The coronavirus lockdown in India has lasted long enough. We are now in the sixth month of living the stay-at-home life with no access to things that we often took for granted before 2020. Two of these very important things for me were travelling (duh!?) and movie theatres. I have made a number of changes in my house to get it as close to a movie theatre – including a new WiFi connection and an Amazon Firestick. So whenever I get time from reminiscing about my past days of unlimited wanderlust, I switch on my TV every now and then and watch a heartfelt travel movie, learning about regions now so far out my reach. And now that winter is almost upon us, what better way is there to spend a crisp morning curled up on your sofa with a feel-good movie playing on the screen? These travel movies have lately also been a great source of inspiration for me and I’ve decided to bestow upon thee the gift of my beloved travel movie list.
Or…you can also scroll down to grab a downloadable link to all these travel movies for free! (These are not available on any OTT platforms in India)
What's In Here
Seven Years in Tibet
Seven Years in Tibet starts off in 1939, just before World War II. Heinrich Harrer played by Brad Pitt is seen leaving his pregnant wife behind in Austria to go climb the Nanga Parbat in present-day Gilgit Baltistan. But an avalanche snows on his dreams and the news of the World War makes him a prisoner of war. The movie follows through his years of imprisonment in India, followed by his escape to Tibet, making him one of the only two foreigners to have reached Tibet, a few years before the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950. Based on a book of the same name, written by Harrer himself, it is a true story of an unlikely friendship between an Austrian man and the 14th Dalai Lama. The movie revolves around Harrer’s experiences (and consequent growth) from the seven years he was away from “home”. This movie takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions and makes you think about love, life, friendship, god and more. The “East vs West” theme is also played out brilliantly in this all-time favourite travel movie.
Another true story turned memoir turned movie, 127 Hours follows James Franco as Aron Ralston as he gets trapped under a boulder in the Grand Canyon in Utah, USA. Running short on resources, with no way out, Ralston decides to film his entire struggle of using the desperate measure to survive for 127 hours until a rescue team finds him and gets him out. This was perhaps the first time ~vlogging~ was taken to the big screen before it blew up. This travel movie is a nail-biting experience to watch in itself and will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout!
Chuck Nolan played by Tom Hanks is washed ashore one morning to an uninhabited island after a stormy plane crash in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific Ocean. This extraordinary tale of survival charts how Nolan spends four years as the only human being on this island. With no supplies available, he learns to look for freshwater, start a fire and fish with driftwood. This movie takes “improvise, adapt, overcome” to a whole new level until he builds himself a raft and takes on the Pacific with a football as his best friend, and a whale deciding to stick by his side. This travel movie is definitely one which will make you laugh one moment and then make you wail like a baby the next!
After her mother’s death by cancer, Cheryl Strayed (played by Reese Witherspoon) goes into depression and tries to fill a void with heroin and anonymous sex. This strains her relationship with her husband, ending in divorce. The movie follows the journey of a 40-something Strayed who resolves to trek to Pacific Crest Trail by herself. Along the journey of this 1,800 kilometres and 94 days long trek, she goes back into her memories, reflecting on her childhood and the person she became. Throughout the hike, she finds herself in desperate situations that threaten her survival while meeting people – good and bad alike – along her way. This travel movie is a bare portrayal of what it truly means to be out in the wilderness all by yourself!
The Before Trilogy is a set of three movies, each filmed around 10 years apart. The first movie, ‘Before Sunrise’ begins with two strangers – an American man named Jesse and a French woman named Celine meet in a train to Vienna. The film follows the journey of the two 20-something people walk around the city a single night. They part ways the next morning, with a promise to meet again in 6 months. This movie is all about the soulful conversations and experiences the pair has over a few hours across the beautiful city of Vienna. The rest two films – ‘Before Sunset’ and ‘Before Midnight’ – follow what happens further. This trilogy is a heartwarming reminder of serendipity – something that travel is all about. It’s all about unplanned meetings, conversations and experiences. This spontaneity of travel, and the beautiful relationships that follow, is the essence of these three movies.
The Hundred-Foot Journey
Though not a ~true~ travel movie, The Hundred-Foot Journey is a gripping tale of how a family from Mumbai looses their family restaurant in a fire started by some goons over an election dispute. In this violent attack, the mother played by Juhi Chawla dies and the father (Om Puri) along with his children flees to France in hopes for a better life. The movie – based on a novel of the same name – is a story of how the family finds it difficult to make a place in South France where English is barely spoken, and diners are barely looking to eat Indian cuisine. The theme of food and migrations is used beautifully to portray the meeting of two very different cultures, and how they ultimately resolve their issues.
