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Eileen Smith heads a collaborative effort to bring you some of the most travel-inspiring films.

WILD SCENERY AND LIT-UP nights pull me out of my home office. As does people-watching, and the adrenaline boost of things that are hard for me — like getting lost — and making myself understood in another culture and language. Movies set in foreign backdrops can trigger that “need more” feeling.

I asked Matadorians what movies make them think of spinning out of their everyday lives for a minute. I’m only 12 for 23 but, thanks to my colleagues, the other 11 are now on my short list.

1. 7 Years in Tibet

One of several books by Austrian Heinrich Harrer about mountain climbing in extreme conditions, this book-made-into-a-movie tells the story of his seven years in Tibet, during its takeover by China. It has some knife-sharp images of snowed-over mountains against a blue sky, but it mostly made me want to travel because for me it speaks to challenge and solitude, two themes that motivate me to get out, turn everything off, and just be.

Photo of the Midui Glacier in the Gangri Karpo Range by reurinkjan.

2. Amélie

Amélie is a film set in Paris featuring a 23 year-old waitress who tries to spread joy to the people who surround her. In my travels, it’s always been important to me to interact with people, from taking the time to listen to someone who really needs to talk to taking a heavy load from another passenger on the bus who isn’t fortunate enough to get a seat.

Photo of Notre Dame by Panoramas.

3. Baraka

Baraka is a movie with no dialogue, of images shot around the world of animals and humans interacting with the natural environment and the surroundings we’ve created. It makes me want to open my eyes wider and take in the similarities around me, from how people advertise their wares to how those in the highlands protect themselves from the sun and wind.

Photo of sunset and fire on the mara by frederic.salein.

4. Before Sunrise

This is a romantic film starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as two strangers who meet on a train and disembark to spend an evening together in Vienna. Through the accelerated intimacy of traveling together, they share more than they normally might, with the idea that they’ll never run into each other again. Carlo Alcos says that for him the movie captures much of what it’s like to travel. “Meeting random people, exploring, taking chances, and doing things you normally wouldn’t do. Makes me want to hit the road again.”

Photo of Vienna in Reflection by serendipitys.

5. Endless Summer

Endless Summer is considered a film classic among surfers and is recommended by Tim Patterson . Two surfers follow summer and the best waves around the world. It’s set in the mid ‘60s, so some of the language and stereotypes about the locals are from that era, but the footage is singular, and develops the idea of following your passion in whatever form it takes (in this case waves).

Photo big wave surfing Teahupoo Tahiti by thelastminute, photo school

6. Guantanamera

Guantanamera is a farsical Cuban film based on the logistical impossibility of transporting a dead body the length of the country. As they change from region to region and vehicle to vehicle, the protagonists encounter unlikely happenings, find commonalities, and cross paths with people they never expected to see. The film is another country’s road trip, the one I might never make (and hopefully not with a cadaver on board), but which I’d love to experience.

Photo of the Cuban countryside by kayugee.

7. Home

Home, by Yan Arthus-Bertrand, is a creative commons documentary shot aerially from a helicopter in over 50 locations to tell the story of life on the planet, including human involvement and the ways in which we have changed the environment. Matt Scott says that with a voice-over detailing the problems our world is facing it makes you want to see these things even more — before they disappear. Featured sites are in Costa Rica, Canada, Ecuador, Mali, Mauritania, Spain, Iceland, Russia, Nepal, among others.

Photo of a pink Icelandic sky near Hofn by deivis.

8. In Bruges

This film follows two Irish hitmen sent to Bruges after a particularly difficult job. As they adjust to their circumstances and meet different people, they begin to come into their own. The movie is widely lauded as having excellent dialogue and for showing how two lives that seem quite similar can diverge. Jason Wire says this movie contrasts perfect backdrops with fairly blatant criticism of the faux-fairytale holiday, and makes you want to dig deeper.

Photo of Bruges’ Christmas market by by Fújur.

9. Into the Wild

Into the Wild is Sean Penn’s adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s book detailing the wanderings and self-isolation of 24-year old Chris McCandless, and a series of decisions that led to his death. Kristin Conard says this makes her want to travel “because it shows the possibility of remaking your life that can happen if you strike out on your own…it also shows the importance of making and keeping connections both at home and on the road.” Much of the movie is set in Alaska.

Photo of snowed-over Denali by Unhindered by Talent.

10. Indiana Jones

This series of four movies has the iconic Indiana Jones character (played by Harrison Ford) who is an archaeology professor who dons felt fedora, and accompanied by a series of attractive women in uncovering secrets and winning unlikely battles against armed combatants that want to do him harm. I never hope for quite this much adrenaline in a trip, but love the idea of arriving in a place and figuring out (at least on a surface level) how it works.

