There are many things that inspire us to travel, but something that has always stuck with me is cinema. From American classics that my parents had me watch before I understood the films’ meanings to foreign documentaries in my college film classes, I’ve always been captivated by the visual illustration of stories. Having the whole world transported right to me is pretty incredible, but to take it a step further, following a story in place that I’ve yet to explore keeps me hungry for more films, and for more travel.
These 15 travel movies will explore the theme “movies about the road” — films that are about a journey, highlighted against a backdrop of remarkable locations. We’re not only giving you a plot summary, but we’ve set out to explain the way destinations are portrayed in these films and how you can personally visit these spots to make your own cinematic memories. Ready? Let’s hit the road.
1. Y Tu Mama Tambien, Mexico
The Movie: This film was the start of so many successful careers, particularly Alfonso Cuaron. It is both a coming of age and road film that tells the story of two friends who, when their girlfriends leave town, try to live their old bachelor lives for a bit. They meet a woman at a wedding and invite her of a made up beach. The basic plot serves as a simple backdrop for some key road movie themes — a politically changing country, the corruption of youth, and the search for a location with expectation of fulfillment. We should mention all of this takes place across a beautifully shot Mexican landscape.
The Trip: There are plenty of locations in the movie, but the most sought after is the made up beach. The beach that was used for filming was in the Oaxaca region near the southern tip of Mexico. For a country so large, the south of Mexico is never really showcased in film, but Cuaron brings it to life brilliantly.
2. The Darjeeling Limited, India
The Movie: Three brothers travel across India by train to meet their mother after not having seen each other since their father’s funeral one year ago. The film, in a very Wes Anderson way, portrays an accurate yet sarcastic view of being a foreigner in India, and the odd cultural nuances that exist within that. While Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody provide their different outsider perceptions of India, it is a scene with Jason Schwartzman after an accident on the river that gives real-life meaning to the film.
The Trip: While the Darjeeling Limited is little more than a cheesy toy train, you can easily travel India by train. While it won’t have quite the wit and glamor of the film, it will definitely come with plenty of picturesque landscapes and opportunity for culture shock.
3. Into the Wild, Alaska
The Movie: This film tells the true story of Christopher McCandless’ journey through Denali National Park in Alaska. Through flashbacks, the audience also gets to see the stunning landscapes of Arizona, Northern California, and the Mid-West. It is now an iconic story about leaving behind all that you have to travel, and the perils that come with it. Emilio Estevez captures the essence of what it means to be alone in the wild, and how the human mind copes with that.
The Film: Go see the now freshly renamed Mt. Denali and Denali National Park in Alaska. However, I (and park officials) would strongly recommend proper camping equipment and resources. Also, maybe bring a friend or two. If you want to make it a true road trip, take the US 101 to see California and the Pacific Northwest. From there cut inland to I-5 through Canada and onto Alaska.
4. The Way, France and Spain
The Movie: While Into the Wild is a story of hiding to soul search, The Way is a film about throwing yourself out there to soul search. Thomas Avery, played by Martin Sheen, takes up the Camino de Santiago after his estranged son dies in a storm doing the exact same walk. It is a story about finding new people in your life, and how a trail that has been walked by so many can still mean something different to everyone.
The Trip: The Camino de Santiago is originally a Christian pilgrimage route that culminates at La Catedral de Santiago de Compostela. While there are many routes, the French Route is historically the most traveled. As you can start just about anywhere in Europe, the amount of time the walk takes is up to you, but there are several planned routes that take you on a similar journey as The Way.
5. Easy Rider, USA
The Movie: Easy Rider is a film of it’s generation. It’s a movie that truly embodies the summer of love and the counter cultural movements of that time. It is also the classic style of road movie. Two characters, with no apparent past, trying to reach a destination. As the audience, you don’t know why they have embarked on this journey, but it feels right anyway. Peter Fond and Dennis Hopper wrote the film and starred in it together, with the former producing it and the latter directing. It tells the story of two bikers that sold a large quantity of drugs and are now trying to make it to New Orleans in time for Mardi Grais. The film is truly about the journey, though — even when they reach New Orleans, the film ends after they depart and are on the road again.
