Sometimes we all get stuck in a rut and need a good ol’ fashioned duvet day. Life affirming films are the best way to alleviate those rainy day blues (along with a large glass of Merlot). Travel films and travel documentaries are great for inspiring some wanderlust but some go that bit further in changing our perceptions on life. These top travel related films tell the (often true) life stories of people that go though personal hardships and come out the other side with a wider perspective on the world and often themselves. A perfect pick me up for a rainy evening, or quiet afternoon in.
The Top 5 Life Affirming Films Based On True Stories
Into the wild
Into the wild follows the true story of a young college graduate who leaves a career and life planned out for him by his parents to travel across North America. Spending some time at burning man and living with hippies. His ultimate destination? To live as one with nature in the wilds of Alaska. It’s a true coming of age film experimenting with the choices we all have in life. It’s a real wake up call for those that want to go against the grain and live on their own terms, not just follow the rules of society.
Seven Years in Tibet
The story of the Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer, as told in this film adaptation of his autobiography, is truly inspirational. After escaping from a British detainee camp in India in 1944 and sneaking across the border into Tibet, Harrer had the rare opportunity to immerse himself deeply in a culture and a nation that was still largely cut off from the rest of the world at that time. As indicated by the film’s title, he ended up staying in Tibet for seven years, and he even became a close friend and tutor of the Dalai Lama.
The landscapes of the Tibetan plateau are mesmerising and will definitely make you want to visit the place yourself. Although what’s even more fascinating is the Tibetan culture, which was still fully intact at that time, prior to the Chinese invasion. Nowadays, Tibet is still difficult to visit, but for different reasons. The Chinese authorities do not allow independent tourists there, so you will have to join an organized tour of Tibet. Nevertheless, your guide and driver will most likely be Tibetan, and you can still learn a great deal from them about their culture and traditions.
Wendy Werneth of The Nomadic Vegan
A young woman struggling to cope with the loss of her mother gets caught up in a cycle of drugs and casual affairs to fill the dark void. At her breaking point, she decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. This true story is based on Cheryl Strayed, a writer who trekked 1,100 miles to get over her personal hurdles. Alone in the wilderness of Americas Southwest she rediscovers the strength her mother had brought her up to have and walked her way towards a better life. A truly inspirational film for solo female travellers. Proving that even if you have no idea what you’re doing, if you are determined enough, you will make it in the end.
A walk in the woods
Travel writer Bill Bryson (played by Robert Redford) sees his life grind to a halt after retirement. A longing to get back to adventure and a life on the road sees him reunite with an unlikely old partner, Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte), to walk the Appalachian trail through some of America’s great national parks. The two thousand two hundred mile journey from Georgia to Maine takes us through some of North America’s most unspoiled, rugged and stunning scenery. A Walk In The Woods is a lighthearted comedy that proves you’re never too old for an adventure, even if you do need a break or two along the way…
A woman from a troubled background makes the decision to trek 1,700-miles from Alice Springs in the heart of the Australian outback to the west coast. Mia Wasikowska does a brilliant job of standing in for real-life writer Robyn Davidson. She takes on the help of three camels and her best pal, Diggity the dog, and occasionally the National Geographic Journalist that would document her epic adventure. With guest appearances from Mr. Eddy, the aboriginal elder that guides her and the odd curious tourist. A truly inspiring story of a truly remarkable woman.
Lighthearted and Inspiring Travel Films
Hector and the search for happiness
Hector, Simon Pegg, is a psychologist driven mad by the mundanity and repetition of everyday life. The question of “what is happiness?” drives him to escape his life and travel the world, encountering all kinds of happiness as well as sadness from different cultures around the globe. Realising the two emotions are intertwined brings his own life some perspective and meaning. A lovely and, weirdly, incredibly inspiring travel film.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Most of us can empathise with the feeling that our lives were supposed to go in another direction. Some people spend their days daydreaming about an alternative life of travel while surviving in a humdrum existence. When instead, we should be thriving and taking the steps to turn those daydreams into a reality.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) follows the inner and exterior journeys of a man working for a magazine who dreams of doing extraordinary things but never actually accomplishes them. Meeting a woman with a positive outlook, the threat of redundancy and a serious mix up all become the catalyst for Walter Mitty to be daring and venture into the unknown. He dusts off his old backpack and travels to Greenland, Iceland and the Himalayas in search of a missing physical object as well as a hypothetical one.