11. L’Auberge espagnole

L’Auberge Espagnole is a movie about a young French man who moves into the most multicultural of apartments in Barcelona along with Italian, English, Danish, Belgian, German and Spanish roommates. He’s there to learn Spanish, but ends up learning more about himself. Adam Roy says it just makes him think of the craziness of being young and abroad and how liberating it is to be away from home.

Photo of Gaudí-designed Park Güell by Wolfgang Staudt.

12. Lost in Translation

In this movie, a Hollywood movie star and a lonely newlywed form an unlikely friendship in Tokyo, Japan where neither of them has much of an idea what is going on. It easily brings back some of the stranger (and usually fleeting) friendships I’ve formed on the road, and reminds me how easy it is to relate to other (even very different) people when the context is shifted.

Photo of a blue Tokyo night by -ratamahatta-.

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About The Author

Eileen Smith

Eileen Smith is the editor of Matador Abroad. She's an ex-Brooklynite who's made a life in Santiago, Chile. She's a fluent Spanish speaker who can be found biking, hiking, writing, photographing and/or seeking good coffee and nibbles at most hours of the day. She blogs here.

  • Logan Ash

    In Bruges is a great choice, not just because of its focus on travel, but because of the theme of having no regrets in life. We have two men, one who regrets what he has done, the other who regrets what he hasn’t done. For travelers, they will most likely find themselves sympathizing with the later man, seeing him appreciate the things he had so easily dismissed in his youth. This reminder can be a potent source of inspiration and motivation to get the traveler off of his feet and into his first step.

  • piet

    great pictures

    love the Paris one


  • Rory Moulton

    Great compilation! I concur on most every selection, but couldn’t get into 7 Years in Tibet, despite my love for alpinism. Brad Pitt kills (not in the good way) every movie (the notable exception being True Romance).

    I’d add Love Actually (S. France, London, Portugal, oh my!), recently released doc 180-degrees South, The Thin Red Line (watch after reading Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael) and oldie-but-goody The Power of One.

    • Edine

      True Romance! Definitely one of my favorite movies.

      Before Sunrise definitely made me want to book a one way flight anywhere out of the country immediately.. just the whole idea of traveling abroad, and finding friendship and intimacy convinced me that living a traveler’s life might just be the life for me. I haven’t done it yet, however the thought never escapes me.

  • joshywashington

    Great post, great pix…i must say that growing up it was Probably Indiana Jones that first made me want to don a fedora and explore the far reaches of the earth ( the babes and treasure would come soon after, I assumed )

  • Anya

    I don’t really find “7 Years in Tibet” particularly inspiring about Tibet. Maybe I just hate Brad Pitt.
    “Himalaya” is a The flm to watch, and it has a magical soundtrack too!

    • Taylor


  • BeckyMinx

    The Beach…hands down The Beach…oh and EasyRider

    • Carlo Alcos

      Easy Rider just made me never want to try acid.

  • Taylor

    Where is Out of Africa?? Inspriation for 2 trips to Africa……!!

  • Alouise

    Vicky Cristina Barcelona makes me want to go to Spain. Really if a movie takes place, or is filmed in another country I’m usually inspired to travel.

  • sandy

    I haven’t seen any of the movies you listed above and you made me want to check every one of them out :)
    Thanks for the brilliant reco., made me think you are really enthusiastic about traveling and living liberated ;)

  • Jacques

    Shocked you missed The Beach!

  • Andrea

    Guantanamera is my all time favorite movie and yes, having traveled in Cuba, it does reflect a reality including the economics, religion/sprituality, and zany-ness of the country.

    Many of my favorites are on this list and I am inspired now to see the others you have chosen. THANKS.

  • Kev C

    Yes to Easy Rider, the Bourne Identity, Star Wars, Indiana Jones and of course the motorcycle diaries. I have seen most of the films on the list but there are some I will have to get.
    I am probably one of the least globally traveled people on the planet when it comes to going abroad. One day I will find the time. I have a fancy for the Trans Siberian Express all the way to China just for the hell of it and to see Mongolia. Any film with that in it? Oh of course there is Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan. Now that is a good film to inspire travel.

    • Carlo Alcos

      There is a movie called Transsiberian, with Woody Harrelson in it. It’s a thriller about drug smuggling but the entire movie takes place on the train and in Russia.

      I’ve written a couple of articles here about the journey, search “transsiberian” in the search bar above.

  • Samantha

    How did Star Wars make this list, but failed to mention Lord of the RIngs?? Eat Pray Love??

    • Adam

      Here here! Eat Pray Love brought me to this post…

  • Peter

    Good list, I loved the movie In Bruges. I’d probably add “The Darjeeling Limited” onto that list too.

