Top 10 Travel Films

Top 10 Travel Films

Have you ever watched a film where the location played an integral part of the narrative? A city that was more than a mere backdrop, but a character in it’s own right?

Exhibit A: In 2010, I did not power walk to the cinema to watch Julia Roberts in “Eat, Pray, Love” – I was there for Rome. 

Of course, not all of us have the luxury of embarking on a trip abroad once a month (myself included). And thus, on this rainy Sunday afternoon and in no particular order, here’s a list of my Top 10 Travel Films to substitute as the next best thing to a physical holiday. Fake it until you make it. 

“Amelie”
2001, France

“Amelie” was my first foray into foreign film at 16. Residing in Paris, Amelie Poulain is a shy but innocent young waitress content with watching the world through rose coloured glasses – without any actual participation.

After a series of events, things of course begin to change for our heroine, who takes us on a journey through Montmartre in the late 90’s.

A modern day “Alice In Wonderland” for anyone who is tired of playing it safe, and would like to take a look at life through a kaleidoscope instead. 


“The Sound Of Music”
1965, Austria

Didn’t expect to see this banger on a travel film list did you? Think again. 

Our gal Maria (Julie Andrews) is essentially not cut out to be a nun, and as a result is sent off to become a governess for Captain Von Trapp and his brood of seven motherless pipsqueaks. Things get interesting with World War II on the horizon. 

Filmed predominantly in Salzburg, this entire film is basically a love letter to Austria – if you don’t believe me, listen to the lyrics in “Edelweiss”. 

“Lost In Translation”
2003, Japan

Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson? Especially considering that the latter was just eighteen at the time of filming. 

Here we have actor Bill Harris (Murray) as a drifter well past his prime, and newlywed Charlotte (Johannsson) who gets dragged around the world by her photographer husband.  The only thing these two strangers have in common is their mutual isolation and loneliness.

Adding Tokyo in as the scene stealing third wheel, we watch Bill and Charlotte navigate through the white noise – with much getting “lost in translation” along the way. 

“Notting Hill”
1999, United Kingdom

Another that I would not technically describe as a “travel” film, but all the same – this rom com ignited my love affair with London. 

Here we have another Richard Curtis classic, featuring Hugh Grant as the loveable British boy next door just trying to land the girl (an underwhelming Julia Roberts). 

We do we keep watching it over and over again? For the bookshop, for the parks, for the pastel coloured buildings that characterize this unique borough – full of hapless lunatics that are very much just like us.

“Out Of Africa”
1985, Kenya

If this film doesn’t inspire you to travel to this great continent, nothing will. 

Featuring the King and Queen of modern day cinema, it tells the story of a how a wealthy Dane, Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep), found herself in Africa after a sham marriage falls apart in 1914.

It’s en route to Nairobi that she meets her star crossed lover, big game hunter Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford). I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s no surprise that this epic cinematic experience won the Oscar for “Best Picture”.

“Under The Tuscan Sun”
2003, Italy

There’s only so many films that can cover “middle age white woman goes abroad to find herself” in one list, so out of self respect I have only added one – my favourite. 

“Under The Tuscan Sun” set off yet another boom for tourism in Tuscany, Italy. If you have actually been to Cortona (where the movie was filmed) – you would certainly question if this was a blessing or a curse.

I enjoyed this film, as we don’t have our female protagonist Frances (Diane Lane) solely on the hunt for a local man to solve all of her problems. Instead, we have one big old house, a stack of Polish immigrants, and a BFF in the form of Sandra Oh. 

“The Darjeeling Limited”
2007, India

Now I don’t know about you, but I love me some Wes Anderson. 

After the death of their father one year prior, three brothers (Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman, 10/10 for casting alone) set out on a journey of self discovery aboard the “Darjeeling Limited” train across India. The trouble is, they haven’t seen or spoken to each other in twelve months. 

Like all Wes Anderson films, the beauty lies in the fact that the movie doesn’t take itself so seriously, and instead focuses on the raw landscape and characters.

“The Beach”
2000, Thailand

A must watch for every self respecting backpacker who has travelled South East Asia, or even one day hopes to.

Here we have a fresh faced baby Leo playing our hero, the naive young explorer Richard. Like all travellers, he wants an adventure – a REAL adventure, away from Khaosan Road.

Armed with a secret map, Richard suddenly finds himself in paradise – in the form of a secret commune of explorers, who have set up camp on a remote island off Koh Samui. As usual, girls and drugs manage to ruin all the fun. 

“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”
2008, Spain

There should be a law as to how many beautiful people can star in one film. To put Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson in one movie?! Madness. 

This is essentially a film that attempts to define the passion, fire, and straight shooting that Spaniards have become well known for. 

Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) plays our resident lothario, juggling two women (Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson) as well as his bat shit crazy ex wife and one true love (Penelope Cruz) – all while showing off the simple hedonistic pleasures of Barcelona of course. 

“Into The Wild”
2007, United States

No travel film list could ever possibly be complete without this timeless masterpiece, which is why it’s been saved until last. 

Based on a true story, this is the tale of Christopher McCandless (the flawless Emile Hirsch). After graduating in 1990, Christopher is disengaged with the path life had already set out for him, and thus cuts up his credit cards, sells everything he owns and hits the road – into the wild. 

Adopting the name “Alexander Supertramp” – this film is essentially sacred to just about every traveller I know, perhaps due to hitting a nerve with an entire generation. 

Honourable Mentions Go To:

  • “Midnight In Paris” – 2011, France
  • “Slumdog Millionaire” – 2008, India
  • “Whale Rider” – 2002, New Zealand 
  • “The Motorcycle Diaries” – 2004, South America
  • “Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert” – 1994, Australia

© All text by Angela Wallace

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