracks me up every time. So much to relate to in that movie!!


Andrew September 23, 2010 at 2:38 am

i watched it probably 3 times before i realized that matt damon was the singer in the band when they played scotty doesnt know


foggodyssey August 23, 2010 at 7:56 pm

yeah i just watched it again a few weeks ago and have to say i could easily make any Top-10 travel list. I hate Woody Allen but this movie was great and it didn't feel like a Woody movie to me… it was just pure pleasure and indulgences with great humor on many topics.


foggodyssey August 23, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Hey thanks for the fact on that! I didn't know that but it's very interesting. I guess people would be surprised at how many movies are filmed in locations that they never knew would even work.


foggodyssey August 23, 2010 at 7:58 pm

I just can't say enough about it either. I know some didn't think it was that great but every time I watch it it gets me excited about India in a heartbeat! I haven't been but want to so bad and a lot of it comes from seeing this movie. Glad you liked!


foggodyssey August 23, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Yeah I went to Maya Bay to see the island, it's nothing like what the movie projects it to be but the bay is just as beautiful. When i went i was hoping to camp (or cop-a-squat) somewhere on the island but found out it's protected and no over night visits are allowed. Still worth the trip.


foggodyssey August 23, 2010 at 8:02 pm

I keep hearing about the Spanish Apartment and will see if I can find it somewhere on the internet to watch it (yeah I know that is illegal but i can't rent here in Colombia!). Never heard of the Big Blue but will look into it now that you said something about it. Thanks for the recommendations. Any others let us know on here please!


foggodyssey August 23, 2010 at 8:04 pm

Yeah, something told me that you would like this movie best of all. Che is lucky he still isn't alive because you would be stalking him if so! jajajaja :)


foggodyssey August 23, 2010 at 8:06 pm

Yeah, Up in Air hadn't been realeased when I made this list. It is on the other list though that I did as a follow-up. Check it out at the link below if like:


foggodyssey August 23, 2010 at 8:17 pm

I just want to say firstly that i love what you guys are doing and in traveling! I encourage you to take a little time and watch a few of these, esp the ones of places you haven't been.


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