The links to Amazon on this page are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate South East Asia Backpacker earns from qualifying purchases.
We asked our readers to tell us their favourite travel movies of all time!
If you’re unable to travel at the moment then why not live vicariously through the following films about traveling the world! Watch them on the plane, on a chicken bus, or from the comfort of your own sofa… What better way to get inspiration for your next adventure!? Drum roll, please…
Voted By You! The 50 Best Movies About Travel
1. Into the Wild – 2007
Topping the list of movies about travel it’s Into the Wild! This Sean Penn travel masterpiece is based on the true story of an American college graduate, Christopher, and his journey to find healing through nature. Coupled with breathtaking cinematography, the film ponders whether our role in society is at odds with the natural world around us as Christopher takes to the road alone and abandons any notion of a conventional life. Finding humanity in unusual places along the way – will Christopher make peace with the modern world?
2. The Beach – 2000
An unsurprising choice of film from South East Asia Backpacker Readers, this is one of the most famous movies about backpacking ever made! A film that inspired thousands of would-be backpackers to jet off to Thailand in search of the perfect beach and an alternative lifestyle – it’s no wonder that The Beach appears on this list of top travel films! A controversial film in some ways, due to the mass tourism created around the once idyllic Maya Bay in Koh Phi Phi, the beach that appeared in the Hollywood movie. Cheesy yes, but it’s a must-see for every Southeast Asia backpacker, even if just to cast eyes on the dishy ‘bod’ of a young Leonardo Di Caprio!
3. Eat, Pray, Love – 2010
In at number 3, it’s the cheesy, but undeniably addictive, Eat Pray, Love! Shake off the cocoon and wiggle out of your comfort zone to take on the world! If you have any trepidation left, watch this film on how travelling to new destinations unravels your own ‘self’ to you. Get aboard Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey of self-discovery peppered liberally with salivating food shots and strains of spiritualism woven through the breathtaking vistas of Italy, India, and Bali.
4. Wild – 2014
In fourth place, it’s the heartbreaking and inspiring book-turned-movie, Wild. Sometimes, your journey is your own, and nobody can do the travel for you. Wild is a film based on the true life story of a divorcee Cheryl Strayed who spirals down to the depth of depression after her mother’s death. Reese Witherspoon, playing the titular role, undertakes the 1100 miles solo hiking of Pacific Crest Trail to redeem her soul. But does it work?
5. The Motorcycle Diaries – 2004
WARNING: This film will make you quit your job, head to South America and buy a motorbike! And in 1952, a young and impressionable Che Guevara did just that. He set out to explore the continent of South America – from the Andes to the Atacama, the coast of Chile to the chilling jungles of the Peruvian Amazon. This biopic, about two guys undertaking a budget motorbiking trip proves how travel has the power to shape the rest of your life.
7. Easy Rider – 1969
The classic film, Easy Rider, is in at number 7. This cult indie film questions the notion of ‘true freedom’ in the America of the late sixties. Does it actually exist or is it just a flimsy fantasy? Still relevant today (or so I think), this bikers’ epic unfolds on the road from California to Florida as the characters’ and their choppers make their way through iconic landscapes, trippy hippie communities and explore the mindset of a generation. Widely regarded as one of the great travel movies of all time.
8. Samsara – 2011
If the world can be experienced in the most cinematic yet meditative way where art blends with technology seamlessly and there is no linear narrative or any impressionable dialogue which creates an illusion of a story – then it is surely done within the stunning frames of Samsara. An expansion on the concept which started with their previous film venture, Baraka, Samsara or the ‘ever turning wheel of life’ is a rich but unconventional documentary with an open scope to interpret the wonder of the world as one wishes to. Considered one of the most beautiful and best travel documentaries of all time. Check out this opening shot of the temples of Bagan…
9. Lost in Translation – 2003
Starring Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson, you’ll either love or hate this quirky film. If you thought only the great outdoors could test your limits then you are underestimating the cacophony of a man-made metropolis! This romantic comedy explores the loneliness and the resultant craving for intimacy in the city of Tokyo. An ageing star and a neglected newly-wed young woman are thrown together amidst a hyperactive city and a strange culture. Nothing can beat the chaotic Tokyo nightlife captured by Sofia Coppola in this film.