The Bucket List follows the journey of two elderly, unlikely friends played by Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. Both men are recently diagnosed with lung cancer and happen to be in the same hospital ward together. Eventually, they come up with a “bucket list” of things to do before they die. The rest of the movie follows along their heartwarming journey of pushing each other to complete their wishes before they each kick the bucket. Their adventures take them through a number of destinations like Indonesia, India, China, Egypt, Tanzania and Nepal. This travel movie is often a favourite amongst travel enthusiasts for it faces daunting questions like life and death head on.
While most travel movies take you on a crying and laughing spree, this one is unlike most and will probably keep you biting your nails throughout! It follows the journey of a bunch of international backpackers travelling through Brazil. On one of their journeys, their bus breaks down. One things leads to another and after a night of drinking and partying, they find themselves trapped in an underground organ harvesting ring. This hair rising movie is surely not the kind you’d watch when its dark, or you’re alone. You’ve been warned!
Eat Pray Love
Based on a memoir of the same name by Elizabeth Gilbert, this travel movie follows the journey of a middle-aged, recently divorced woman who finds herself lost and unhappy even though she had everything a modern woman would have dreamed of. To find her path in life, she embarks on a journey first to indulge in the food in Italy, then to immerse herself in the world of spirituality, yoga and prayer in India and finally (and unexpectedly) to Indonesia where she learns the meaning of true love. This movie will make you cry, laugh and smile as you relate to this urban, confused woman and see her discover herself truly.
Into the Wild
Into the Wild is a favourite travel movie of many wanderlust enthusiasts and rightfully so. It is a gripping, inspiring and eye-opening tale of a recent Ivy League graduate who is unhappy in following the footsteps his parents laid down for him. Giving up his degree and his modern life, he ventures into a solo backpacking journey across North America. The last leg of the journey ends as he makes his way deep into the wilderness of Alaska on foot, and takes shelter in an abandoned bus while hunting and foraging for himself. The movie ends with him scribbling the iconic quote in his journal “happiness is only real when shared” before he eventually dies in that van all by himself. This is a movie of self-discovery, of life on the road, of heartache and of loneliness which every traveller can relate to.
The iconic “Christopher McCandless Bus” had since become a popular hiking spot for a number of tourists. But recently, this Into the Wild bus was airlifted and removed by the Alaska Army National Guard due to the death of a few hikers and several more who had to be rescued while trying to reach the bus.
Midnight in Paris
Midnight in Paris is a dreamy movie about Gil played by Owen Wilson and his affinity with the city of Paris. Through magical realism, the movie transports Wilson to Paris in the 1920s every night at midnight where he has encounters with some of the greatest modernist artists of all time include Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Picasso, TS Elliot and more. The movie ends with Wilson realizing the burdens that come with wishing to belong to an era bygone and resolves to live in the present. This is a movie is a cultural wonderland for those in love with art, poetry, architecture and the likes, with some brilliant and ~good-to-know~ references on modernism. The literature graduate in me was definitely geeking out when I recently rewatched the movie!
Motorcycle Diaries is a Spanish travel movie and biopic that follows the journey of the Chilean doctor and revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara and his friend, Alberto Granado, across the South American continent in a battered Norton 500 motorcycle that they named “La Poderosa“. Their initial plans – as with most travels – are thwarted and of the 14,000 kilometres they desire to see, they have to stop short a few thousand before. The movie progresses as the trip starts off as youthful adventure and turns into an observation of the unjust class distribution and destruction of the indigenous people’s land for Guevara. I like to believe that this journey may have been the starting point of Guevara’s revolutionary journey into becoming an iconic and unforgettable figure for the Cuban Revolution.
Lost in Translation stars Bill Murray as a fading American actor who visits Tokyo for a promotional campaign of a whiskey. At his hotel, he meets Scarlett Johansson, the wife of a photographer who is also in Tokyo for work. Murray and Johansson find each other to confide in and share their experience with the culture shock and the artificial flamboyance of most people around them. They have an exhilarating night together, where they have experiences and make memories before Murray leaves for America again. Albeit slow in its pace, this travel movie has some great running themes especially of two people finding a special connection in a pool of disconnect.
Brokeback Mountain may not be a pure travel film but travel is definitely a big part of it. Directed by Ang Lee and starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, this movie spans over 20 years, starting from 1963. This movie follows the journey and the sexual encounter of two closetted queer men who work together on a mountain in Wyoming, herding sheep for their boss. After their job is done, they move back to their respective homes, get married and have kids. Afraid of getting lynched, they keep their true dentites hidden and often go on “fishing trips” together to be able to spend time alone in the wild, away from society’s eyes. It is a moving film
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is one of the most known travel movies displaying the East vs West theme. It follows the journey of a bunch of British pensioners moving to Jaipur at a retirement hotel. The hotel is run by Sonny (played by Dev Patel) and is in a dilapidated state. The movie is about how a bunch of rich, white people visit India for the first time and the changes they have to adapt to. Each with their own personal baggage and reason for coming to India, they ultimately fall in love with the hotel despite its many flaws and shortcomings. The group members find each other to confide in and forge unlikely friendships – some even fulfil romantic endeavours. This is an interesting movie to watch from a white person’s point of view – though it is not devoid of the outsider’s gaze.