The character of Walter Mitty isn’t a particularly special person or noteworthy. If anything, he’s a regular Joe. But he’s a regular Joe that took the leap to make his life meaningful and live with fewer regrets. Basically, if Walter Mitty can do it, so can you.
Rebecca from Almost Ginger.
The animated Disney movie ‘Up’ was a catalyst for us. My husband and I dreamed of taking a family gap year with our three children and had saved money for several years for our trip. But life would get in the way and we would regularly have to dip into our savings to pay for unexpected bills or events. The emotionally moving, opening sequence of ‘Up’ mirrored our experience. In ‘Up’ a newly married couple start a savings jar for a big trip but they often have to break the jar to pay for bills. And then, suddenly, the couple are old and then the man is alone. I remember watching the movie in the cinema sobbing my heart out (and embarrassing the kids)! It made me realise that we were never going to have ‘enough’ money and there was never going to be the perfect time to travel. We should travel now, do what we could on the money we had whilst we were all in good health. Eight months later, we departed for one year of family travel.
Sinead from Map Made Memories.
The Bucket List
The Bucket List is a heart-warming story of two old-aged men who meet in a hospital room. The terminally ill duo decide to set off on a road trip and journey across the globe with their bucket list of to-dos before they die. Together, they check out the items on their bucket list that include adventure activities and a lot of travelling. The Bucket List is humorous and heart-rending at the same time.
The movie is shot across beautiful locations in Egypt, China, France and India. Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, the legendary actors who portray the characters, ride motorcycles, go skydiving, climb pyramids, fly over the North pole, go on a safari-ride and visit some iconic monuments. Watch ‘The Bucket List’ and find out if they were able to tick off everything from their bucket list.
The movie will inspire you to tick off things in your bucket list before time runs out. The movie also prompts that life is short and you should just get out there and live it to the fullest. The most inspiring message that The Bucket List gives out is that you are never too old to do what you want.
Suggested by Pooja Shah from Fairytale Studios.
The Best Road Trip Movies
The Motorcycle Diaries
The Motorcycle Diaries is a biopic movie on the iconic revolutionary Marxist leader Che Guevara. Based on his memoir, this 2004 film is about his motorcycle trip across South America with his friend Alberto Granado in 1952 when he was 23 years old. It is considered one of the best coming-of-age travel movies that showcase the transformation of Guevera into the leader that he became. The Motorcycle Diaries is not just any road trip movies – it is one of the life-changing trips of a young man who changed the destiny of hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans.
As young care-free guys, they embark on an adventurous journey across the continent on a motorbike. The movie captures the raw, unedited beauty of Latin America, along with the lives of ordinary people brilliantly. While journeying across various countries he witnesses the social, economic and political conditions, especially the injustices to the impoverished and cruel slavery, which becomes the turning point and motivation for him to start the revolution many years later. Where he challenged the inequalities and oppression of the social classes.
Reshma Narasing from The Solo Globetrotter
The Fundamentals Of Caring
The Fundamentals of Caring is an indie drama that will bring you on a generic road trip with a difference. You will be brought on the journey of Trevor – a 20 year old with a terminal illness and his new carer Ben, who is dealing with his own traumas. Ben seems to be the first carer to be able to keep up with Trevor’s dark sense of humour and questionable pranks. He’s quickly inspired to force Trevor out of his monotonous daily routine and comfort zone. The two unlikely friends pack up an old unreliable MV-1 Homecare van and hit the road for Trevor’s top bucket list entry; visiting some of America’s lamest roadside attractions, ending at the world’s deepest pit. Yep really.
The two characters bond in a moving way along their trip and make some weird and wonderful friends. The road trip is filled with unlikely adventures, meanwhile debunking some myths about disabled people. Without getting too deep, this film will make you want to pack into a car with your own friends, and go just about anywhere. Because you can literally be going to see the world’s deepest pit, but as long as you’re with people you care about, it will be a trip to remember.
Sarah Kelly from The Tales of Tiny Boots.
Little Miss Sunshine
The first time I watched “Little Miss Sunshine”, was when I suggested it as a movie night for my students while teaching English in Ecuador, after reading its reviews. And it ended up being one of my favourite travel movies.
