Best Travel Movies to Watch for Vacation Inspiration

Movies, TV shows, books, and even music inspire us to think about booking a trip. We all deserve a vacation (relaxing destination, bucket list trip, weekend getaway), but it’s often hard to break out of the busy work-life cycle. Next time you are feeling trapped at home, grab a DVD or go online to stream a travel-themed movie. Even if you aren’t able to travel soon, the thoughts of visiting an iconic place can be a getaway in itself. It costs nothing to take a break to be inspired to travel when the time is right.

Top 10 Movies That Inspire Travel

Top 10 Travel Movies (Our Picks)

How often do you watch a film that makes you want to book a flight to see in person what you are watching on the big screen? This list of the best travel movies includes a mix of titles and genres to please anyone with wanderlust. Selecting the must-watch titles is subjective of course, but hopefully you’ll agree with many of the picks. Excluded are films that make you not want to visit a destination because the subject matter is more harsh reality than idyllic vacation experience. You also won’t see the National Lampoon vacation films on this list. While they are enjoyable as slapstick entertainment, they fail to inspire authentic travel desires.

10. Ghostbusters

Iconic New York City is one of the most unique and incredible cities in not just America, but the world. Even though I grew up in Brooklyn, I didn’t truly appreciate the city (aka Manhattan) until I was an adult returning for family visits. As the setting for so many top films and TV shows, I chose this classic 80’s comedy (the original, not the 2016 remake) as one of my all-time favorites.

This movie shows off gothic Manhattan skyscrapers, the recognizable street scene (I always have to stop for what my Dad called a “dirty water hot dog” at a food cart), and the regal NYC public library. On a vacation you can even walk by the Ghostbusters HQ firehouse which is located in the Tribeca neighborhood. Watch this film if you want to escape your suburban lifestyle for the excitement of the city that never sleeps.

9. Roman Holiday

It should come as no surprise that Italy is always ranked as one of the top 10 most visited countries in the world. You probably expected me to select Eat, Pray, Love as a top film choice, but I prefer to go back to a classic film from the 50’s starring screen legends Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.

Roman Holiday is a romantic travel film with the recognizable sites of Rome as its awe-inspiring backdrop. Even though it is in black & white, the beauty and magic of the ancient city of Rome shines through in every scene.

8. Motorcycle Diaries

South America is a huge continent for traveling so I’m glad one film succeeded in showing its beauty, history, and diversity from bottom to top. This is a road-trip movie at heart and not a political film even though it was adapted from the writings of revolutionary leader Che Guevara.

The journey by motorcycle from Argentina, through the Andes of Chile, to the Peruvian Amazon, and ending in Venezuela is full of scenic splendor. While I have hardly explored South America myself yet, this movie inspires me to quit my job and backpack this continent. Luckily I was able to take a sabbatical break of 6-weeks to visit the top places Peru (Machu Picchu), Chile (Patagonia), Argentina (wine country), and Brazil (Rio).

7. North by Northwest

Alfred Hitchcock is one of my favorite filmmakers of all time so it is hard to pick just one of his movies for my list. Cary Grant stars in this spy thriller that takes a mild-manner ad executive from the United Nations in NYC and sends him on a trail of espionage. His pursuit across the Midwest ends in a finale at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

The iconic American sites in this riveting movie are reason enough to watch and start imagining your next trip to a National Park in the United States. The U.S. has some of the best national parks in the world and if you are willing to drive long distances, they are a bargain vacation filled with natural wonders.

6. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

I know you are (one of my top 10 movies that inspire travel) but what am I? It may not be to everyone’s taste, but I loved this film from the first time I saw it in theaters as a kid. Pee Wee sets off on a Route-66 style road trip to find his stolen bicycle. No spoilers, but The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas becomes his target destination.

Afterward he heads off to Hollywood, California in this movie that can’t help but make you smile, laugh, and want to travel across the highways and byways of America. I pity the fool who hasn’t seen this movie, though I’m sure Mr. T cereal has long been discontinued 😉

5. Lord of the Rings

New Zealand has the magic. It is the natural setting for a fantasy adventure film of epic scope without the need for CGI. It is indeed real place without the danger of running into Orcs and dragons of course.  It absolutely has to be included on every travel life list despite the long flight required from most regions of the world. Even if you are not a huge fan of this series of films, watch one or two to visualize the jaw-dropping backdrop that awaits you.

This country has everything you can want from an awe-inspiring two-island driving tour to witness emerald blue lakes, shimmering glaciers, rocky coastlines, boiling mud, and majestic mountains. No, you won’t find any golden rings or mythical castles, but you will be amazed at every turn. Plus Phil Keoghan from The Amazing Race is originally from there and he knows a little something about living your travel dreams.

4. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Both China and India with a population of over one billion people each can be overwhelming to think about visiting. Turn to the movies for inspiration on the must-see sites and authentic travel experiences. You might start with Bollywood which produces more movies per year than Hollywood. My top travel film about India does a superb job putting this massive country within reach.

Of course you shouldn’t wait until retirement to seek out the exotic culture of India like Judy Dench, one of the stars of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. In fact this film is a reminder to travel to places which will challenge your senses and cultural stereotypes well before reaching retirement age. You can always return again and again to explore this sub-continent. After taking my first trip to India, I have to say it is not nearly as intimidating as I thought.

3. Gotcha!

If you didn’t grow up in the 70’s or 80’s when every movie seemed to be about the Cold War, you may not appreciate this very cheesy comedy. However I still rank it as one of my favorites for its funny combination of college student hi-jinks, European border crossings, and evil Russian spies.  It stars a very young Anthony Edwards of ER fame (and Revenge of the Nerds!) crossing the border from Berlin to East Berlin in the former communist East Germany (the DDR). Yes it’s corny and ridiculous, but still hilarious IMHO.

When you do tour a united Germany today, you’ll appreciate that not too long ago the country was split between East and West. In addition, Berlin the city was split with West Berlin completely surrounded by the DDR. With the wall gone it’s hard to imagine today when you visit this vibrant city. Be sure to take a WWII or communism history walking tour and stop to see what is left of the Berlin Wall still left standing as a reminder of this difficult time period.

My favorite time of year to travel to Germany is to eat and drink at the Christmas markets. Every city hosts their own festivities for the weeks leading up to the Christmas holiday.

2. Amelie

If you’ve never seen a French-language film before, Amelie is an excellent place to begin your cinematic travel journey. This quirky and utterly endearing film celebrates the magic that only happens while walking in Paris. It is a secret romance unveiled through visual clues across a city that is known for inspiring romance in us all.

I’ve found that it takes more than one trip to Paris to appreciate its heart and soul. Watching this movie before taking a first trip to France is a wonderful way to embrace what it means to be French and in love. Bon voyage!

1. Honeymoon in Vegas

I’m sure many of you will be surprised to see a ridiculous comedy at the top of my list of the best travel movies. It earns this top spot because it does a fantastic job of inspiring Americans to drop everything for a much needed vacation. Las Vegas and Hawaii are essential vacation spots and among the most popular leisure destinations in the entire world.

Who can resist the temptation of the dark side of Las Vegas or the tropical allure of the islands of Hawaii? Don’t worry, the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. You’ll get to see spectacular locales as Jack races to rescue his fiancé Betsy from the clutches of mild-mannered gangster Tommy Korman. The best part is the flying Elvises (yes!).

Book a trip to your couch to stream this hilarious travel-themed movie. Regardless of which travel film on this list is your favorite, make a promise to take more time off for travel. It’s all part of maximizing your work-life-vacation balance this year and every year.

What About Your Favorite Travel Movies?

With any top 10 list there is bound to be controversy and a difference of opinion. I definitely want you to share your favorite movies that have inspired you to travel more. Please contribute with a comment below to tell VacationCounts readers which travel movies that must watch. Include films that made you plan a trip as well as ones you like to rewatch to feed your bucket list.

  • says:

    Thanks for the tips! I would personally add: Once Upon a Time in Phuket (I ve seen it 3 times already, great vibes funny) Hector and the Search for Happiness (very similar to Walter Mitty movie)

  • ‘Romancing the Stone’ always makes me want to visit Cartagena (“Is this the bus to Cartagena?…”) 🙂

  • Connie says:

    I love to watch “National Lampoon’s Family Vacation.” This movie always pumps me up before a good road trip. This movie captures the humor of what happens once the family hits the road.

  • Great list! I’ve seen most of these films, and ‘Lord of the Rings’ is certainly inspiring to visit New Zealand. Though despite living in Australia for a year and returning for two visits, I’ve still never made it to NZ. Bell hasn’t been either! Some day, we figure we have time.

    ‘Motorcycle Diaries’ and ‘North by Northwest’ have wonderful cinematography and ‘Amelie’ is great.

    I’m indeed surprised by your number 1 choice, but I actually recently re-watched ‘Honeymoon in Vegas’ after seeing it many years ago and found it entertaining! 🙂

    • Yes Honeymoon is an unusual choice but a very funny travel-themed movie. Every American should take time off to visit the top 10 vacation destinations in the USA. This includes Vegas and Hawaii for sure as well as NYC, San Francisco, the Grand Canyon, and your city of Boston too!

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