True, the best way to slake wanderlust is to actually go somewhere. No arguments here. But if that’s not in the cards? A well-chosen movie can scratch the itch. So here’s what to watch when your wanderlust is hitting hard, whether you’re in the mood for romance or soul-searching, Italy or India, magical realism or sly British humor…
If you’re in the mood for: Romance
Before Sunrise / Before Sunset / Before Midnight
What if. This is the question that haunts Linklater’s sublime trilogy, and to an extent, it’s a question — the question — that haunts all of us: What if we had dinner with that stranger on the train? What if we spent the night, or even spent a lifetime, together in Paris? What if we reunited in Vienna, a decade later? The answers might be unknowable, but the questions themselves are a sort of treasure.
In this magical realism version of Paris, Audrey Tautou sees the beauty in everything, from garden gnomes to the streets of Montmartre, and her random acts of enchantment awaken our own inner-optimists. (Real talk? This is a good time for a jolt of optimism.)
Romancing the Stone
It is unlikely your next vacation will involve a treasure map, a pit of hungry crocodiles, or the smuggling of precious gems. Yet this throwback inspires the kind of “adventure romance” that you dreamt of as a kid.
Under the Tuscan Sun
The ultimate travel fantasy: you love a place so much that you say, Screw it, why don’t I just live here?! Who among us can’t relate to spontaneously buying an Italian villa (because of course), then bumping into a local antiques dealer who is, somehow, even more gorgeous than the Tuscan scenery. Absurdist fantasy? Maybe, but it’s one that’s hard to top.
When Audrey Hepburn tastes her first gelato on the Spanish Steps, it’s scientifically impossible to not fall in love with both her and the city. The Trevi Fountain? The Palazzo Colonna? The Pantheon? Yep, they’re all accounted for, and nearly 70 years after its premiere, this remains the most charming introduction to Rome.
In the Mood for: Quirky Road Trip
Because real life is not an Instagram post, and the most fulfilling adventures are ones filled with nuance, reflection, and even honest notes of melancholy. And wine. Lots and lots of wine.
You know how you have a certain banter with your very best friend — plenty of inside jokes — that cracks both of you up? And you know how it’s even funnier on a road trip? We get this in spades from Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, who ooze the kind of idiosyncratic British humor that makes you long for a trip to northern England.
What’s a travel story without food? Chef, or rather Jon Favreau’s food truck “El Jefe,” delivers the culinary goods, serving up authentically prepared yuca, plantains, and Cubano pork sandwiches — all supervised by real-life LA food truck impresario Roy Choi.
Little Miss Sunshine
Who wouldn’t want to go on a road trip with a suicidal genius, an f-bomb dropping grandfather, a Nietzsche-reading teenager who took a vow of silence, and an adorable seven-year-old who dreams of winning a beauty pageant? Like the most memorable road trips, the film works not despite of the dysfunction, but because of it.
In the mood for: Soul Searching
The platonic form of cinematic wanderlust. With apologies to Eat, Pray, Love, this is the pitch-perfect film for evoking that glorious freedom of strapping on a backpack, lacing up your hiking boots, trusting your wits and guts and craving for the unknown, and kissing your day-to-day goodbye.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
You don’t need a trip to Belize to fuel your wanderlust; sometimes all it takes is a train ride to Montauk, or, with some ethically questionable medical procedures, a journey into your own memories. It’s a reminder that the most sneaky-rewarding travels — and memories — can be close to home.
Out of Africa
This 2 hour and 40 minute love letter to Africa — packed with lush endless plains, migrations of wildebeests, and possibly cinema’s most iconic shampooing scene — will give goosebumps from the opening line, “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.”
In the mood for: Unlikely Bonding in Unlikely Places
Fun fact: Wes Anderson spent three months shooting on location in India, using an actual train that rumbled across the Thar desert. And it shows. The sensory overload of purples, ruby reds, and yellows both bewilders and inspires the estranged trio of brothers… just like a trip to India should.
Lost in Translation
Has there ever been a better depiction of culture shock? Tokyo’s disorienting neon lights, karaoke bars, and arcades do to the viewer what they do to the traveler — they nudge you to think, reflect, and discover shared connections in unexpected places.
Show us a man who doesn’t tear up in the first 20 minutes of Up, and we will show you a man without a heart. Whether you’re a wide-eyed, chubby, eight-year-old “Wilderness Explorer” or a 78-year-old grouch, Up is the perfect travel escape for all of us who, from time to time, like to keep our heads in the clouds.