10. The Darjeeling Limited – 2007
A year after their father’s funeral, three brothers embark on a train voyage across India to embrace ‘spirituality’. But this is Wes’s train and his India to explore, y’all! And it snowballs into one absurd and eccentric journey. The director has artfully explored the connotation of mysticism and spiritualism that India has been forever associated with. Do you experience healing if you fold your hands before a deity? Or can you find transformation through something absolutely ordinary which you have never noticed before?
11. Before Sunrise – 1995
In at number 11, it’s Before Sunrise, surely the best travel romance film ever made? A travel film cannot get more realistic than this! I mean no plot twists or dramatic developments. Nada. This film meanders around the twin exploration – Vienna as an elegant city steeped in history and culture and the relationship between the central characters that blossoms in spontaneity amidst unending conversation. It is sure as hell one romantic travel flick that will have you hooked to watch the two other amazing films in this trilogy: Before Midnight and Before Sunset. Just get the box set. Now!
12. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – 2013
Besides putting Iceland on the travel bucket list for many, this film also revolves around a significant life philosophy – ‘You will daydream less if you start living your dreams’. A cubicle-bound ordinary (played by Ben Stiller) takes to exploring the world. And all the while, we were thinking – what was he waiting for? But as we all know, everybody needs a little push to help them to take the plunge. Who knew that a ‘Negative 25’ would transform Walter’s life? (Also made in 1947.)
13. Seven Years in Tibet – 1997
Set against the incredible backdrop of the Himalayan mountains from 1944-1951, this biographical drama proves that there is no end to human’s ability to learn important lessons from each other. As we watch the central character, Heinrich Harrer, go through a positive self-transformation through his contact with Tibetan culture, at the same time, we witness the potential eradication of the very same culture at the hands of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Surely one of the best wanderlust movies of all time?
14. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – 2011
India can get overwhelming and the only solution to it is to embrace the wave and get swept by away rather than swimming against the current – whether you’re 17 or 70! A group of ‘recycled teenagers’ including actors Bill Nighy and Judi Dench prepare to be transformed by travel, which can happen at any age. The royal spread of Rajasthan is an added bonus (with a giant dose of stereotyping nonetheless)! All in all, a fun, lighthearted and cheesy watch.
15. The Loneliest Planet – 2011
Couples are increasingly undertaking trips together before tying the knot! Whether or not they have heard the popular Mark Twain quote on how you cannot be sure whether you like people or hate them if you don’t travel with them, I don’t know. But this film dwells on exactly that! This human drama unfolds in the gorgeous backdrop of the dramatic Georgian Caucasus Mountains – do we need any more reasons to watch this film?
16. 180 Degrees South – 2010
Giving everything up, Jeff joins his friends to emulate the 1968 adventure of his favourite explorers, Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins, but with his own little twist. Instead of the original travelling on land, he picks up the sea route that takes him from Mexico to Patagonia via the Chilean coast. It is an adventure that will leave a deep imprint on you and perhaps inspire you to create your own unique adventure!
17. Que Tan Lejos – 2006
A Spanish travel film about female companionship forged during a road trip from Quito to Cuenca in Ecuador. (Que Tan Lejos translates as “How Much Further.”) Along with showcasing the stunning Ecuadorian landscape, the film also focuses on the ‘eye of the outsider’ and how it differs from ‘the local eye’ with respect to the destinations through which they are travelling. A must for anyone who is planning an adventure to South America! (Also a must is checking out our sister website, South America Backpacker – wink wink.)
18. Hector and the Search for Happiness – 2014
This film charts the journey of the quirky psychiatrist, Hector, who sets out to visit distant lands in search of what really makes people happy. A question many of us struggle to know the answer to. His travels take him all the way from an exclusive nightclub in Shanghai to an African drug lord and a botched up kidnapping where he almost loses his life! His reactions to these incidents give him an insight into the real source of happiness, which lies not in the fruit of the quest but in the quest itself! (You knew that was coming.)