The road trip movie follows the journey of a dysfunctional family from Albuquerque in New Mexico to Redondo Beach in California in a rundown yellow Volkswagen minibus. The purpose of the journey is to take Olive, the youngest member of the family, into the Little Miss Sunshine child beauty pageant. But as the movie progresses, the stories and struggles of Olive’s morose older brother, suicidal uncle, foul-mouthed grandpa and bickering parents emerge and intersect. Throughout the journey, they all lock horns and crumble while trying to come to terms with their challenges.
The movie is full of drama, humour, and twists while being light-footed at the same time. It makes you realise the perfection of imperfection, the magic of family, and things that matter. It teaches why you must trust in the voice inside you to do what’s right.
Deb Pati from The Visa Project.
Movies That Make you Want to Travel
Films have a wonderful ability to transport you to far-flung areas of the world, all from the comfort of your sofa. It’s images and videography providing new insight into areas which are not easily described just through guide books, photos or generic YouTube documentaries. One standalone film that completely changed our perspective for our trip to Mexico City was Roma.
To us, Mexico City was a place to celebrate Dia de Muertos after seeing the festival in Spectre. A place for colour, celebration and great food. Roma gives the city a completely new perspective. Released in 2018, it is set in 1970 and tells the story of Antonio and Sofia’s housemaid as she experiences life taking care of the family’s four children. Complications occur when Antonio leaves his wife for a mistress, and Cleo, the housemaid, becomes pregnant. It’s beautifully shot in black and white and depicts the reality of life at that time. There is a good measure of historical context as major events in Mexico City are described which now defines its political structure. The raw emotions shown in the film is made more poignant as we find out the director, in reality, was the child in the family. It is his retelling of how he viewed his carer as they were going through this time.
It’s an honest and filmographic retelling of life in Mexico City during a complex and challenging period. It’s something we highly recommend watching before a visit to Mexico City.
Contributed by Akid & Ella from Chasing Continents.
If you hadn’t heard of the Camino de Santiago before, it’s sure to be on your bucket list after watching this film. After his estranged sons tragic death while trying to make the pilgrimage in northern Spain, an uptight father decides to finish the adventure with the very same backpack and equipment his son was going to use. With his sons ashes in tow, he starts the epic 800 km journey. Picking up travellers from a very mixed background along the way the story follows him dealing with his own grief as well as the re-evaluation of his own priorities in life. The eclectic blend of characters and heart wrenching personal story make this a must watch travel film that will leave you desperate to walk the infamous Camino de Santiago.
Midnight in Paris
Written and directed by Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris is a 2011 fantasy dramedy (drama+comedy) film that makes you fall in love with the City of Lights ie. Paris. In this film, Woody Allen makes us follow the journey of Gil Pender, a screenwriter who is struggling to write a novel and is dissatisfied in his relationship with his materialistic and superficial fiancée.
How he travels back in time each midnight and gains the motivation to write by exploring the wonderful places in Paris forms the crux of the film. Through Gil, you also get to explore the magic of Paris and get to meet the famous personalities from the past. The film is life-changing as it teaches you to value and cherish real experiences rather than shallow pleasures as the former nourishes your soul and truly stands the test of time.
The film also highlights how Gil’s love for a character named Adriana blossoms as they explore the various sights of Paris like Maxim’s Paris, the Moulin Rouge, the streets around Siene, etc. By the end, you buy the idea of finding true love in a stunning far-away surreal world. It inspires a streak of wanderlust in you and after watching the film, you’re literally ready with the ultimate Europe itinerary to explore the whole continent!
Vaibhav Mehta from The Wandering Vegetable.
Travel Inspiration for a rainy day
The Darjeeling Limited
The Darjeeling Limited is about three brothers from the USA who travel to India after their father dies to reconnect, bond, and also look for their Mother. It’s a classic Wes Anderson film with whimsical moments, surprising plot twists, flawed characters, a great use of music … and a heart of gold.
The film plays on the cliche of a spiritual journey to India, and the hapless brothers. Who are clueless when it comes to inner exploration, personal awareness, and spiritual practises. The brothers stumble along, bumping into each other, cultural etiquette in India, and the staff on The Darjeeling Limited. The Darjeeling Limited is a luxury train (inexplicably travelling through Rajasthan, nowhere near Darjeeling, and even more inexplicably, it gets lost!).
