10 Travel Movies to Cure Our Wanderlust

By Michael McCarthy | March 23, 2020 | Lifestyle National

If your travel plans have been scuttled, these cinematic gems will fill the void—and inspire future journeys.


Our collective sequester is good for our neighbors and the country, but it puts a dent in our souls. We’re a species constantly on the roam, and, as Mary Anne Radmacher once noted, we’re never the same once we’ve seen the moon shine on the other side of the world. Which is why these are especially dark times for travelers. To muddle through the days ahead, stream these flicks for a travel fix.

Lost in Translation (2003)

Travel to: Tokyo, Japan

Director Sofia Coppola does so many things right in this film, but her greatest feat is conveying a westerner’s sense of befuddled sleeplessness in the middle of Tokyo nights and how those moments can lead to nirvana. Case in point: Bill Murray crooning karaoke to Elvis Costello’s “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?” during a wild night of carousing with Scarlett Johansson. Unlikely friendships often bloom when we hit the road and meet strangers; Murray and Johansson not only prove the point, but show how those relationships often change us.

Free Solo (2018)

Travel to: Yosemite National Park, Ca.

Both terrifying and exhilarating, there’s never been a greater athletic feat than the one pulled off by climber Alex Honnold. Climbing Yosemite’s imposing El Capitan's 3,200 vertical feet of rock face without a rope—where one slip means sudden death—is a modern miracle, period. Husband and wife directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi documented this adventure with the care it entailed and still managed to weave in a fascinating backstory. It’s one of the best thrillers ever made, and the film, which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary, showcases the finest movie set ever created: Mother Nature.

Enchanted April (1992)

Travel to: Portofino, Italy

Two Londoners (Academy Award nominee Miranda Richardson and Josie Lawrence) leave their dreary post WWI locales and respective spouses for a month in an Italian castle. They’re joined by a disagreeable aristocrat (Joan Plowright) and spoiled socialite (Polly Walker) for the one-in-a-lifetime sojourn. The film, nominated for three Academy Awards, is a love letter to the notion of soaking up the timelessness of place.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

Travel to: Everywhere

Ben Stiller’s turn as Walter Mitty in this remake prompts us to think about the journeys, near and far, we’ve passed up. Stiller’s character, the classic man in the gray flannel suit who’s never taken any risks or traveled, changes his personal compass to (you guessed it) impress a girl (Kristin Wiig). Cinematopher Stuart Dryburgh brandishes every tool from his impressive resume for a journey that covers mountain peaks, high seas and those humble yet glorious spots beyond the next hill.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Travel to: A luxe European hotel

Wes Anderson can do no wrong with a camera, as he wields his considerable vision to tell stories that take us inside the lives of souls tilting at many a windmill. The director’s signature stylized dreamscape focuses on impeccable service—in the guise of concierge Monsieur Gustave played by Ralph Fiennes—at a fictional hotel. The pink facade, the over-the-top dining room and the romantic romps make for a perfect (and perfectly twisted) Anderson escape.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

Travel to: French Riviera

Sadly, the Cannes Film Festival has been postponed this year. So, it’s only appropriate to salute the French Riviera town, along with Nice, in this Alfred Hitchcock thriller. Grace Kelly is a wealthy debutante who falls in love with a cat burglar played by Cary Grant; Grant’s character gets framed for stealing jewels, and he goes on the lam to clear his name and win the girl. (Film chemistry classes should be taught about this romantic pairing.) The costume design by the legendary Edith Head, who was also responsible for the sartorial splendor in Hitchcock’s Rear Window, is masterful.

Wild (2014)

Travel to: Pacific Crest Trail

Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling book about recalibrating her life while trekking the 1,100-mile Pacific Crest Trail is adapted wonderfully by screenwriter Nick Hornby. Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern (who plays Strayed’s mother) take over from there. After her mother dies, Witherspoon’s character duels with personal demons when crossing muddy trails, terrifying forests, snow-laden fields and even the forbidding Mojave desert. The emotional juggernaut of a film reveals what hikers have known for ages: nature is a purest panacea for the weary soul.

Barcelona (1994)

Travel to: Barcelona, Spain

Director Whit Stillman’s indie film about two Americans holed up in Spain still feels ideologically fresh and caustically funny. The Americans (actors Taylor Nichols and Chris Eigeman) spend considerable time trying to impress Barcelona’s single women with the trappings of high-minded maxims (“My jazz rule is: If you can't dance to it, you don't want to know about it”) and ugly Americanisms (“Americans aren’t more violent than other people in the world. We're just better shots.”). Barcelona, with Antoni Gaudi’s architecture as a backdrop, washes away their verbal sins in every sweeping shot.

Once (2007)

Travel to: Dublin, Ireland

This is a valentine to the human voice, craft and anyone who holds dearly to dreams. Singer-songwriter Glen Hansard is dazzling in the role of a street busker who works in his father’s vacuum-repair shop as he waits for stardom. He finds his melodic match in a Czech immigrant (Marketa Irglova), who plays piano and harmonizes beautifully. (Hansard and Irglova actually performed and recorded together after shooting the film—their rendition of Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” is just about perfect. Yes, it’s on Spotify on the Dylan tribute LP and movie soundtrack, I’m Not There.) Dublin’s bustle, at once sublime and bawdy, serves as a gritty backdrop to the musical beauty.

Sideways (2004)

Travel to: Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara, Ca.

A guy’s trip to California wine country is on tap for perpetually tormented writer Miles (Paul Giamatti) and his soon-to-be-married friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church). The odd couple—Miles is a pedantic oenophile and Jack is a B actor playboy in search of one last female conquest—meet two women (Sandra Oh and Virginia Madsen) who put the boys’ shortcomings under a life-changing microscope. Wine enthusiasts will adore the setting and the varietal references (Miles has a comical worship of pinots and hatred of Merlots); everyone else will relish in a comically raw tale of lives recast on the fly.


Photography by: Luca Bravo on Unsplash