This movie also has a sequel to it, titled “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Based on a short story of the same name by James Thurber, this film stars Ben Stiller as Walter Mitty – a regular 9 to 5 guy working as the manager of the negative assets at Life magazine. His job majorly involves bringing the legendary photojournalist Sean O’Connell’s photographs to life for the magazine. When the magazine shifts online and starts printing its final issue, Mitty finds the negative of the photograph for the front cover missing. And so Mitty sets out on a big adventure to track down O’Connell for the negative, without having his present address. This adventure takes him to Greenland, Iceland and then to the Himalayas in ungoverned Afghanistan. This journey serves as a wake-up call for the otherwise Walter who had previously been daydreaming through his humdrum life. I found this movie poignant especially during the pandemic when most of us are confined within the four walls of our homes and constantly dream of the life that used to be. and could be.
The Darjeeling Limited is a Wes Anderson movie that stars Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Schwartzman as three estranged brothers who agree to meet up in India and go on a “spiritual journey” on a luxury train called the Darjeeling Limited. As the train makes its way through the deserts of Western India, the brothers face the challenges in their relationships while also having unique experiences on their journey. It’s a light comedy-drama that serves as a nice refresher from the otherwise emotionally heavy movies that this list mostly comprises of.
Burn Your Maps
Another warm-hearted movie and perhaps one of my absolute favourites on this list is Burn Your Maps starring the iconic Vera Farmiga. The movie revolves around an 8-year old boy called Wes who is convinced that he is a Mongolian sheepherder. He mimics traditional Mongolian attires and creates sheep from cotton balls and lives in this almost-real fantasy in the USA. His father and psychologist are concerned by his behaviour and want to put him on medication but his mother refuses to subdue his uniqueness and instead decides to travel to Mongolia with her son to make his dream come true. Throughout this adventure, the mother-son duo faces and overcome challenges, while also establishing better ties with the rest of their family back home. It is an exceptional tale of a mother who refused to fit her son inside a box and instead let him dream far and wide and take the phrase “be whatever you want to be” to a whole other level!
Roman Holiday is a classic travel/ rom-com film that one can watch over and over, without failing to smile. It follows the story of Princess Ann (played by Audrey Hepburn) as she arrives in Rome with a list of tightly scheduled “princess meetings”. Bored of the monotony, she sneaks out of the embassy and into the city of Rome where she explores and observes the streets and its people. Here, she bumps into a reporter called Joe (played by Gregory Peck) who joins her in her adventures. Romance follows suit until Ann has to return back to her country and resume her “princess duties”.
Tracks is an Australian travel movie which follows the journey of a young woman named Robyn Davidson who sets out to walk 1,700 miles across the Australian desert accompanied by her dog and three camels. Over the course of this 200 days journey, Davidson faces hardships and has experiences that one can only have when they let themselves disconnect from their own world, and try to connect with the world they are travelling in. Her meetings with the Aboriginals and the kindness they show to her, a photographer’s disregard for their culture and the ghosts of Davidson’s pasts are all running themes in this gut-wrenching movie. This movie will break your heart into a million little pieces, but will also teach you to pick up those pieces and start anew. This is perhaps what most great solo journeys do to you – much like “Into The Wild”.
The Way is about the journey that a 60-something American man takes through the Camino de Santiago in the Pyrenees mountain range across France and Spain. Thomas Avery (played by Martin Sheen) undertakes this journey to scatter the ashes of his deceased son who had died while walking this trail himself. Martin’s journey is perhaps a kind of pilgrimage most of us take as travellers where we find ourselves in uncomfortable situations, meeting strange people and leaving a bit of yourself in each one of them. A journey that is not about oneself, but about what lies beyond.
Baraka is a documentary without a narrative, released in 1992. The entire movie is brilliantly shot with a 70mm lens and is the first-ever film to ever be restored at 8K resolution. Over a period of 14 months, this film is a work of art which was shot in 24 countries, across 6 continents and is a compilation of technology, natural events, human life etc. This film also includes slow-motion videos as well as time-lapses and is a visual treat. This film is the prequel to Samsara – a darker version of the themes explored in Baraka, by the same filmmaker Ron Fricke.