    • Carlo Alcos

      It’s #17. On the second page.

  • Zuriel Seven

    The Chronicles of Narnia – particularly the beach reveal in Prince Caspian and pretty much the entire Voyage of the Dawn Treader made me wonder at where such displays could be seen with the naked eye. Did these films make anyone else feel this way?

  • ricky

    yeay In Bruges is on the list! I definitely agree with it. btw, on my list, I’d have Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Chasing Liberty, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, and The Holiday. Somehow I prefer Before Sunset to Before Sunrise anyway. But I don’t know, more people like Before Sunrise.

  • Juliana

    Enchanted April!!! Not only because Italy is so beautiful, but because of the theme that travel rejuvenate the soul!

  • Ana Paula

    Definitely BARAKA! Makes you want to stand up and see the world!

  • Vivienne

    Nice article. I agree with you on “Before Sunrise” and “Bourne Identity”. Bourne Identity does have a great music soundtrack (Paul Oakenfold and Moby) and it exposed my interest in Paris (Europe), secret agents/spies, (and of course Matt Damon). Another movie that I like that also inspire me to take that step in travelling is Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona. What I liked about this film is that it was all about enjoying life, self-expression, and self discovery.

  • the aviatrix

    I Am David is absolutely breathtaking. :) It’s about a little boy who escapes froma concentration camp and travels across Europe searching for his mother. It’s beautiful.

    I also enjoyed Eat, Love, and Pray! I want to travel so badly now.

  • Alex Rascanu

    I’ve had the chance to see some of these, but not the others. Thank you for the suggestions!

  • reena

    Great list!
    I’d add “Under the Tuscan Sun” – not only Tuscany but Rome and Positano. Chocolat, too.

    • Heather

      Yay!! Glad someone else mentioned Under the Tuscan Sun! :)

  • Amanda

    The Lara Croft movies- sure they may not be the classiest movies in the world, but you know when you spend more time looking at the scenery than at Angelina Jolie, that there must be something special about the locales.

    Plus having seen Ta Prohm in Cambodia (1st movie) and Hell’s Gate in Kenya (2nd movie) for myself, I know that the places are just as epic in real life!

  • Brooke Gardberg

    I have to chime in with the little known, award-winning film The Journey. A truly inspiring doc by Eric Saperston, who after college (circa 1990s) bought a 1971 Volkswagen bus, took his golden retriever Jack and set out to follow the Grateful Dead and work a ski season in Aspen. He was challenged by a mentor to make the trip more meaningful, so decided to call the most powerful people in the world and ask them out for a cup of coffee. A summer vacation quickly turned in to a vocation and he discovered he was no longer taking a trip. The trip was taking him. Funny how life happens…his four years on the road led to one brilliant film. You’ll laugh and cry and want to head out on the road on your own journey…One big take away: We’re a lot more alike, then we are different.

  • Blimey

    I saw this article and i thought of TV shows that makes you want to travel. I have 3 of them that do that to me… Amazin Race, The Unit, and Undercovers.

  • Mary Strobbe

    Night on Earth (Los Angeles, Rome, Paris, Copenhagen)
    Gaudi Afternoon (Spain)
    Four Seasons (Vietnam)
    Schultze Gets the Blues
    Monsieur Ibrahim

  • Mike

    Memoirs of a Geisha (Japan)
    Hero (China)

  • karl

    The Motorcycle Diaries most certainly.
    I was fortunate to hike to the bus before the movie Into The Wild, but it is true, the movie inspires.

  • El

    One of my top must-visit cities is Bruges and that’s only because of the movie, In Bruges.

    Amelie is fantastic!

  • Laura

    In my list: “Am I beautiful?” (Dorris Dorrie, Germay) and “Lovers of the Arctic Circle (Julio Medem, Spain). One made me want to go back to Spain and the other made me want to visit the Arctic Circle…ooh, one of these days! They are among my favorite movies and they both tell beautiful love stories in a unique way.
    Some other movies that will ad other languages/cultures/spices to the list:
    Before It Rains (Macedonia)
    Time of the Gipsies (Mr. Emir Kusturica!)
    Happy Together (Kar Wai Wong, who beautifully shows Buenos Aires)
    Nine Queens (Argentina, shows the craziness of Buenos Aires)
    Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami, Iran)
    Sex and Lucia (also Julio Medem, shows the Spanish islands)

    Sorry, this comment is too long, I know. Trips and movies are two of my favorite topics!

  • julie

    The Beach directed by Danny Boyle starts as an amazing movie about traveling, finding a solitary beach paradise off the coast of Thailand (though shot in New Zealand), and becoming part of a solitary community people who were once travelers and decided to leave behind their normal lives to live on the tropical island and have a great time while doing so. Eventually things turns pretty bad near the end, but the scenery and excitement of finding something new and living life away from the norm definitely inspires me to travel.