After the brothers get thrown off the train for insubordinate behaviour, they wander through the Indian countryside and come across three boys who are struggling to get across a river on a raft. The raft overturns, the boys are thrown in the water, and the brothers dive in to save them. Two are saved, but one dies in the accident. The brothers take the boys back to their village and are invited to stay for the funeral. It’s an extremely moving scene, and it has a profound effect on the brothers, especially the one who is expecting a child.
In the end, the brothers do indeed reconnect and have a spiritual experience, but it’s not at all what they expected. And thus the first lesson of travel in India is revealed. The Darjeeling Limited is one of my favourite movies about India.
Mariellen Ward from Breathe Dream Go.
This truly is one of the most breathtaking films I have ever had the pleasure of laying my eyes upon. The cinematography is completely mesmerising from start to finish. Samsara delicately captures scenes of mediation and dance, as well as showing an entirely new perspective of some areas of life that may have previously felt all too familiar to you. Samsara is a Sanskrit word meaning wandering or world. It also represents the cycle of life and rebirth of all existence.
That is what the film is about. The concept that everything in existence moves in interconnected cycles of life, death and rebirth. The movie is described as a non-narrative documentary and was filmed in 25 different countries using 70mm film. Without using a single word, the film manages to captivate the essence of ‘Samsara’, as well as stoking your inner fire. You will want to dispose of all of your worldly possessions and begin a life of meaning and travel.
Chris from Global Shenanigans.
Curious about the passion for wine in France? The Film French Kiss starring Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline (screen stars circa 1995) initially appears to be a romantic comedy. At it’s core, it’s the story of an innocent American woman’s “meet cute” with a French con artist that blossoms into a real relationship. Through their adventures, audiences first experience the usual stereotypes about France (obsession with cheese, rude waiters, an expensive Cannes hotels). Yet during the course of the film, one comes to understand French culture more deeply and even respect it.
As a wine educator, for me the pivotal moment was when Kevin Kline’s character takes Meg Ryan’s character to his boyhood home. In his room she sees how meticulously he identified his family’s grape vines for a high school science project. Watching this film is an inspiration as it allows viewers to laugh at the stereotypes they might ultimately experience in their travels. Yet also realise that core values remain the same all over the world.
Marisa D’Vari from A Wine Story.
Into Thin Air: Death on Everest
An American movie directed by Robert Markowitz, based on Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air published in 1997. Starring actors Christopher MacDonald, Peter Horton, and Richard Jenkins. The story is based on real events that happened a year earlier during one of the climbing expeditions to the top of Mount Everest. Krakauer was a part of the expedition that turned out to be a chain of disastrous events that resulted in several deaths. The tragic events were caused by the combination of bad weather conditions, misunderstanding between some guides and climbers, and several wrong decisions made by guides in order to deliver their clients to the top of Everest at any cost.
I’ve watched this movie a couple of times in different circumstances but the very first time had the biggest impact on me. It was in Namche Bazar during our acclimatisation stop on the way to Everest Base Camp. There were many trekkers and a couple of climbers at the bar where the movie was played. It was a perfect vibe for watching Into Thin Air. It was my first high-altitude trek and I didn’t consider it as challenging in any way but after watching the movie I realised how dangerous high altitude can be and how important it is to follow safety recommendations.
Alya and Campbell from Stingy Nomads
How to travel better for less
Booking.com – I always book with this site if looking for cheap accommodation as the filters are so easy to use. Become a genius member after five bookings and get great discounts too!
Air BnB – Sometimes you can find great local places to stay on Air BnB. In some countries, like Cuba, it’s the only way to book!
Transferwise – A debit card you can use all over the world and get great exchange rates with no hidden fees. This bank has saved me £100’s in bank fees!
Monzo – A similar travel card to the above with additional features like joint accounts and bill splitting.
Ethical Superstore – My go to site for cleaning products, eco clothing and even groceries. All ethically tagged and delivered free from plastic packaging. Plus eco friendly alternatives to your toiletries.
Omio – The place to go for all of your public transport needs in Europe. Save a bundle!
G Adventures – A sustainable, fun, responsible travel company. I’ve travelled with them many times and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of their amazing trips.
Contiki – The day job. Group travel for 18/35 year olds and memories to last a lifetime.
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Travel like a pro
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