My Favorite Travel Movies to Enjoy as I Prepare to Hit the Road, Skies & Rails
Things are looking up. Many out there have been traveling, or busied themselves with planning, over the last year. I’ve largely sat on the travel bench this last year, figuring that I’ll let the game come to me. I like planning a bit, maybe just a future Disney World trip, but I’ve mostly preferred the wait and see approach during the pandemic. Well, I’m now getting closer to the “see” portion. But first, I’m more able to make concrete plans. As I do so, I’m rewatching some of my favorite travel movies. Some are just on in the background, keeping me company as I plan. Here are a few of my favorite travel movies, why I like the films, and where you can stream them!
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
Okay, so I’ll get an obvious one out of the way first. Steve Martin and John Candy star in this John Hughes comedy about one man (Martin) trying to get home to his family for Thanksgiving while the other one (Candy) keeps appearing. There’s something for everyone in this film, particularly involving travel frustrations. Unfortunately, behavior on airplanes has gotten even worse since this film was released in 1987. And I love the surprisingly poignant ending. I’ve heard some describe this movie as the “Best Thanksgiving Movie ever made.” I’m not sure enough Thanksgiving movies exist to warrant a stand-alone category. I just know this one’s quite a ride.
Where to Stream: Fubo TV, Sling, Starz
Alexander Payne filmed this masterpiece in Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, and, yes, Nebraska. The black and white presentation makes the desolate, beautiful scenery pop even more. The story revolves around Bruce Dern’s character, Woody, and his son, David (Will Forte) driving to Nebraska to pick up a million dollar prize Woody is convinced he won. Plenty of hilarity, surprises, and melancholy ensue. Similar to Payne’s Election, About Schmidt, Sideways, and The Descendants, the writing and filmmaking of Nebraska strike an immaculate balance between drama and comedy.
Where to Stream: Amazon Prime, YouTube TV
Probably one of Cameron Crowe’s most critically-panned creations, I enjoy this comedy-drama for lots of little reasons, many of which I can relate to. Here are just a few, in no particular order:
- Staying in a hotel that a wedding party is currently dominating.
- Driving solo in an unnecessarily large rental car.
- Orlando Bloom’s redeye flight as the sole passenger.
- Ruckus, a longtime local band that probably should have broken up years earlier.
- The development of the Orlando Bloom/Kirsten Dunst relationship over the phone (pre-smart phone era).
- Rediscovering the warmth of long-forgotten family roots.
Yeah, this one probably gets too cutesy here and there, and it may overly rely on road trip montages. But hey, I’m a sucker for this movie. Speaking of road trip montages…
Where to Stream: Amazon Prime
Dumb and Dumber/Kingpin/Me, Myself & Irene
Why am I grouping these three comedies together? One, because they’re all Farrelly Brothers movies. Two, because their plots don’t really matter. Three, because road trip montages are central to the telling of each quasi-story and much of the humor. As I write this, I’m wearing a cardigan and am taken back to this Dumb & Dumber scene:
- Cop: “Pull Over!”
- Harry Dunne (Jeff Bridges): “No, it’s a cardigan, but thanks for noticing.”
- Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey), to Cop: “Killer boots, man!”
Quite honestly, simply watching other people fake-travel in movies brings on my travel urges. As Trey Parker famously exclaimed, “I need a montage!”
Where to Stream: Sling (Dumb and Dumber), Fubo TV (Kingpin and Me, Myself & Irene)
This film directed by Sofia Coppola tells the story of an actor (Stephen Dorff) reconnecting with his daughter (Elle Fanning), often in beautiful locales. We get to view the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles and beautiful surroundings throughout Italy. Apparently, some scenes of the movie are inspired by the director’s own relationship with her real-life father, famed filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola.
Speaking of Sofia Coppola, some may prefer another of her films, Lost in Translation. I do enjoy that movie and the window into Japan which it provides. Indeed, it has turned the Tokyo Park Hyatt into an important travel destination for many. Both movies are subtle studies where the settings are characters just as much as the actors. The soundtracks for each film are excellent.
Where to Stream: Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Google Play Store, YouTube TV
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – My Favorite Travel Movie Without the Travel
Okay, so Ferris Bueller’s Day Off isn’t exactly a travel movie. But Ferris, Sloan, and Cameron exploring Chicago is one huge trip in itself. I was a grade schooler when this one came out, and it immediately became one of my favorites. Decades later, I watch it, pick up small bits, and find other messages that I can relate to more now. These days, Jennifer Grey’s character, Ferris’s sister Jeanie, is who I enjoy most in the movie.
Not coincidentally, Chicago is my favorite big city in the States. Indeed, it’s going to be my first trip after vaccination. The fictional Shermer, Illinois of many John Hughes films appears, as well. One of the many reasons I love Chicago is because of this movie. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Probably both.
Where to Stream: Amazon Prime, Google Play Store, YouTube TV
The Way Way Back
A teenager, Duncan, is coaxed into a trip with his mother and her unpleasant boyfriend to a small town near Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Duncan eventually starts working at a local water park and forms a friendship with Owen, played by Sam Rockwell. Owen ends up becoming an unlikely mentor for Duncan. I grew up going to water parks, and the filmmakers nail the summer vibe in this one. Steve Carell is impressive as the bad guy.
Where to Stream: Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Google Play Store, YouTube TV
Again, I shall admit that this is not a travel movie at all. Rather, it’s the beautiful San Francisco setting for this cop movie that sucks me in. This 1968 film just gets better with age, in my opinion. Steve McQueen’s Mustang is quite a looker, and so is the film’s big car chase. Each time I see this, I tell myself that’s it’s been too long since my last San Francisco trip. It’s a close second to Chicago as my favorite big city in the States.
Where to Stream: HBO Max
The Straight Story – My #1 Favorite Travel Movie
A G-rated David Lynch movie released by Disney? Yes, such a film exists, and it’s a true story. The movie tells the story of Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth), who drove a lawn mower across Iowa and Wisconsin to visit his estranged, ailing brother. The simple plot is peppered with excellent characters throughout. During production, Richard Farnsworth’s prostate cancer spread to his bones. His paralyzed legs in the film were the real deal. He took his own life the next year at age 80.
While I love the film, Mark couldn’t get through five minutes of it. Even a G-rated David Lynch film is polarizing, apparently. The film’s soundtrack by Angelo Badalamenti, a frequent Lynch collaborator, is another one of my favorites.
Where to Stream: Disney+
My Favorite Travel Movies – Conclusion
Surely, I’ve missed plenty of great travel movies. But if I insisted on seeing them all, I probably wouldn’t have much time to actually travel. I’m pleasantly surprised at how different films bring on my urge to travel from different angles. Regardless, I’m glad I’m closer to real travel rather than simply relying on films, books, or local experiences for those escapes. What are your favorite travel movies?