Who doesn't love a good travel story? Anyone? Didn't think so. Good stories inspire us and take us out of the daily grind by allowing us to escape to another world. Great stories take us on a trip; usually an emotional rollercoaster, sometimes a spiritual journey, while others show us parts of the world we wish we could visit. And sometimes we do! There have been countless films over the years that have inspired viewers to visit the locations they were filmed in, while others just ignite the travel bug inside us. We are going to pay homage to such films by listing travel-inspired films to date. While there are plenty of terrific suspenseful travel films such as Kevin and Michael Goetz brothers' Scenic Route starring Josh Duhamel breaking down in Death Valley, we are going to try to keep the movies to positive travel experiences. Whether it be exotic set locations or travel related stories, these movies are sure to have you reaching for your passport.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
One of this particular writer's personal favorites, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty tells the story of Walter, a dreamer played by Ben Stiller. Actually, that's an understatement. Walter disappears inside of himself imagining he's living a super-interesting (and funny) superhero-like life, yet the reality is quite the opposite. He has never left his home country of the USA and has had a cushy office job for most of his adult life. But when new management comes in and his job is threatened, Walter is forced to step outside of his comfort zone and embark on a travel adventure that takes him to Greenland and other off-the-beaten-path locales. Walter experiences personal growth like never before and worldly experiences beyond his wildest dreams. This allows him to not only win the girl, but get the best send-off for his job imaginable.
If only there were more movies like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Although Mitty travels to Greenland, Afghanistan and the Himalayas, all the breathtaking locations filmed belong to Iceland. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a brilliant character driven study that demonstrates the benefits that come from stepping out of your comfort zone to travel for both professional and personal growth.
Filming locations: USA, Iceland
Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
In instant classic of its time made in 1956, Around the World in 80 Days tells the story of Victorian-era Englishman Phileas Fogg (played by David Niven), who bets 20 thousand pounds (a lot of money in those days!) he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days to his fellow members of a London Gentlemen's Club. Along with his comedic sidekick and manservant Passepartout, they embark on adventure after adventure in just about every region of the world, all the while being pursued by a Scotland Yard detective who suspects Fogg of chicanery.
The first ever movie to take audiences around the world, it has inspired countless others since to take the scenic route themselves.
For an updated and equally visually stunning version of the same story, check out the 2021 television series.
Filming locations: Los Angeles, California desert, Colorado, Oklahoma (USA), London (UK), Paris (France), Spain, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Japan, Thailand
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Perhaps not the most scenic film, but The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel illustrates the beauty of the unexpected and welcome surprises when traveling. After seven elderly characters (played by an amazing cast) respond to an online advertisement for a newly restored hotel in Jaipur, they arrive to find a run down, much less luxurious than advertised hotel. To make matters worse, the host is an over-exuberant, and optimistic young man (played by Dev Patel). However, the longer the retirees stay there, the more the rustic hotel charms them in unexpected ways as they all go about their business.
India has a way of affecting everybody in various ways, and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a perfect example of this. Moreover, it reminds us of how the picture we have in our minds of our upcoming travel vacation is often vastly different from the reality, yet sometimes surprisingly more fulfilling.
Filming locations: India, London and Essex (UK)
Under the Tuscan Sun
Have you ever taken a spontaneous trip abroad? How about impulsively buying a home on the other side of the world? That's exactly what Frances Mayes (Diane Lane) does in Under the Tuscan Sun. A San Francisco based author, Mayes is struggling to write her latest book. After her husband files for divorce so he can marry the woman he is having an affair with, Frances accepts a gift of a tour of Tuscany in Italy as a way to deal with the messy divorce. While there, she ends up ditching the tour in favor of buying an aged Tuscan villa, with the view to restoring it to spend her new life in. She rounds up an oddball crew of immigrants to help renovate the home, while flirting with her married real estate agent and then a charming stranger. But life gets in the way, dashing her hopes of a foreign romance. However, she finds happiness and contentment in unexpected ways, all while under the Tuscan Sun.
Under the Tuscan Sun is terrific original writing that reminds you happiness isn't always where you expect to find it.
Filming locations: San Francisco (USA), Tuscany and The Amalfi Coast (Italy)
The movie The Beach is for the young adventurous type in search of that ever-elusive unspoiled perfect paradise. That's what backpacker Richard, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, yearns for while traveling through Thailand. His wish is granted when eccentric fellow traveler Daffy winds up dead in his hostel leaving Richard with a map to "the beach". Richard teams up with French couple Françoise and Étienne to take a scenic route to the mysterious island. After overcoming several obstacles, they finally reach an idyllic beach and castaway island community. They are welcomed but there are rules. Unfortunately, the most important rule was broken when Richard shared the map with other travelers back on Koh Samui Island, yet he kept the secret to himself. Richard falls for Françoise, creating an awkward love triangle which creates drama, along with the other travelers making their way over and the natives who grow marijuana on the island and do not appreciate any of the unwanted attention.
The beach was filmed on the island of Ko Phi Phi Le in Thailand. Unfortunately, after the movie was released it became a hugely popular tourist destination and was closed in 2018 due to over-tourism. It is set to reopen again after four years in 2022.
