Travel Movies to Watch (While Hunkering Down and Avoiding Coronavirus)

Travel Movies

We all hate coronavirus, especially all the border closures and shutdowns that go along with it. With municipalities instructing everyone to “shelter in place,” our dreams of traveling have been abruptly put on hold.

But that doesn’t mean you should quit thinking about traveling! I’ve put together a list of the best travel movies to watch while we’re all cooped up indoors.

Defining a “travel movie” can be interesting. Obviously, the film has to involve a certain amount of traveling. I like movies that were filmed on location and provide a certain level of insight into the local culture. I make exceptions if the film does a good job of inspiring you to go out and travel.

Read on for travel movies to watch while waiting out the pandemic!

Indiana Jones Series (1981, 1984, 1989, 2008)

The four three Indiana Jones movies are some of my all-time favorites (we don’t talk about Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). They have inspired generations of archaeologists, explorers, and travelers, and entertained hundreds of millions.

I have one big caveat about these movies: only some parts of Indiana Jones were actually filmed on location. The Peru scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) were actually filmed in Hawai’i. The Egypt scenes were filmed in Tunisia. Having said that, the location scouts and director of photography did a very good job of finding alternatives. For example, in Temple of Doom (1984), the India scenes were actually filmed in Sri Lanka, just off the coast. A few times, though, they really nailed it. The Petra scenes from The Last Crusade (1989) were filmed in front of the iconic “Treasury” building. Even in the less-than-stellar Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), they used the breathtaking Iguazu Falls in South America.

Even if they aren’t 100% accurate, they are still some of the best adventure films ever made. They will absolutely entertain you and spark your passion for travel.

You can find a list of all the real-life filming locations of the movies here.

Diarios de motocicleta (The Motorcycle Diaries) (2004)

If we’re talking about travel movies, this one may be one of the best ever made.

This true story is based on the early life of Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Anyone familiar with the revolutionary hero may be surprised to find him portrayed as a young, clean-cut medical student. Motorcycle Diaries follows Guevara as he and a friend make a journey around South America on an old motorcycle. Starting in Argentina, they cross through several countries–all filmed on location–including a stop at the majestic ruins of Machu Picchu. It’s a wildly entertaining adventure, with the two having to deal with a less-than-reliable motorcycle. They even have to resort to creative means to feed themselves along the way. It’s a true vagabond’s journey.

Having also read the book, I can tell you that it’s pretty accurate, with only a few dramatizations. You can read my summary of the book here.

Fun Fact: The epic motorcycle journey depicted in the movie was actually the second one Guevara undertook. A year earlier, he rode several thousand miles around South America on a bicycle fitted with a small motor.

The Way Back (2010)

Another true story, The Way Back focuses on a Polish man who walks 4,000 miles to freedom.

Polish military officer Janusz (based on the author of the book, Sławomir Rawicz) is wrongly imprisoned in a Soviet gulag during World War II. The first quarter of the movie does a good job of portraying the horrors of these work camps. Janusz and several other prisoners escape, braving everything from frigid tundra to sun-blasted desert. They cross through Russia, Mongolia, China, Nepal, and finally seek refuge in British India.

They filmed the movie in Bulgaria, Morocco, and India. Not exactly on-location, but the production team did a good job of finding suitable counterparts. The cinematography is pretty stunning.

I mentioned above that the movie is based on a true story, which is mostly correct. Years after Rawicz published his book, another Pole named Witold Gliński came forward to say that the story was actually his. As if that wasn’t enough, years after that a British man came forward with another version. His father has been a British intelligence officer working in Calcutta during World War II. The man’s father said that he once interviewed three emaciated men who claimed to have escaped from Siberia.

The Way Back can be intense in its accurate portrayal of starvation, dehydration, and heatstroke. However, it’s also a testament to the power of the human spirit.

The Way (2010)

Martin Sheen plays Tom, a crotchety old ophthalmologist in the US who has always been obsessed with work and status. Tom is estranged from his free-spirited son (played by Sheen’s real-life son, Emilio Estevez, also the director). Upon hearing that his son has passed away in an accident, Tom travels there to claim the body. While collecting his son’s cremated remains and belongings, he learns that the young man died walking the Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James), a world-renown pilgrimage across the north of Spain. As part of his grieving, Tom takes his late son’s gear and continues the 500-mile walk. Along the way, he meets interesting characters and learns to slow down and enjoy the journey of life.

While it may feel a bit earnest at times, it’s a very moving and inspiring film. They filmed the entire thing on location on the Camino de Santiago in France and Spain. You get a strong sense of what it’s like to actually walk The Way yourself. In fact, the other people you see walking the Camino are actual pilgrims.

You can view an interactive map of all of the filming locations here.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

Probably one of the most inspirational movies ever made. Ben Stiller really rocked this one, both in front of and behind the camera. If this movie doesn’t inspire you to start doing more of what you really want, I don’t know what will.

The movie is based on James Thurber’s 1939 short story of the same name. Both versions of Walter Mitty are similar: risk-averse and meek, but with vibrant imaginations. The character is ineffectual in real life but has fantasies in which he imagines himself as the hero. The original short story was pretty dark, highlighting the contrast between Walter’s vivid imagination and his shortcomings in real life.

The movie is the perfect spiritual successor to the short story. Walter decides to not just live in his head but to bring his fantasies to life. He doesn’t just imagine himself being an adventurer; he actually becomes an adventurer.


I’ll be adding to this list as I watch more travel movies! Until then, please feel free to add your own favorite travel movies in the comments below. As always, I’d appreciate it if you Shared, Tweeted, and Pinned 🙂

Be safe out there!

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1 Response

  1. May 27, 2020

    […] hope you’ve enjoyed this list of travel books! You can also check out my related posts, Travel Movies to Watch (While Hunkering Down and Avoiding Coronavirus) and Video Game That Let You Travel the World from Your […]

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