Top Ten Films to Inspire your Inner Traveler
Sometimes inspiration can come from unexpected places. So don’t expect to see The Beach or Into the Wild on this list—great movies for sure, but I want to share the ones that really keep me going.
“There’s this theory: Given an infinite universe and infinite time, all things will happen. That means that every event is inevitable, including those that are impossible. That’s as good an explanation for all this as anything else.”
More or less a roadtrip movie, Interstate 60 (2002) stars Jason Marsden on a quest to find an answer to his life as he travels down an unknown highway said to be where all the “roads not taken” converge. Guided by a Magic 8 Ball, he faces life-changing forks in the road in the peculiar towns he finds along the way. Genuinely creative and amusing, it’s a great upbeat-tale that stresses the importance of choosing your own path despite how unpredictable life can be.
“You truly love each other and so you might have been truly happy. Not one couple in a century has that chance, no matter what the story books say. And so I think no man in a century will suffer as greatly as you will.”
If I need to tell you what this movie is about then you definitely need to go out and see the world, ’cause you’ve probably been living under a rock. The Princess Bride (1987) naturally appeals to your sense of adventure, offering tales of love, greed, revenge, and honor. A diverse cast of perfectly flawed characters draws you in and makes you yearn for a taste of their world where you play the hero, conquering the Cliffs of Insanity, surviving the Fire Swamp, or even out-swimming the Shrieking Eels.
“That’s what everyone thinks. But kind people find that they are cruel; brave men discover that they are really cowards. Confronted with their true selves, most men run away screaming.”
Of course, no list of inspiring movies is complete without a fantasy quest and you really can’t beat The Neverending Story (1984). Atreyu embodies what all travelers aspire to be: fearlessly stepping into the world alone and defenseless; finding the will to keep going when the whole world is falling down around you; trusting a new adventure is just over the next hill. Staying home and reading about another’s adventures is simply no comparison for getting out there and exploring on your own (even if it means trudging through a literal Swamp of Sadness).
“I miss everything. I miss my friends, I miss my dog, I miss my family, my house. Everything. I even miss the things I hated at this point.”
Essentially another roadtrip movie, Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006) takes place in an alternate afterlife peopled entirely by those who committed suicide. While the hero sets off on a journey to find his ex-girlfriend, he and his companions struggle to deal with perpetually broken headlights, lose everything of importance to a blackhole under the passenger seat, encounter insignificant miracles and desperately seek to regain their ability to smile and see the stars in the sky.
“Ironically the loneliness gave me the chance to get to know someone.”
The Teacher’s Diary (2014) is a Thai love story about a school teacher who is moved from the city to a floating boat-house school in the middle of nowhere, where he discovers the journal of the former teacher and slowly falls in love with her. While not actually about travel or backpacking, this movie is really jam-packed with nostalgia for me, as so many of the situations the hero finds himself in are reminiscent of some of my first experiences teaching abroad, as well as my experiences in Thailand itself. If you want insight into teaching in rural Thailand, this is the movie to watch, and if you like sappy love stories and cute kids you won’t find a better film!
“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”
Set in the 1950’s, Stand By Me (1986) follows four kids who set out on a quest to find a dead body. Traveling across the county on foot, they each learn to deal with the various troubles in their lives including loss, abuse, and neglect. This movie does a fantastic job portraying the strength of friendship and the importance of overcoming obstacles together. Beyond that, the time period helps inspire me to disconnect; those boys have the adventure of a lifetime with no cellphones, internet, or even cameras—just rucksacks, sleeping bags, and an old radio.
“With enough time and enough money, you could spend the rest of your life following the summer around the world.”
The Endless Summer (1966) follows two surfers from California on a round-the-world trip as they seek to live a perpetual summer of warm waters and great waves. Along the way they teach locals of different countries how to surf while experiencing new cultures themselves, all set to a stellar soundtrack. I’ve seen this document more times than I can count and the idea of a truly endless summer is all the motivation I need to keep exploring.
“Hello, and welcome to Amsterdam’s finest and most luxurious youth hostel. We feature one medium sized room containing 70 beds which can sleep up to 375 bodies a night. There is no bathroom. Nor is there one nearby.”
Purely a teen comedy, Eurotrip (2004) follows four friends from Ohio who spend the summer before college backpacking Europe on a quest to find the main dude’s penpal/love-interest. This movie came out when I was in high school, and seeing those kids just take off for London, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, and even the Vatican with no rules or schedules really just clicked in my brain. It was one of the first times I remember thinking I could totally do that.
“I took the trip because I wanted to get something out of my system…but it doesn’t work, because I think the one thing that’s changed about all of us, we take this trip, is that a normal life really doesn’t seem that attractive at all anymore. I can’t imagine not traveling again.”
A Map For Saturday (2007) is a documentary by Brook Silva-Braga following his nearly year-long backpacking trip in the early 2000’s. It gives astonishing insight into the life of a backpacker, the amazing types of people you encounter, the realities of hostel life and the highs & lows of long-term travel, as well as the realities of going home again. Whenever someone says, “I could never do what you do,” I tell them to watch this movie. For many, it’s the push they need to finally give up everything & hit the road.
“Chester Copperpot! Don’t you guys see? Don’t you realize? He was a pro, he never made it this far. Look how far we’ve come. We’ve got a chance!”
One of my all-time favorite movies in existence, The Goonies (1985) is truly the perfect adventure story: outlaws, pirate ships, hidden treasure, wishing wells & first kisses. Sure, they may not travel the world but the Goonies have more adventure in their small town than most people have in a lifetime. Friendship, perseverance, understanding, and courage…I get more inspiration from those kids than any other movie I know, and not just from Mikey’s “Our Time” speech.
If you’ve got any films that inspire you to explore, feel free to share!