Little Miss Sunshine
Little Miss Sunshine is one of my favourite travel movies – mostly because of how pure it is. This movie follows the life of a dysfunctional family comprising of an overworked mother, her gay and suicidal brother, her Type A personality husband and his heroine snorting father, and her two children of which one is a Nietzsche-reading teenager and the other is an aspiring beauty queen. When the youngest member of the family – the daughter Olive finds she has been selected for the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant, the family takes an 800-miles long road trip to California in their yellow Volkswagon van. What ensues is a number of setbacks, familial tensions, mechanical problems amidst many other (miss)adventures through which the family recognizes their need for support from each other. At the beauty pageant, Olive’s competition is a bunch of skinny and hypersexualised young girls but her mother encourages “Olive to be Olive” and she competes unabashedly – although does not win.
Hideous Kinky is a film about a young mother (Kate Winslet) who moves to Morocco with her two daughters after feeling disenchanted with the plain English way of life. This movie is based on the autobiographical novel written by Esther Freud who saw her mother drag her unwilling daughters around on her personal quests. The trio has several adventures in the country including meeting a local acrobat named Bilal who takes them to his village where their reception is no less than a festival. The trio hitchhikes their way back to Marrakech as finances dwindle and survive in a low-income hotel where the older daughter also catches a severe infection. In the 1970s there were movies about carefree hippies and with their children solemnly following them around in their lifestyle. Hideous Kinky seems to be from the point of view of these very children who’ve had enough of it. Bea – the elder daughter’s comment to her mother “I don’t need another adventure, Mom! I need to go to school. I want a satchel!” pretty much sums up the point of the movie. Julia (played by Winslet) is naïvely in search of the higher truth and trying to make a grand gesture against the father of her daughter. However, her children want to live a more “normal” life that involved schools and cornflakes for breakfast. Winslet seems to be putting her children into deeper and deeper trouble – despite her best intentions – and that makes for much of the movie’s tension. Hideous Kinky throws light on an era where young, good-hearted idealist seekers often led themselves into trouble. But maybe it did turn out all for the better as Esther ended up writing a novel and making a film that she might not have been able to do with a “normal” lifestyle!
Out of Africa
Out of Africa is a story about a woman who moves to British East Africa through a marriage of convenience and makes a life of her own – without much help from her male counterparts. Her husband opens a coffee plantation instead of the agreed dairy farm with her money and then refuses to work on the farm and is instead more interested in hunting and jungle safaris. Based on a memoir written by Karen Blixen, this movie revolves around her character played by Streep who is at first jilted by the culture shock between Europe and Africa but then comes to love the landscape and its people. Denys Finch played by Robert Redford becomes her love interest until the very end of the movie and their love story is quite untraditional and moving. Though the romance and the travel around Africa is a beautiful thing to look at, the relationship that most white characters have with their black counterparts are often problematic. The movie does not show the problems of colonised Africa but instead paints Streep is the typical white saviour who brings in Western education and medicine and calls it better. While Karen, her husband Bror and Denys all seem to grow and develop through the 2.5 hours in the movie, there is little development in the African characters – through they appear onscreen enough. I still did find some parts of the movie quite gripping and moving – but at the same time, there were problems in the movie that I could not look away from. Perhaps the fact that it was made in 1985 can serve as an excuse to look over these troubles and enjoy the movie as is.
You can also read a very detailed, fair and unbiased review here.
Moonrise Kingdom is a movie set in 1965, on the island of New England, directed by Wes Anderson. The movie follows the journey of two 12-year-olds – Sam and Suzy – who come from troubled family backgrounds. The two kids fall in love and decide to run away into the wilderness. With the help of Sam’s Khaki Scout knowledge, the two set out on a great adventure kayaking and hiking through the wild to a secluded cove which they name Moonrise Kingdom. While these two are busy having their adventures, their families and the local community is in chaos trying to find them – which they ultimately do to their dismay. Through the fantastical events that occur in this movie, a beautiful story of young love and child sexuality emerges. This was perhaps my favourite adventure of all the movies I saw on this list.
This odd yet upbeat travel movie traces the inadvertent unhappiness of a psychiatrist in London that comes with having a monotonous, pre-decided life. After an existential breakout, the lead actor Simon Pegg decides to go on a solo trip across China, Africa and Los Angeles to discover what makes people truly happy. Through his journey, he has some interesting experiences but this one film was too ~white~ for me to complete. The Africa bit left me distraught where out of 54 African countries (of which some are extremely prosperous), the movie did not bother naming which country Hector visits and the setting shows militancy and bodyguards and armed men roaming the streets. The caucasity of it was too much to handle, but there definitely were some interesting conversations and points made on the running theme of “happiness”.
PS – These are not available on any OTT platforms in India!
A twenty-something solo adventurer, Avantika finds comfort in learning about various cultures, its people and listening to age-old folk tales. When not on the road, she can be found cuddled up with her dog in her room, with a book in her hand.