The Trip: While we don’t condone how the two characters funded their journey, if you can find other means to travel the same routes we highly recommend it. Most of the road scenes were shot along Route 66, a still iconic route that runs across the American Southwest.
6. The Motorcycle Diaries, Latin America
The Movie: While much newer than Easy Rider, this film is the quintessential road movie of more recent times. It is the story of a young “Che” Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado. They want to see as much of Latin America as they can before they begin their careers. It is mainly about Guevara, played by Gael Garcia Bernal, transforming from a young medical student into a revolutionary who wants to fix all Latin America’s ills. That being said, it is really the secondary character, played by Rodrigo de la Serna, that you relate to. He just wants to see something new before he decides on a path for his life, and that is the part that makes this film great for me.
The Trip: A journey that travels almost 9000 miles is hard to pinpoint one location. While the film highlights some of the major monuments of South America like Machu Picchu, it is the sweeping countrysides that truly make you want to leave the film and buy a one way ticket. If we had to go with one stop on this extensive journey, it is Patagonia — particularly when they cross Nahuel Huapi Lake. Also maybe crossing the Salar de Atacama in Chile like the poster. Or Machu Picchu. Really, we recommend it all.
7. Sin Nombre, Central America
The Movie: Sin Nombre is a hard film to watch but it is incredible to have seen. From a road movie stand point. it is not exactly a trip that we could possibly take, but it is a story that needs to be told. It is Cary Joji Fukunaga’s feature directorial debut (you may have heard of him directing the first season of True Detective) and he brilliantly tells the story of what many Central American migrants go through on a short section of their journey North. It also mixes in gang violence, and high-intensity scenes on the roof of trains to make it an altogether thrilling film.
The Trip: It’s hard to do direct train travel through much of Central America, but check out Rome2Rio for some great connecting routes to get you through any section of Central America you want to check out.
8. Thelma & Louise, Southwest, USA
The Movie: This film, much like Easy Rider, helped define the concept of a “road movie”. It also was one of the first times Hollywood made way for two women own and star in a whole movie. Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon do a great job of taking what starts a conventional acting role and changing them into complex characters traveling across the vast Southwest. With Brad Pitt, a Ford Thunderbird, and some pretty spectacular footage of the American Southwest, we’re sure this one is worth your time.
The Trip: There are a lot of landscapes to cover if you’re looking to recreate Thelma & Louise. Moab, Utah is definitely one of the top locations, and although a critical scene takes place in the Grand Canyon, it was actually filmed at Dead Horse Point State Park. Since the Grand Canyon already gets more than enough love, maybe go check out Utah.
9. Monsters, Central America
The Movie: This is my personal favorite on the list. Is it sci-fi? Yes. But at the root of the film is a true road film. It is about a man who is tasked with bringing his boss’ daughter through Central America back to The States after an alien outbreak occurs in Northern Mexico. 90 percent of the film does not include said “monsters” and just focuses on Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able crossing through Mexican jungle and the open road. It has a very eerie feel, and will make you want to go trekking. You know, sans the threat of monsters.
The Trip: The movie was filmed throughout five countries. It’s hard to pin down one single location since the ground covered was so expansive, and moves so quickly. The advice I can give is go to Belize, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. What exactly you visit is all up to you, but you will be presented with the endless opportunity for natural beauty.
10. Tracks, Australia
The Movie: Tracks tells the true story of Robyn Davidson, played by Mia Wasikowska, who trekked across close to 2,000 miles across the Australian desert with four camels and a dog. Adam Driver plays a National Geographic photographer that documents her journey. It is a film that is best watched in the cold, because just looking at the landscape and her journey will make you want a giant glass of water and a nap. The film, while being about the struggles of daily life, is mainly to showcase the unexplored and unseen parts of Australia.
The Trip: 2,000 miles of desert isn’t exactly anyone’s dream vacation but the vast desert is still remarkably gorgeous. Some of the highlights of the film are the iconic Ayer’s Rock, when she reaches the Indian Ocean on the far west of Australia.
