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HC Columbia’s Top Picks: Travel Movies

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Columbia Barnard chapter.


The Ultimate Travel Movie List

The semester is winding down and hot on its heels is summer vacation—three months of uninterrupted bliss (and probs an internship, but let’s not talk about that right now.)  With summer comes the beach, barbeques, and that little itch we get after being bitten by the travel bug. Yeah, living in NYC is awesome and we wouldn’t ditch our little square of the most exciting city in the world for anything, but there’s something so satisfying about swapping concrete jungle for, well, actual jungle. 

Finals exams still hover between us and summer, and between us and final exams is our beloved Reading Week—or, Netflix-movies-and-takeout Week, depending on who you ask. Hence the reason for this list: a bundle of summer travel inspiration and procrastination wrapped up in one convenient list. A good movie can take your dorm and turn it into a Parisian night, and outside your window there are winding cobbled streets and coos in a romance language, not MoWilliams and honking car horns. Instead of a somewhat dingy floor lounge, you are in the Andes, backpacking to find yourself. Perhaps this movie has taken you out of your comfort zone to make you explore along with the characters onscreen. Those moments in which you are taken out of your world to be immersed in the scene before you are truly the magic of movies. A movie with a setting just as powerful as the characters and the plot can instill a passion to get up and move beyond the screen, and actually change your life.

Travel movies are usually set in a different country, but always involve a trip—and not just a physical one. Whether the characters are backpacking, staying in a foreign city, or wandering because they do not know what they’re looking for, they always find the same thing in the process of travel: themselves. Traveling can be liberating, terrifying, exciting, provoking, life-changing, and completely and utterly magical. The characters in these movies demonstrate the whole spectrum of finding out who you are in a place other than home.

May the journeys you see before you in the following movies delight you and take you to new and unforeseen places, but most of all, I ask that they sweep you away to your own journeys that will begin once the film ends.

Enjoy these films, and I hope they inspire you to think of your own dream trips for this summer, next spring break, and beyond!

Midnight in Paris (2011)


I’ve never seen a movie that so perfectly captures the magic of travel and of instantly falling in love with a place. In this Woody Allen movie, Gil falls in Paris at first sight. His journey through Paris is originally through strolling the winding streets, but soon he becomes involved with a time-traveling car that, every midnight, takes him back to the 1920s. Gil finds himself in his favorite era, and Paris is full of ex-patriate intellectuals like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The magic of his journey into Paris’s history reveal the problems with his present state of affairs: a loveless engagement with a women who decidedly does not love Paris like he does. Not only will this film make you fall in love with Paris as well, I hope that it opens your eyes to the joys of experiencing a new place and feeling like you’re finally home.

Eat, Pray, Love (2010)



Perhaps the staple, necessary movie on any “Travel Must-Sees” list. It’s really here for a reason. As cheesy as it may be, Eat, Pray, Love does a beautiful job of depicting a woman at the end of her rope making a new rope entirely through travel. Elizabeth Gilbert discovers herself in the process of discovering the worlds of Italy, India, and Indonesia. And, whenever you feel like your life just isn’t cutting it, maybe you too can seek a new one somewhere utterly foreign, and eat, pray, and love along the way.

L’Auberge Espangole (2002)



L’Auberge Espangole, translated into The Spanish Apartment in English, is by far the perfect movie to get yourself pumped up about your upcoming study abroad trip! Xavier, a man in his early twenties, is required to move to Barcelona to gain working experience before he can start his job in Paris. He quickly finds himself in a cramped apartment with many other 20-somethings from all over Europe. The movie, therefore, is speckled with Spanish, French, Danish, Italian, Basque, and Catalan, but much of it is narrated in English. Of course, the close-quartered living arrangements lead to some interesting events, but by far, the best part of this film is watching Xavier gradually adapt to a city that seems utterly foreign to him, and perhaps even learn to love it. Being a foreign country means having to adjust to a completely foreign way of life, and this movie highlights the joys of feeling uncomfortable in a new place but learning to embrace that very discomfort to push yourself to new boundaries. His transition to life in Barcelona is not that far off from a freshman year experience in college, and is certainly similar to the joys and fears of a semester abroad. To continue his adventure, be sure to check out the sequel, Russian Dolls. And, you’ll get to see which girl he finally ends up with.

