The Best Travelling Movies

Written by: Anna Cathenka

Maps and guidebooks may be the usual planning kit of the soon-to-be traveller, but if you’re looking for something different to inspire your gap year adventure, try boosting your blu-ray collection with these travel-themed movies.

The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)

Director: Walter Salles
Genre: Biography / drama
Location: South America

Based on the real life memoirs of a young Che Guevara, this film is proof that travelling can lead to greatness. It recounts the four months that the famous revolutionary and his friend Alberto Granado spent bombing around breath-taking South American landscapes on a clapped out old motorbike. During the course of their adventures they endure a variety of highs and lows, as well as meeting fascinating people and volunteering at a leprosy colony.

Not only a film for people interested in seeing South America (or becoming an iconic revolutionary), this movie is especially relevant for gappers who hope their travel experiences will resonate on a deeper level, as it is clear the experiences Che and Alberto encounter during their trip are what ultimately lead them to their future destinies. A beautiful tribute to travelling and friendship, this film is essential viewing for anyone who ever felt the pull of the open road.

More inspiring road trips: Y Tu Mamá También (2001) Almost Famous (2000) The Way (2010)

The Beach (2000)

Director: Danny Boyle
Genre: Adventure / thriller
Location: Thailand

In this stunning modern classic from British director Danny Boyle, Leonardo DiCaprio plays a disillusioned young backpacker who is given a mysterious map promising a hidden beach paradise on a Thai island. Desiring adventure and a chance to reject the norm, he decides to follow its lead. He certainly gets adventure when he meets the reclusive community that live on the island, but instead of the dreamy heaven he envisaged he is rewarded with something even better: the chance to find himself.

Travelling isn’t always a picnic but as this film shows the hardships travellers encounter amongst the pretty scenery are what really change them for the better. The Beach also serves as encouragement for anyone thinking of travelling to South East Asia on their gap year as beautiful shorelines, exotic jungles and hedonistic beach parties abound, just be wary of any furtive communities you come across!

More adventurers rejecting society: Into The Wild (2007) Thelma and Louise (1991)

Before Sunrise (1995)

Director: Richard Linklater
Genre: Romance
Location: Vienna

Exciting, whirlwind romances are one of the many perks of travelling, and this intelligent, much-loved indie film is one of the best examples of such an encounter in cinema history. Jesse is an American interrailing through Europe when he meets French student Celine and, both sensing they have an immediate connection, they decide to spend the day together in Vienna. So convincing are the characters of this film that slacker-culture pioneer Richard Linklater brought them back in two sequels, Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013).

If you ever dreamt of spending a night with your soulmate in a romantic, European city then this is the film for you. Not only has it gained cult status with its excellent dialogue and story, Before Sunrise also celebrates the historic, inspiring and beautiful cityscapes that make travelling in Europe such a joy.

More travellers finding love: Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) Lost In Translation (2003)

The Darjeeling Ltd (2007)

Director: Wes Anderson
Genre: Comedy / drama
Location: India

This quirky, slow-paced and visually exquisite comedy from Wes Anderson, director of The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) and Moonrise Kingdom (2012), tells of three brothers travelling across India by train a year after the death of their father. The ultimate aim of their trip is to reconcile their brotherly differences, a feat which is achieved via an array of strange incidents. Especially relevant for gappers planning a long-distance train journey or a trip to India, this film romanticises both beautifully, as well as showing how travel can not only enrich a person’s understanding of themselves, but also deepen relationships with those you are closest too.

Alternating between achingly funny and heart-wrenchingly touching, The Darjeeling Ltd paints a beautiful picture of fraternity and compassion in the vibrant colours of India. An absolute essential for anyone travelling with loved ones on their gap year.

More families on the road: Transamerica (2005) Little Miss Sunshine (2006) Rain Man (1988)

An American Werewolf In London (1981)

Director: John Landis
Genre: Horror
Location: England

And finally, something a little different. Backpackers rarely come off lightly in horror movies, but it seems wrong to leave the horror genre off this list as it so frequently puts travellers at the heart of its films, something which could perhaps be credited to this classic 80s horror in which two American backpackers fall prey to werewolf attacks while hiking in England. Horror films are well-known for their use of metaphor, and the ordeals the naive backpacker must face in order to understand himself better are perhaps what make them such excellent characters for the genre, although this film uses the metaphor of transformation in a very literal way!

OK, so it’s not the most inspirational gap year film, but it’s a fun, gory and retro 80s classic which, if anything, reminds you to be careful when hiking on mist-shrouded Yorkshire moors…

More gap year horrors: Wolf Creek (2007) Hostel (2005) And Soon The Darkness (1970)

Anna Cathenka is a freelance travel writer who has found that being a film geek sometimes pays. You can read more of her work at

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