19. Tracks – 2013
This memoir-turned-movie tells the story of the epic voyage of Robyn Davidson, a real-life travel writer who traversed 2,700 km through the Australian desert on foot. She travels with the unlikely companionship of four camels, her faithful pup and a Nat Geo photographer who joins her mid-way to document the adventure. This is a must watch for curious-hearts who want to know about the West Australian outback and the indigenous people who call this part of the world home.
20. Given – 2016
Given is the name of the six-year-old son of travelling surfers’ Daize and Aamion Goodwin. As the young boy accompanies his parents on an epic journey spanning 15 different countries, we, the audience, get to experience the world through the innocent eyes of a child. Free from the weight of judgement and criticism, we see the world dripping with beauty and intrigue. This is not just another surf film!
21. Pedal the World – 2015
All you cycling enthusiasts out there, who are dying to take on the world by pedal power, must watch this self-produced documentary by Felix Starck. His cycling adventure takes him to 22 countries and across 11,200 miles of challenging landscapes. Along the way, he meets new friends and experiences unique cultures from around the world. Currently considered one of the best travel movies on Netflix right now!
22. Hit the Road to India – 2013
If you prefer rustic local transport while travelling, then this documentary film is just up your alley! Two friends take up the challenge of the 12-Day Rickshaw Rally across India, riding a 1300 km circuit from Mumbai to Chennai. Along the way, they brave horrendous traffic, torrential coastal rains, mechanical failures and, of course, scorching heat! Will they make it to the finish line?
23. Which Way Home – 2009
For many of us, travel is something that we do for pleasure, for some, it’s a necessity and a path to a better life. This film details the story of (the thousands of) unaccompanied Latin American migrant children who board a freight train to take them across Mexico to the United States. While one may get angered about the divisive politics that exists in our world, the film simply focuses on the immense courage in the hearts of these kids as they make this frightful railroad journey. Travel will take on a completely new meaning after watching this documentary film.
24. One Day on Earth – 2012
In this unique and bizarre 104 minute-long documentary you can experience the exact same day of 10/10/10 in 192 different countries, simultaneously! Bursting with colour, landscapes and diversity, the film touches serious issues like birth, death, and the interconnectivity of all our lives through instances of war, poverty, prison, disease, and homelessness.
25. Y Tu Mamá También – 2001
Two teenage boys and a twenty-something woman embark on an impromptu road trip in search of an ‘idyllic’ beach in Mexico. As the trip progresses, it gradually starts resembling life itself – misunderstandings as roadblocks, confessions as hairpin bends. The boys keep discovering and learning new things about their own relationship and boundaries as well their sexuality. Some would say a saucy flick! (Spanish voice.)
26. Queen (Hindi/Bollywood) – 2013
While backpacking can be a rite of passage for young people in Western cultures, for regular Indians, it’s a very new phenomenon. This feminist film explores the quirky consequences of a bride, rejected (almost) at the altar, who defies the convention of ‘girl should not travel alone’ by taking the fearful plunge of going on her pre-planned Europe honeymoon by herself! The film shows her transformation not only as a person but also as a traveller. (Editor Note: This was the first Bollywood film I had ever watched and absolutely loved it! As a European, it is so interesting to view Europe from the eyes of an Indian backpacker.)
27. Brokedown Palace – 1999
A journey of a lifetime turned into a journey of a nightmare, this film is about everything that can go wrong during travel to a foreign land! For those of us who feast on the episodes of ‘Jailed Abroad’, this film doesn’t present any new premise but a grim reminder to be extra cautious while travelling to unknown countries and the red flags we should never ever ignore!
28. Thelma and Louise – 1991
A road trip that turns into a life of crime – a badass travel fantasy can’t get more exciting than that – can it? Oh yeah, and then Brad Pitt walks in… In this classic early 90s travel film, two kickass female characters call all the shots whilst driving a gorgeous 1966 Ford Thunderbird convertible across America. The film touches iconic locations like the canyons of Unaweep and the desert of Utah. it also has one of the most epic police chases in cinema history!
29. The Endless Summer – 1966
Catch the waves with this epic surfing travel film which goes on a mission to chase the summer (the perfect surfing weather) from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere. Besides bringing surfing to the forefront and making ‘surf-and-travel’ an ultimate travel concept in the 60s, this light-hearted documentary also takes you to countries like Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Hawaii, Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa.
30. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (Hindi/Bollywood) – 2011
In at number 30, it’s another film from the Bollywood massive! On the surface, this film can seem like a glitzy magazine promotion of Spain, the tourist destination, as three friends head there for an unconventional bachelor party. But scratch beneath the surface of this movie and you will discover a heartwarming story of three friends who, during their road trip through the country, begin to deal with their own personal issues regarding family, money, friendship and, of course, love.
31. EuroTrip – 2004
If you like funny travel movies, then this will be right up your street! A no-brainer teenage comedy flick, perfect for those slow evenings when you don’t want ‘travel’ to get too heavy with its big “life-changing” shizzle. Just sit back in your beanbags, rip open a bag of munchies, grab a beer and enjoy a group of recent graduates and their misadventures as they romp around Europe – from London to Paris, Amsterdam to Bratislava, Berlin to Rome.
32. The Way – 2010
A father (played by Martin Sheen) takes over his recently departed son’s incomplete journey walking the Camino de Santiago from France to Spain. He initially just goes to collect his son’s dead body but decides to finish what his son started as a way to pay homage to his child. This film explores how the same journey can create different impact on different people. As pilgrims with interesting back stories join in at different points of the film, we discover that each traveller is on a pilgrimage for their own very reason.
33. Encounters at the End of the World – 2007
If you want a break from the nature documentary-style treatment of Antarctica then you may want to watch this indie film/documentary. The film explores the real lives of several extraordinary people who call this final frontier their home. How did they get there? How do they survive, and even thrive, in such conditions? And why don’t they just move somewhere else? It is filmed in the McMurdo Research Station.
34. The Art of Travel – 2004
Based on the highly-acclaimed book by the awesome academic, Alain de Botton, this is the never-ending journey of how a tourist grows into a traveller. (A phenomenon that many of us have experienced ourselves!) This film balance deftly the fun side of travel with the spiritual awakening. Taking viewers from the rough streets of Nicaragua to the dense jungles, via the backpackers’ haven of Cusco and the trek to Machu Picchu, the film’s philosophy is actually pretty simple – adventures can only flourish without restrictions!
35. A Map for Saturday – 2007
A timeless documentary on the backpackers’ life where every day feels like a Saturday! This film explores the concept of long-term solo travel and how it affects the people who are doing it. It is filmed over the four continents of Australia, Asia, Europe and South America while the maker was himself backpacking around the world for a year. One of the most inspiring travel movies on the list!
36. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – 2007
A couple of drag queens, a transgender woman and a shiny lavender bus cutting through the arid desert of the Australian outback! This film, along with being a sensitive portrayal of the LGBTQ community and their hardship in a world which refuses to understand them, is also a fun road trip movie and a story of self-discovery for the characters of this unusual group.
37. The Way Back – 2010
This ‘foot-to-freedom’ extreme survival movie is inspired by real events which will take you from the depth of Siberia to the deserts of Mongolia and then onward to the treacherous mountains of the Himalayas. A group of prisoners from a Siberian gulag escape during a snowstorm and make their way through Lake Baikal to Ulan Bator and then seek refuge in British occupied India. They cover a total of 4000 miles with little or no resources – on foot.
38. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – 2005
While Virgin Galactic work on providing us with suborbital spaceflight experience, we can get our teenage kicks watching this film. This is a backpacking movie with a twist – it’s in space! Embark on this crazy and comic space romp that will take you through the creative and hilarious Universe of Douglas Adams. Based on the classic book from 1979.
39. The Darien Gap – 1996
The infamous 80-mile-long swampland in Panama has been the centre of awe and apprehension amongst travellers for decades. However being one of the world’s most dangerous places doesn’t deter every traveller from going there! A disillusioned guy, bored with being unemployed, decides to add some excitement to his life by hitchhiking through South America. His travel brings him face to face with this dreaded jungle.
40. Indiana Jones – 1981
If a film franchise can take you around the world and pump you with an indomitable urge of adventure, then look no further than the world-famous Indiana Jones adventure travel movies. We all know the hat. We can all hear the whip (and the music – doo doo doo doo!). Filmed in exotic locations like Hawaii, Tunisia, Sri Lanka, Macau, Petra, Andalucía and New Mexico, every frame of these rather cheesy (and rather dated) films will leave you restless to explore the world around you! Love ’em or hate ’em, they are the films that inspired many children of the 80s to become world travellers today!