Into The Wild (2007)



Into the Wild is an extraordinary true story of a recently-graduated student who sells his possessions, abandons his former life, and sets out into the Alaskan tundra. Christopher McCandless’ tale switches back and forth between his journey in Alaska and his life leading up to that point. The film is based on his journal that was found with the rest of his belongings in the wilderness. Though McCandless rejects normal society, his former life comes into perspective when he is in the wilderness and isolated from everything else. Watch this for the scenery, but definitely for the inner journey McCandless takes to discover how he really thinks of the world.

Everything Is Illuminated (2005)


Here is a journey that leads Jonathon Safran Foer back to his ancestral roots, deep in Ukraine’s rural countryside. Jonathon embarks on this journey to a very strange land, especially when compared to his native New York, in an attempt to find traces of his family. Jonathon experiences being a fish-out-of-water with his young Ukranian tour guide, Alex, who prides himself on his discotech moves and skills with the females, definitely providing some humor. Jonathon sets out with Alex and their driver, Alex’s grandfather, who must go on his own journey to come to terms with his past in the Ukrainian countryside. Don’t fool yourself—this film, with its breathtaking imagery, is a true experience. The viewer goes on as much of a journey to uncover mysteries as Jonathon, Alex, and Alex’s grandfather, the driver, do. The beauty of the film comes in its silent and gentle heartbreak, and the way it shows the strength of the human spirit. 

Shirley Valentine (1989)




Shirley Valentine, a middle-aged English housewife, is fed up with her life. Her husband, Joe, is no longer the charming boy she fell in love with. Her daily chores as a housewife leave her so bored that she talks to walls for enjoyment, and her dysfunctional friends don’t help her at all. And so, one day, Shirley Valentine pastes a note to the cupboard and decides to follow her dreams, abandon it all, and finally to Greece. It’s impossible not admire Shirley’s passion for living and laugh along with her hilarious monologues. Shirley tells her story of falling “ in love with the idea of living. Because we don’t do what we want to do, do we? We do what we have to do and pretend that it’s what we want to do.” That’s something that allows us to do: fall in love with the moment, and fall in love with living.

A Little Romance (1979)




If I had to trace my own wanderlust to any origin, it would be this amazing film. It is a true gem, and will instantly make you reminisce about childhood, first love, and exploring a new place (and definitely a better movie than Mary Kate and Ashley’s Passport to Paris!). Starring a very young Diane Lane, the story is about two 13-year-olds, Lauren, an American from a rich and disinterested family, and Daniel, a poor French boy. The two fall passionately in love, and with the help of an elderly man and supporter of their romance (Lawrence Olivier), they take off to Venice to have their kiss under the Bridge of Sighs to be in love forever, as the legend goes. The film is truly enchanting: it takes the precious and romantic moments of life and keeps them from ever escaping. You’ll be rooting for the love-struck teenagers as they go on this country-hopping adventure and defy the rest of the world (aka their parents) who don’t want them to have anything to do with each other! The perfect movie for an escape in Paris, Venice, and Childhood. As the trailer says, “a little romance is everything.”

The Motorcycle Diaries (2003)



Talk about a road trip of a lifetime! This movie is based on Ernesto (Che) Guevara’s travelogue of a life-changing trip he took across South America with his friend when he was 23. Before Ernesto became Che, the iconic Marxist guerrilla fighter, he was an Argentine medical student who wanted to explore before settling down. Ernesto’s expedition from Buenos Aires to Peru radically changes his outlook on his privileged life and the world around him that he had been blind to. This critically acclaimed film provides an exceptional image of South America especially during the 1950s, but most of all demonstrates the way one trip can radically change a person.

Roman Holiday (1953)



Ah, Italy, Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. Combine the three, and you get one of the most iconic films of all time—and it will certainly make you want to go to Rome to perhaps achieve your own Roman Holiday. Just like many of the other characters in the movies on this list, Ann, a princess doing tours of Europe, is tired of her constraining life. She wants to go out and explore Rome without her entourage and the endless paparazzi. Assuming a pseudonym, Ann sets out to experience Rome and, of course, does a lot more on the way. This is a delightful movie, and even though it is in black and white, it captures the essence of Rome.

Eurotrip (2004)



This goes without saying. Watch it, enjoy it, and laugh like crazy! This notorious and raunchy film is entertaining, but don’t watch it with your parents. It’s a great movie to watch to pep yourself up for the crazy spring break trip you’re taking with your friends—and maybe use some of it as cautionary advice! Definitely a must-see.

For collegiette-geared travel options, try out companies like Contiki for affordable trips. 

Photo credit:

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Elena is a sophomore at Columbia University majoring in English. In her free time, she writes for Her Campus and news for Spectator. She loves New York and her friends.