  • Tia

    Great list! Indiana Jones, definitely!

    For a silly addition, one of my all-time favorites is “Captain Ron”, a comedy starring Kurt Russell and Martin Short, about a family’s adventure on a vintage sailboat that turns into a life-changing experience for all involved. Beautiful Caribbean scenery, great music, and pirates! I’ve wanted to sail around the world ever since. :)

    • Carlo Alcos

      Hey, whatever floats your boat!

      sorry, couldn’t resist :)

  • cecilie

    Paris, Je T’Aime

    A Good Year

    Slumdog Millionaire

    Lord of the Rings

    Forrest Gump

    Chinese Box

  • Shreya

    Love the pictures!!

  • luxuryquest

    Bucket List!

  • Anna Frances Ellis

    Bond, anywhere?

  • David

    Hidden tiger crouching dragon is one of my favorites, After watching
    this one all I wanted to do was travel to Asia and go to all those beautiful

  • Guest

    The Way Back…tragic but follows a grueling trek from Serbia to India that makes way for beautiful sweeping shots of the scenery. 

  • lolita

    Eat Pray Love also

  • Mark Shea

    I made my own list, I think Grizzly Man was a far superior film to Into the Wild

  • Gregory T. Janetka

    Midnight in Paris. Woody Allen read my mind.

  • Vagabonderella

    I know this post is a bit old but some recent ones are; “The Art Of Travel” and ” The “Loneliest Planet”. Both are specifically backpacking movies. Theres also the documentaries; “A Map For Saturday” and “Last Stop for Paul”…. But if your reading this blog, you probably alredy saw those last two.

  • Trekker

    I can’t believe The Talented Mr. Ripley wasn’t listed!  The Amalfi Coast, Rome, and Venice with everyone dressed to the nines — that’s what I call Travel Porn!

  • Tour Explora

    I was inspired by 7 years in Tibet. That makes me want to travelling everytime and everywhere

  • Gordon Sands

    Nice list. Not exactly a movie, but what about Gwen Stefani’s music video for Cool… Lake Como, the villa, the clothes, the food, the setting, the vespa. Absolute Italian perfection

    • Mel

      I can’t watch that video without feeling guilty that I’m not there.

  • Sadie Heldberg

    think it is lucky for you that you have a home office mine is in the sky
    however I do have an escape in my movies. All of these films are wonderful
    examples of reasons to check vacation time and the home budget. I also love
    Lord of the Rings as it has nostalgia affect on me that gives me the itch to
    have an adventure of my own. When I travel for Dish, I am U.S. business bound
    but I have delays and missed connections in airports that give me time to watch
    films and plan off-hour adventures. I watch films from dishonline that inspire
    me toward an adventure once I get where I am going. There are enough movies
    there that finding one is not a problem but sometimes finding the off-hour time
    has to be planned. One of these days, I hope to jump across the seas and visit
    the rest of the world on my own time. I hope that day comes soon.

  • Abaum123

    A Map for Saturday is hands down the #1 film that will get your feet itchy to start moving. One should be prepared to have index finger hovering above the “enter” key for a RTW ticket by the film’s end.

  • Amit Sonawane

    180 South (Chile), Vicki Cristina Barcelona (Barcelona), Art of Flight (Patagonia, Canada, Colorado, etc), One Week (Canada) are some of my favorites that are also good.

  • Noah Tarditi


  • Trina Pastor-Dolor


  • Genaro Aguilera-Reza

    You guys missed “The Beach”.

  • Kaleigh Powell

    Watching “The Brothers Bloom” really made me want to travel! That should be on this list! :)

  • Daniel Heitz

    Check out this one

  • Daniel Heitz

    Check out this one

  • Becky Visco McKeirnan

    “Outsourced” always makes me want to go back to India. And I love the story in “Cairo Time”.

  • Becky Visco McKeirnan

    “Outsourced” always makes me want to go back to India. And I love the story in “Cairo Time”.

  • Ann-Marie Hargreaves

    The Way

  • Lisa Chittaro

    “Basilicata coast to coast”, not so popular, but a great italian film.

  • Kausar Ahmad

    There’s a world beyond the place we live and the thought of just that is mind-blowing. Movies like these truly induce in us a realization that the world is to be appreciated for its countless beauties, cultures, people and landscapes.
    Whoever reads this… watch Leap Year! A movie set in Ireland, it explores the more overlooked areas of the beautiful country. It really deserves to be in this list. Makes me want to see the world *____*

  • Working Nomad

    The Beach?

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