41. A Blank on the Map – 1971
At number 41 (surely it should be higher?) it’s David Attenborough’s first ever TV documentary film! Ever wondered how the world’s map would appear had colonial explorers not set their foot on foreign lands? In this 1970s film, David Attenborough undertakes an exploration to establish contact with people of the Bikaru tribes – an area previously unexplored in the country of New Guinea. A must watch for all Attenborough fans!
42. Outsourced – 2006
If your work has ever taken you to a new and strange country, then this film will definitely resonate with you. The central character, Todd Anderson, is sent to India when his department in Outsourced and this is where the adventure begins… Watch as he finds new ways to tackle everyday problems in a country that he never dreamed he would even visit, let alone live in!
43. Jungle – 2017
The Amazon rainforest has an allure of adventure that none of us can deny – it is mysterious and risky, packed with flora and fauna which are beautiful and lethal at the same time. Add to that the fear of the most dangerous animal on the planet – the human. What happens when one day you find yourself in the jungle with no company or supplies of any kind and have to survive from scratch? Find out in this film starring Daniel Radcliffe, a grown up Harry Potter! (Let’s be honest folks – this is not really a movie that makes you want to travel!)
44. Around the World in 80 Days – 1956 and 2004
Bringing the Jules Verne book to life in, this film is a true embodiment of an open world where the time required to circumnavigate the earth is drastically reduced by the creation of railroads and the opening up of sea routes. We might scoff at it now with air travelling reducing it further, but in the year 1872 it was a big deal! (This film has a 1956 and a 2004 version.)
45. The Inbetweeners 2 – 2014
If you like your movies about adventure and travel to be lighthearted, with a lot of laughs and some crude jokes, then this film is for you! A hysterical ride revolving around four buddies who venture ‘down under’ to explore the lascivious promise of easy sex in Australia and join a group of backpackers as they go exploring the resort town of Byron Bay. Countless misadventures and relationship twists break into their journey and make their time a worthwhile and hilarious treat to the watchers!
46. Touching the Void – 2003
An acclaimed documentary about the near-fatal climb of the West Face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes by Joe Simpson and Simon Yates. Making their way back after scaling the summit, the pair are caught in a snowstorm and one of them (Joe) ends up injured and stuck in a crevasse. It is out of sheer determination and will to survive that Joe makes it back to camp. This is a real-life incident that took place in 1985.
47. Between Home – 2012
A documentary following Nick Jaffe’s incredible solo sailing adventure from Europe to Australia, his home country. Believe it or not, it took two years to complete the voyage! The film is a creative bouquet of the artist-turned-amateur sailor’s moments and musings spent in the company of empty horizons on every side and an onboard video camera.
48. Jab We Met (Hindi/Bollywood) – 2007
Being a solo traveller, sometimes you don’t pick up the best of travel companions! But we really don’t know how a stranger can affect our lives until we let them. This film is all about opening yourself up to the unexpected! Starting with an epic train journey, the film takes us from Mumbai to Bhatinda and all the small towns in between and then later to the snowy mountains of the Himalayas. With dollops of Punjabi culture, this is a fun and peppy watch.
49. L’Auberge Espagnole – 2002
The film starts with a familiar feeling of unfamiliarity and total loss of anchoring when you land in a new city. But then gradually, you slip into the city’s skin as you spend time there. Xavier, a French student comes to spend a year in Barcelona as part of an exchange program and takes up an apartment which he shares with six other people from different countries. As he tiptoes cautiously around the new cultures and a new city, Xavier sets out to discover more about his own self through the lives and views of the others. (French voice.)
50. Expedition Happiness – 2017
What if you could take your home wherever you go? Take a page out of this travelogue documentary of Felix Starck and Selima Taibi and see for yourself what happens when you decide to spend one year of your life literally on the road. Converting a school bus into a ‘loft on wheels’, the German hipster couple along with their dog ditched their comfy Berlin life and took to traverse the North American landscape from Alaska to Mexico and everything in between! Just making the final cut of the 50 best travel films – you can check out this film on Netflix!