11. In This World, Pakistan/Iran/Europe
The Movie: This film, maybe even more so than Sin Nombre, is gut-wrenching to watch. It is a semi-realistic telling of what refugees go through on a journey to safety in Europe. It begins in a refugee camp in Pakistan where two Afghan refugees set off for England. The journey spans through Iran, Turkey, Italy, and France, with much of the film shot on location, so it has a very location-focused and gritty feel to it. In fact, the actors are not even professional actors, and the main character was an Afghan refugee himself. Michael Winterbottom reaches to touch on a very sensitive subject and does a compelling job of making it very humanistic.
The Trip: There are few trips that could cover the magnitude of travel that occurs throughout In This World, but there are several expansive overland trips that can help you experience how far some people go to reach their goals. For a similar trip, look into the Silk Road.
12. Before Sunrise, Europe
The Movie: Young, single, and traveling through Europe by train. This is what many people imagine their adventure through Europe to be like, and this film does a pretty excellent job of recreating just that. While Richard Linklater would go on to make Before Sunset and Before Midnight as sequels to this film, this original film captures the feeling of your first travel and the fear of not knowing what to expect. With Ethan Hawke’s character traveling on a Eurail pass, and the two character’s first encounter on the train, Before Sunrise is the perfect film to convince you to go to Europe (as if you need a reason). The film does not have quite as much train travel as you’d expect, but Vienna, the featured city, makes for an awe-striking set for the film.
The Trip: You too can get a Eurail pass! While we cannot guarantee you will meet a beautiful Parisian, we can guarantee you will have better odds, and that you can get to Vienna (or just about anywhere in Europe) that you please.
13. The Trip, England
The Movie: If you have a taste for British comedy and ardently prepared cuisine, there’s no better film to take you around England than The Trip. Steve Coogan is put on assignment by The Observer to explore the country’s finest restaurants — when his girlfriend backs out, he reluctantly takes along his best friend. Besides all the spectacular shots throughout the English countryside, the film is full of absurd culinary tradition and impeccable impressions that will make you want to go.
The Trip: If you’ve got the budget for it, dine in some of England’s acclaimed restaurants to recreate The Trip. Explore the hilly Cumbria county for a peek at what “countryside” really should be, and sit for a meal at Michelin ranked L’Enclume or Holbeck Ghyll — we promise there’s more to English cuisine than baked beans and black pudding.
14. Around the World in 80 Days,
The Movie: Well, this is kind of the classic of all classics in terms of journey films. I mean, what other films can claim to have circumnavigated the world in 75 days during production? It’s not exactly the most politically correct film these days, but it sure is entertaining. It tells the story of a British gentleman who makes a hefty wager that he can, well, go around the world. Unlike many Hollywood films at the time, the crew actually shot at all the featured locations including Japan, Thailand, India, Spain, France, The United States, and England. Given that it was shot in 1955, that is quite the feat. If you have only seen the modern remake of it, do your self a favor and watch this one — you will laugh and develop an irrational desire to travel around the world by hot air balloon. It’s also the only film on the list that has won Best Picture, so that’s got to count for something.
The Trip: Go ahead, see if you can get around the world in 80 days. Star Alliance will even make it a breeze by setting up your itinerary for you. Unless you have a bet on I would personally take longer than 80 days, but that’s just me.
15. Wild Strawberries, Sweden
The Movie: While the term “road film” has elicited lots of American road trip films, it is actually Wild Strawberries that quite possibly laid the groundwork for future road films. It tells the story of an old professor, and a daughter-in-law who doesn’t like him, drive from Stockholm to Lund (Sweden) so that he can collect an award for his previous achievements. Along the way, he visits many places from past that convince him to re-evaluate his life. It is one of Ingmar Bergman’s first films that received international attention, and a must see for any film buff.
The Trip: There is no one better to showcase Sweden than Ingmar Bergman. If there is one film to convince me to take a road trip through Sweden (there is only one), it’s this one.
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Do you think there are any other films that must be on this list? Tells us about it in the comments!