There’s nothing quite like the right story for inspiring people to pack their bags and head out into the great unknown. It’s what we travel writers depend on for a living after all.
Admittedly that’s not always necessarily a good thing… park rangers could probably do without all the Pacific Crest Trail rescues in the wake of The Wild, and a generation of divorcees have gone home from Thailand disappointed by the promises made in Eat, Pray Love.
But it usually is. A good travel movie can remind you of everything that makes life on the road worth it, despite the hassles, expense, bugs and bus station food. So whether you’re stuck on a long layover or cooling your heels at home, here are a few of my own personal favorites.
The Girl On The Bicycle
At first I thought this was just an inoffensive little rom-com to watch on date night, with a bonus of helping me brush up on my French.
Then I realized… this movie is a lot of fun! An Italian bus driver for American tourists is engaged to a German stewardess but falls in love with a French model and calls in his British best friend for an assist. The accents alone deserve their own Eurail pass.
Each character pokes fun at national stereotypes and the movie is filled with in-jokes that’ll leap out at anyone who’s spent time groaning at Gallic quirks, from eating mille fuille cake by hand (only to be attempted by the French) to Parisians who automatically switch to English at the slightest hint of an accent. Enjoy the camera’s lingering shots around Paris as well as what turns out to be quite a funny little love story.
Holy crap. For a once-“broke ass line cook” (in his own words) Anthony Bourdain done pretty done well for himself, growing into one of the greatest working travel journalists today. Following the evolution of his career is a fascinating trip down showbiz lane, from the television debut of A Cook’s Tour through this current show on CNN.
In Parts Unknown Bourdain has grown past his roots into something new. Watching him in Russia, Libya, Detroit and the Congo is to learn things remarkable, occasionally disturbing, (dare I say, Dangerous?) about the world around us. It’s to sometimes get swept up in the beauty of broken places. What more can you ask out of a travel show?
This is my hands down go to. When I do site work on Things Dangerous I turn this on in the background and it keeps me energized. This is global journalism at it’s absolute finest. It’s the kind of work all of us in this industry aspire to and I would be perfectly happy if it just stayed on the air forever.
* Not technically a movie. I’ll deal.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
I love this movie! It got punished by the critics and literary purists/snobs but very unfairly in my opinion. Of course, one look at this site’s title should clue readers in on my own opinion of a story set in the last days of Life Magazine…
Walter Mitty is worth watching if for no other reason than its landscape porn. Better though is that it’s the story of a man who travels around the world not to find some mystic guru or wisdom stored in ancient places but to find a better version of himself. Stiller’s character hops from country to country on a quest for the McGuffin (in this case a rogue photographer) and in the process remembers the person he always wanted to be. He doesn’t come back transformed by travel fairy dust, he comes home a little more him. That’s travel at it’s best.
Perhaps the movie’s final reveal gets a little heavy-handed with its message, but I’m willing to go with it. Besides, Ben Stiller fights a shark.
Forget the rotten, racist television show of the same name. Outsourced the movie was a breakout indie hit about Todd, a phone center manager who winds up running an operation out in India.
Clever, insightful, funny, the best part about this movie is that it actually treats the people Todd meets as… well, people. Neither he nor Asha, his love interest, are there to save the other. His Indian counterpart has no great life lessons to teach, just a few well put observations from another culture’s point of view.
And India? It comes across as charming, disgusting, interesting, colorful, abrasive and so much more.
Outsourced may be a film, but it’s one that feels entirely real.
The Indiana Jones movies, on the other hand, far less so.
What more can I say about Harrison Ford’s epic that hasn’t already been written a thousand times already? From hidden temples to lost treasure, when it comes to pure travel escapism these movies are a go-to. The first and third, at least. The second hits a weird, off-beat note right from its opening (a full-length musical number of Anything Goes).
Deep down, just a little bit, I think every travel writer pictures themselves stepping off a plane into a dusty town, picking up a threadbare satchel and heading off into the jungle to find some long-forgotten secret. We may actually spend much of our time hunched over a notebook or laptop, but at night we all dream of finding that city swallowed by the jungle.