The Best Memorable Movies to Inspire Wanderlust
Updated: Nov 10, 2022
Has a movie ever inspired you to add a place to your bucket list? I added Petra, Jordan after the final scene of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Ireland after Waking Ned Devine. I'd already been to parts of Italy, but Under the Tuscan Sun, made me pine for Tuscany.
If travel is not in your near future, then now is a great time to catch up on movies that can inspire your wanderlust.
And if you are ready to stay at some places that are in movies or inspired by movies, check out Trip Tale's Most Unique Travel Ideas for Movie Lovers.
National Lampoon's Vacation
Growing up, this is tied with Christmas Vacation, our family's favorite movie. To this day, I quote from this movie on every road trip because John Hughes just nails the family trip experience. The Griswolds leave their home in Chicago and travel to Wallyworld, an amusement park in California. They have a series of misadventures along the way and meet up with a cast of characters.
For us, the most relatable part is Clark Griswold, losing his S&*t. My dad, Paul Huegel, is easily Clark's doppelgänger in looks and language, especially on a road trip or at Christmastime.
This animated Pixar movie is about a race car that falls off of his transport truck and into a small town that got left behind by Route 66. While there, he accidentally damages the road and has to repair it before he can leave.
As you drive through the southwest, you certainly can see the similarities. You pass by several motels from the dawn of car travel and can surmise the effect that highways had on these small towns. If you know the journey is the destination, this is a great one for you.
Frances McDormand stars as a woman who loses everything. She becomes a nomad living out of her van and traverses the West. Although fiction, there are many real nomads that are part of this movie. I sometimes wonder if I could live this life...?
Into the Wild
Based on the Jon Krakauer book of the same name, this movie is about a man who, after graduating college, decides to sell all of his possessions and hitchhike to Alaska to live in the wild. He learns about life along the way from the people that he meets.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Walter Mitty is a manager that has been working for Life Magazine for a long time. His life is tedious, and he daydreams often. Before the last printed magazine, Walter selects a negative for the cover that has been given to him by a mysterious photographer, Sean O'Connell. The negative is missing though and Walter has no way of contacting Sean, but he thinks that he may be in Greenland. Walter decides to travel there to find him to save the issue, but perhaps he saves himself too.
This movie comes up often in film lists about traveling. I'd never seen it to this year. Truthfully, it blew me away. It was so much fun that I was sad that it was over. If you really love to travel, don't miss this one.
Robin Williams stars as a man who takes his family to the Rockies in an RV. His intentions are not entirely pure - he has work to do and a wife that is expecting a vacation. Along the way, they meet a series of interesting characters.
It's good on its own, but if you have an RV, you'll appreciate some of their predicaments. My husband and I laughed uncontrollably at the dump station seen. Been there, but haven't done that. It's always lurking in our mind though as a very real possibility.
Admittedly, I tried to read this book and was immediately off-put by the main character (based on a true story, by the way). I found her rather distasteful. But although I am not sure that I want to commit to the book, I have been assured by many people that both the book and the movie are worth the journey. I'm willing to give the movie a chance just to see parts of the Pacific Coast Trail.
The author, recently divorced and having lost her mom, decides to hike the Pacific Coast Trail without proper planning or training. Like many outdoor adventures, the time outside clears her mind and helps her resolve many of her issues. This is one of the few on this list (all noted) that I haven't personally seen but is on my list.
National Lampoon's European Vacation
This is my least favorite Vacation (well except for Vegas Vacation, which I like to pretend doesn't exist). But the settings are great. "Look kids! Big Ben, Parliament...again." I think that line has been uttered - with good reason - on every trip that I've ever taken by someone in the car.
A Walk in the Woods
Based on the Bill Bryson book, a man returns back to the U.S. after a couple of decades in England and decides to reconnect with his country by walking the Appalachian Trail with his best friend.
I'm going to say something blasphemous. I have tried a couple of Bill Bryson books and I wasn't able to get too far into them. Just didn't jive with me. This is another that I haven't seen, but I do want to see it. The older that I get, I realize how much I love hiking in the woods. I also really enjoy solitude and there's no better way to escape than to take a hike.
Under the Tuscan Sun
This one will definitely make you fall in love with Tuscany. A woman, going through a divorce, goes on a trip to Italy with her best friend and leaves the tour to buy an old villa that needs a lot of work. It's charming and has such beautiful scenery. It is escapism at its best!
Planes, Trains & Automobiles
If you'd do anything to get home for Thanksgiving...
Waking Ned Devine
What if there was a big lottery winner in your very small, Irish town? You'd be curious to know who it is, right? Now let's just say that you figure out who it is and well, um, he died when he saw that he won. That's the premise and it's a good one. I watch this every few years for a good laugh and to remind me of the magic of Ireland!