Filming locations: Bangkok, Ko Samui, Ko Phi Phi Le (Thailand)
The Motorcycle Diaries
The Motorcycle Diaries tells the true story of a young Che Guevara, before he became a famous revolutionary leader, as he embarks on a road trip across the South American continent in search of fun and adventures. But he discovers so much more. The young medical student, played by Gael Garcia Bernal, sets out from his hometown of Buenos Aires with his older mate Alberto, a biochemist, on a motorcycle with the goal of seeing as much as Latin America as they can (and perhaps bedding as many women along the way). Their incredible journey takes them through the Andes, along the Chilean Coast, across the Atacama Desert and into the Peruvian Jungle. They finally reach Venezuela just in time for Alberto's 30th birthday. What an adventure! But the defining moment of the film, and Che's life, is when he decides to swim across a river to a Leper Colony, and spends the night in a leper shack, instead of the cabins dedicated to the doctors. It is here when he is of service to the lepers that Guevara's rejection of aristocracy and wealth into which he was born is realized. The path is set for his later life as a guerrilla, fighting for what he believes in during the Cuban revolution.
The Motorcycle Diaries is a perfect example of how travel can not only change you, but set you on a different course in life.
"Wandering around our America has changed me more than I thought. I am not me any more. At least I'm not the same me I was." ~ Guevara
Filming locations: Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama. Venezuela
Midnight in Paris
There’s no denying that we’ve all been through a creative block at least once in our lives. However, no one took it farther than Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) in Midnight in Paris. He’s a frustrated Hollywood nostalgic screenwriter who goes on a trip to Paris with his fiancée’s (Rachel McAdams) family. In an attempt to find inspiration, Gil walks alone and finds himself transported to the 1920s every night. He meets his artistic idols such as F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), and Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates). The more time he spends with them, the more he realizes that nostalgia is just a painful denial of the present.
The film is a beautiful reminder to surround ourselves with the right people. They may be in a different time or city, but there’s an assurance that they can help us grow. While we can’t travel back in time every midnight, the iconic and historic locations in the film can still be seen and visited today.
Filming locations:Paris, Giverny, Versailles, Seine-Saint-Denis
Eat Pray Love
Eat Pray Love was a hugely popular book by Elizabeth Gilbert before it was given the Hollywood treatment with a starring role to Julia Roberts. It tells the classic story and character study of taking a round-the-world journey to discover oneself. After Liz realizes how unhappy her marriage really is, she endures a painful divorce. The remedy? Yep, she embarks on a life-changing and soul searching trip around the world. Liz's travels involve three segments over the course of one year; Italy, India and Bali. First, she rediscovers the pleasure of mindful eating of the most authentic Italian cuisine, sometimes washed down with a healthy glass (or two) of Italian red wine. In India, she gets her first taste of spiritual peace through the Ashram of David's yogi. But it's not until her final destination of Bali, where she reconnects with the medicine man Ketut Liyer, that she gets some true insight into herself. Although she sticks to her travel plan, like all good travel, there are many unexpected surprises along the way.
Eat Pray Love is a terrific example of stepping out of one's comfort zone, and risking everything to change your life by embarking on an epic adventure around the world can be the best decision you will ever make.
Filming locations: New York City (USA), Rome and Naples (Italy), Delhi and Pataudi (India), Ubud and Padang-Padang Beach (Bali).
In Bruges (another personal favorite of this writer) tells the story of two hitmen from London who, after a job that goes horribly wrong, hide out in the charming Belgian town of Bruges. One of the hitmen, Ken, played by Brendan Gleeson, cannot get enough of the wonderful UNESCO World Heritage medieval village and all its cultural attractions. Conversely, his partner, Ray, played by Colin Farrell in one of his best performances, is guilt ridden and Bruges is the last place he'd rather be. However, things take an upward turn when he meets Chloe, part of a film crew shooting a movie starring a hilarious dwarf, played by the brilliant Peter Dinklage. Adventures ensue, until their fate is decided upon by their boss, Harry, who has a slight temper problem and is on his way to Bruges himself. We'll leave it there.
A 2019 New York Times article states that Bruges, nicknamed the Venice of the north due to its picturesque canals, suffered a massive increase in tourism after the 2009 movie release, with the mayor deciding to limit tourists. But then Covid arrived so Bruges has had a well-earned break, which means that it could be an ideal time to visit!
Filming locations: Bruges (Belgium)
Let Them All Talk
Let Them All Talk tells the story of famous author, Alice Hugues, played by the legendary Meryl Streep, who goes on a transatlantic cruise ship from New York to attend an awards ceremony in the UK. She joins two old college friends as well as her nephew, and while she sets out for fun and adventure, under the surface she is coming to terms with her troubled past. Unbeknownst to Alice, her snooping literary agent Karen is also on board trying to find out details of the latest book, which she desperately hopes is a sequel to the most successful book Alice wrote, You Always/You Never. Meanwhile, once Alice gets talking, one of her lifelong friends Roberta believes Alice used details about her in the book and blames Alice and other's life decisions for derailing her own life.
Perhaps what is most fascinating about Let Them All Talk is that much of the dialogue was improvised on set, and the set being a real cruise ship, the Queen Mary 2. Iconic director Steven Soderbergh and production companies shot the movie using minimal equipment and natural light. Let Them All Talk is a classic example of the cliché, “it's not about the destination, but the journey”.
Filming locations: Queen Mary 2 Cruise Liner, London (UK)
Storylines at Sea
Speaking of ships, be sure to check out Storylines MV Narrative, a luxury residential community at sea hosting a community of global citizens writing their own stories as they circumnavigate the world every three years including all the best places for travel. Now that's a great movie idea! Any screenwriters on board?