The Greatest Travel Movies Of All Time

Tuesday, May 28 by

There’s something special about a great travel movie that can make a person want to hit the road in search of adventure. If you’re in the mood for a travel movie that will change your life or just give you a long night of laughs, check out the ones on this list. Be warned, there are plenty of spoilers ahead.

The Beach

Director: Danny Boyle

Year: 2000

Notable Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel York, Virginie Ledoyen

Originally a novel written by Alex Garland, the movie version of The Beach managed to maintain most of the story’s shiftlessness, paranoia, and struggle for authenticity.

It’s primarily a movie about people searching for a place in the world that hasn’t already been over-crowded by tourists. Richard (Leonardo DiCaprio) gets a map from a deranged person at a seedy Bangkok hotel. The map promises exactly what Richard has been searching for: a place unspoiled by humans.

When he and a few friends find the hidden island, they discover that it’s almost Eden… except for the heavily armed pot growers who barely tolerate the beach-living hippies.

The Beach does more than give viewers the thrill of travel. It questions what we expect to get out of travel and whether that thrill still exists in a well-mapped world.

Easy Rider

Easy Rider

Director: Dennis Hopper

Year: 1969

Notable Actors: Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda

Easy Rider explores the American cultural landscape during the 1960s. The story follows Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper), two nonconformists willing to give anything a try as they ride their motorcycles from Southern California to New Orleans.

Along the way, they encounter all types of people, including communal hippies who spend their days smoking pot and living freely, rednecks who harass them, and a hard-drinking lawyer who gets them out of a small town jail.

By the movie’s end, it’s obvious that living free means living on the razor’s edge, a place where you can die at any moment.

National Lampoon’s Vacation

Director: Harold Ramis

Year: 1983

Notable Actors: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid, Anthony Michael Hall

Follow the Griswold family as they drive from Chicago to Walley World, a theme park located on the West Coast. This is one of the funniest travel movies ever made. Chevy Chase’s performance will make you wonder how the actor lost his comedic edge for so many years.

During the Griswold’s road trip, they encounter plenty of colorful characters and get themselves into outrageous situations. Anything that could go wrong does go wrong:

  • Clark (Chevy Chase) accidentally kills the family pooch
  • The family gets lost in the desert
  • An elderly relative dies midway through the trip

The final insult breaks Clark’s already fragile psyche: when they reach Walley World, they find that the park is closed. Clark loses his mind, buys a gun, and forces a security guard to let his family into the empty park. They get to enjoy the rides for a while. But the cops eventually show up, prompting Clark to give a moving speech that somehow keeps them all out of jail.


Director: Pete Docter and Bob Peterson

Year: 2009

Notable Actors: Edward Asner, Bob Peterson, Joran Nagai

Up is a heartwarming story about an old man, Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner), who refuses to leave his home even though a real estate developer constantly threatens to force him out. Throughout his life, Carl has been a homebody unwilling to take many risks. His wife, however, always encouraged him to take chances. They saved for decades so they could afford an adventurous vacation.

After his wife passes away, Carl loses interest in life.

During an argument with a construction worker, Carl accidentally punches a worker. This forces him to move into a retirement home. Carl refuses to give up, though, so he fills a large number of balloons with helium so that his house will float away.

Unbeknownst to him, a young Boy Scout named Russell (Jordan Nagai) is on his property. The balloons take Carl and Russell to South America, where they meet a pack of talking dogs and their master, a world traveler whom Carl idolizes.

Things turn sour between them when Carl’s hero tries to catch an exotic bird in Russell’s care. The adventure turns into a race to save the bird, their own lives, and the spirit of living freely.

Encounters at the End of the World

Encounters at the End of the World Trailer

Director: Werner Herzog

Year: 2007

Notable Actors: Werner Herzog, Scott Rowland, Stefan Pashov

Werner Herzog has made plenty of documentaries and movies in exotic places, but none of them have the charm, humor, and adventure of Encounters at the End of the World. In this film, Herzog and his crew travel to Antarctica to meet people living outside of social norms.

The team meets plenty of interesting characters, including animal researchers, a scientist studying neutrinos, a diver with an extensive sci-fi movie collection, an a pipefitter who has a hand anomaly that, he says, proves he is Aztec royalty.

It’s an interesting look at the kind of people who choose to live in a place as frozen and harsh as Antarctica. It also has magnificent images that will make viewers yearn to visit one of the planet’s coldest places. While watching the film, Antarctica seems like a viable vacation plan.

The Motorcycle Diaries

Director: Walter Salles

Year: 2004

Notable Actors: Gael Garcia Bernal, Rodrigo de la Serna

When Che Guevara was a 23 years old, he and his friend Alberto Granado decided to travel across South America on motorcycles. At the time, Che was known as Ernesto Guevara de la Sema. He wasn’t a revolutionary leader. He was a med student with one semester of study left.

The Motorcycle Diaries uses Che’s journal entries to explore the difficult relationship he had with his friend, the difficulties of traveling with little money on old motorcycles, and, perhaps most importantly, how Che learns from Communists that he meets in Chile. It’s a journey that changed the young man’s life forever. It’s also an entertaining movie about adventure and self-discovery.

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