The Big Year
Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black are all trying to have a Big Year. If you don't know (and I sure as heck didn't) that is a birding contest where you hear as many birds as you can and the one with the most is crowned the champion. They cross the globe - and each other - to try and win the title.
I haven't seen this one, but I saw it recommended somewhere. It was made in 1941 and stars Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake, a woman that was a siren of that era. McCrea is an affluent movie director that decides to make a drama after making all of his money in comedies. The studio wants him to stick to what he knows, but he gets the green light and decides that he wants to really know what it's like to be homeless. So he sets out with a dime in his pocket and goes across the country with Lake trying to live the experience. His outlook on life changes greatly as the movie goes on. The trailer was sweetly funny and I've added this to my own list.
Little Miss Sunshine
I just loved this one in all of its twisted humor and sadness. A down-on-their-luck family drives cross country to California to allow their daughter/sister/niece/granddaughter to compete in a beauty contest. Everyone is a flawed character, but you will find a spot in your heart for each of them. This is probably my favorite role for Alan Arkin - how can you not like a heroin-addicted profanity-laced grandpa that tells it like it is?
We're the Millers
A drug dealer with debts, a stripper, a runaway, and a desperate teenage boy form the quintessential U.S. family taking a trip from the U.S. to Mexico. Of course, their real mission is to each get the payout from moving a large shipment of drugs. If you haven't seen it, check out the cast list. Everyone is in this movie. And it is awesome.
Thelma & Louise
Ugh, this is embarrassing. I didn't see it til this year. I actually forced myself to sit down and watch it because I know it is a movie that so many people love.
Turns out, I love it too. It's dated in years, but the topics are as fresh as they were then. And quite frankly - and I don't think I'm spoiling this for anyone - if you're going to go out, this is the way to go out.
Lost in Translation
I'm not sure that I loved this movie as much as I think that I was supposed to (lots of acclaim), but I enjoyed seeing more of Japan and its culture.
An unlikely friendship develops between Bill Murray's character and Scarlett Johansen's character. They are both in Tokyo and feeling lost in both life and the city. Their paths cross and they are able to help each other feel a little bit less lonely in their situations at home and in Japan.
The Long, Long Trailer
Sometimes, you get to the old ones and you wonder if they really stand the test of time. This one does. If you have ever pulled a trailer - or want to - this is truly a must-see. Bill didn't want to watch it. I'm afraid to admit this on his behalf of him, but he says that Lucille Ball drives him nuts. Still, I rented it and turned it on because no one in my family was focused enough to sit with me and pick out a movie.
The kids left and went upstairs. Bill stayed and for 2 hours, he and I bit our nails and cracked up. It's been nearly 70 years since this came out and folks, nothing - and I mean nothing - in the world of camping has changed (except for maybe the clothes).
If I see that it is on, I have to stop and watch this movie. And folks, those are few and far between for me. This is my absolute favorite Val Kilmer role. If you haven't seen this story of the founding of the town of Tombstone, Arizona, and its inhabitants, you should stop what you're doing and watch it now.
This was James Dean's last role. It was partially shot in Marfa, Texas and there are still so many places out there to go see that were either part of the movie or places that Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, and Rock Hudson visited while there. I'd heard about it for years and finally watched it this year.
Truthfully, there are some very offensive treatment and language to Mexican Americans. But if you watch until the end, you will see that although it's somewhat misguided compared to where we are today, it also was ahead of its time.
Goonies Never Die! This has been one of my favorites since childhood. The Goonies are a group of pre-teen and teenage kids that have one last weekend before their beautiful historic neighborhood will be torn down for a golf course that is being built by the father of the jerky, rich kid in town. With a treasure map in hand and the opportunity for pirate One-Eyed Willie's "rich stuff," this is an adventure of a lifetime. Did I mention that they are being followed by the Fratellis, a murderous crime family?
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
This was the movie that put Petra on my list of places to visit. It's the building facade carved into the stone where the final scene takes place to find the Holy Grail, or chalice of Jesus. I also am always fascinated by movies set in Germany during World War II so the historical references were interesting. But do I really have to sell Indiana Jones to you? Nah, I didn't think so.
This is my second favorite of the franchise. Of course, number one belongs to...
...Raiders of the Lost Ark
Before anyone says anything, I didn't include Indiana Jones and the Temple of Dune. Why? Because it's terrible. I rewatched it again as an adult to try and change my mind. Nope. Still don't like it.
Oh, this one got me. It. Is. So. Good. Awkwafina, is the child of Chinese immigrants. When her dad and his siblings find out that their mom is dying of cancer, the family decides not to tell the mom. Instead, they decide to go back to China under the guise of a wedding so that they can all be with her during this time. Billi (Awkwafina) is not invited because she is too emotional and won't be able to keep the secret but she goes anyway. What follows is a story about the love between a grandma and grandchild, family dynamics, and cultural differences.
What are some of your favorites? Please drop a comment below with the ones that have inspired you.