Movies have the ability not only to expose us to different worlds, but also to inspire us and make us dream.
My ten favorite travel films of all times are:
- The Motorcycle Diaries (Argentina, Peru et al): A young Ernesto Che Guevara travels around South American with his good friend Alberto Granados, discovering the injustices that will change him forever. I watched it when I was in Chicago for a year during college, my Argentinian friends Emi and Juan gave it to me. Two years later, I was backpacking a similar route on my own.
- Kon-Tiki (Polynesia): In 1947, Norwegian anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl attempts to prove that Polynesia was originally colonized from South America, by crossing the Pacific in a balsa-wood raft with 5 friends. As crazy as it sounds, a true story. I watched the 2012 feature this year, as I was preparing a trip to the South Pacific, and then found the 1950 Oscar-winning documentary with Thor’s footage.
- Seven Years in Tibet (Tibet, China): Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer is climbing in the Himalayas when World War II ends, and has to take shelter in Tibet, becoming friends with the Dalai Lama as the Chinese take over. I watched this one randomly in Madrid, and immediately decided that I would go to China and make it to Lhasa.
- Shackleton (Antarctica): In 1914, explorer Ernest Shackleton leads the Endurance expedition to the South Pole, and has to pull an epic feat to get his crew back to safety when his ship is crushed in the ice. Includes the most memorable ad in history: Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success. Elena and I watched it as we were preparing for our trip to Nepal and completely obsessed with survival stories.
- Into The Wild (Alaska et al): A wealthy student gives up all his comforts and hitchhikes across North America to live in the Alaskan wilderness. I watched it in theaters with my good friend Oscar; it was the best way to take a break in our library marathons during exams.
- The Beach (Thailand): Leonardo di Caprio finds a secret backpacker community in a paradise island, where everything is perfect until it’s not. It’s the first fiction in this list, but somehow every time I travel to tropical destinations, I expect to stumble on one of these societies.
- Out of Africa (Kenya): In the early 20th century, a Danish baroness who runs a plantation in British East Africa falls in love with a big-game hunter. I remember watching this movie on TV with my mom, when I was a kid, and getting excited about the day I would go on a safari.
- Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight (Austria, France and Greece): Two young adults meet in a train in Wien and spend the night walking and talking, and obviously, falling in love. They reunite years later in Paris and down the road, spend time together in the Greek islands. I watched the first film with my friend Maria in Chicago, the second one in Madrid on my own, and the last one with Elena in LA. As my college buddy Manu put it: you have to be in the right moment of your life to really get each of these movies.
- The Darjeeling Limited (India): Three estranged brothers travel across colorful India by train to visit their mother, who is living in a Himalayan convent. It’s impossible to watch this film and not want to travel to there asap. I watched it back home in Spain with Iñaki, and for the next four years until I made the trip, the images remained vivid.
- Y Tu Mama Tambien (Mexico): Two teenagers convince an attractive woman to join them on a road trip to a secluded beach. As they cross the country, they discuss life and expose the political and social reality. I watched this one in Chicago during college; where we had an awesome Hispanic community that really defined my links to the continent.
But there are so many more films worth watching: Life of Pi (India), Lost in Translation (Japan), The Way Back (Russia), Eat Pray Love (Italy, India, Indonesia), The English Patient (Egypt), Midnight in Paris (France), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Iceland et al), 127 Hours (USA), Amelie (various), Up (Venezuela), The Quiet American (Vietnam), The Mission (Argentina), Dances with Wolves (USA)… I’d even consider Indiana Jones and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button excellent travel films.