A Vagabond’s Guide to the Best Travel Movies

Author, photographer, and world travel expert Anna Mazurek shares her favorite movies about moving around this third rock from the Sun.

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Editor’s Note: This guest article comes from a longtime friend of mine, Anna, whose friendship I have to track mostly via Instagram because she’s always moving around the world. She’s a fantastically smart human who loves experiencing the world and we’re happy to feature her work here on Film School Rejects. Buy her book, travel the world, and enjoy. – Neil Miller, Publisher

Freelance travel photographer and writer Anna Mazurek has been traveling the world almost nonstop for the past 10 years. Anna’s first book, Good With Money, launches this week and features her top travel hacks, savings tips and details about how she funds her globetrotting. She sits down with us to discuss her favorite travel movies of all time including the ones that inspired her to travel. If you’ve got the travel bug, then here’s a dose of inspiration to add to your Christmas list.


In Bruges

In Bruges

In this comedy/drama combo, hitman Ray (Colin Farrell) and his partner/mentor Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are given orders to lay low in Bruges, a postcard-perfect medieval town in Belgium, after a botched job in London ends with the death of an innocent child.  While they await orders from their ruthless boss Harry, who is perfectly cast as Ralph Fiennes, Ken enjoys the city sites. Ray is restless and all of his attempts to escape Bruges are hilariously foiled.

He meets a girl, a local drug dealer who works as a production assistant on a movie starring a dwarf actor who becomes a key character in the final scenes. A bloody dramatic battle ensues after Ken is given orders to kill Ray and Harry comes to Bruges to do it himself. (Farrell’s performance won him a Golden Globe).

The movie is a roller coaster ride that leaves you with two key travel takeaways: The streets of Bruges are beautiful when they aren’t covered in blood. And, anytime you get stuck in an airport or a place you don’t like you should always refer to it as Bruges.


The Before Trilogy

Before Sunrise

The premise of Richard Linklater’s 1995 movie Before Sunrise is essentially a casual travel fling that evolves into something much deeper. The story begins when a young American tourist named Jessie (Ethan Hawke) and Celine, a French student played by Julie Delpy, meet on a train in Europe. After a brief conversation, Jessie convinces her to get off the train with him in Vienna to spend the day with him before his flight the next morning.

The movie is essentially a long, deep conversation about life and love; the kind of conversation that’s only possible between two strangers who meet in a foreign place.  Instead of exchanging contact information when their time in Vienna ends, they agree to meet up again in six months at the exact same spot.

Two sequels, “Before Sunset” and “Before Midnight,” pick up the story of Jessie and Celine nine years down the road in different parts of Europe (France and Greece) after a surprising turn of events. The films were all released nine years apart to show the natural aging of the actors to fit the characters. Again, the dialogue is the star of both films, which are a very accurate description of love and the rollercoaster nature of relationships. If you’ve ever had a travel fling, this series will really hit home.


180 Degrees South: Conquerors of the Useless

Degrees South

This documentary is every twentysomething’s dream trip. Jeff Johnson travels from California to Chilean Patagonia on an epic quest to retrace the steps of his heroes—outdoor clothing icons Doug Tompkins, founder of The North Face, and Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia. (In 1968, Chouinard and Tompkins drove a Ford E-Series Econoline van from California to Patagonia.)  The film features footage from their original trip along with interviews. Johnson travels by boat most of the journey with a layover on Easter Island before rendezvousing with Chouinard and Tompkins in Chile before his attempt to summit the Corcovado volcano. If this film doesn’t make you want to sell everything you own and pack your bags, then nothing will. (This film even inspired my trip to Easter Island earlier this year!) 


Amélie

Amelie

Amélie might just be the best travel movie of all time. Set in Paris, this French romantic comedy focuses on the story of a shy waitress named Amélie (Audrey Tautou) who spends her time weaving intricate schemes to enrich the lives of those around her while falling in love with an eccentric man who collects discarded photo booth pictures. In the end, you will fall in love with Paris and Amélie. One of the best subplots is when she gives her recluse father’s garden gnome to a flight attendant friend to photograph across the world as a ploy to inspire her father to travel. (I’m partial to gnomes since I photograph my gnome Alfred across the world, a project I began prior to seeing the film.)


The Grand Budapest Hotel

Grand Budapest

This film is Wes Anderson’s greatest masterpiece. Set in the fictional nation of Zubrowka, the comedy follows the adventures of Gustave H., a famous European hotel concierge played by Ralph Fiennes, and his unlikely friendship with Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy.

As with any Anderson film, the plot is hilariously absurd and the cinematography perfectly symmetrical. Gustave and the lobby boy have become entangled in a battle for a family fortune and the recovery of a priceless painting referred to as “boy with apple” throughout the film. The cast includes many of Anderson’s regular favorites—Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, and Owen Wilson—along with a few new faces like Jude Law.

This film leaves you wanting to plan a trip to Europe and wander around art museums looking for “boy with apple” with your friends.


MERU

Meru

MERU is the ultimate outdoor documentary about risk, obsession, and friendship. National Geographic photographer and professional mountaineer Jimmy Chin attempts to summit the 21,000-foot tall Shark’s Fin on Mount Meru in Northern India with two friends—mountaineer Conrad Anker and rock climber Renan Ozturk. The film follows their nail-biting journey in sub-zero temperatures to be the first team to claim the title, which has had more failed attempts than any other route in the Himalayas. The film won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival for a reason—it’s phenomenal.

At the end of the film, your new life goal will be to one day be half as badass as Chin, who with the help of the others carried camera equipment up to the summit along with 200 pounds of gear!


The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Best Exotic Marigold

The charms and oddities of India are fully on display in this lighthearted comedy about a group of British retirees who move into the Marigold Hotel in Jaipur, which is not as glamorous as advertised.

The ensemble cast includes Judi Dench as Evelyn, a widowed housewife; Maggie Smith as Muriel, a racist retired housekeeper; Tom Wilkinson as Graham, a high court judge who grew up in India and returns to look for his teenage lover, a man he was forced to abandon. The film follows the cast’s personal struggles and humorous adjustment to life in India that parallels the battles of Sonny, the hotel manager, to make the hotel successful while his family, who own a stake in the property, want to demolish the building.

The best line of the film goes to Evelyn (Judi Dench) who describes India in a way that only someone who has been to the country can understand,” Can there be anywhere else in the world that is such an assault on the senses?” 

Sonny’s battle with his family and the struggle of the retirees to adjust to the charms, quirks, and challenges of life in India show a polished version of India, which is what many foreigners witness from their hotels and taxis.

As someone who worked in India for five summers, this film makes me homesick for the subcontinent. I made my parents watch this to help them understand the quirkiness of India without scaring them about the dark side, which is more evident in movies like “Slumdog Millionaire”.


Up in the Air

Up In The Air

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a consultant at a human resources firm, is obsessed with frequent flyer miles. His job is to essentially travel across the country to fire people. His nonstop travels fuel his life goal is to be the youngest person to earn 10 million frequent flyer miles with American Airlines. In an airport lounge, he meets a woman named Alex (Vera Farmiga), another frequent business traveler. They start a causal relationship and plan rendezvous during their work week travels. His job and travels are threatened by new hire Natalie, played Anna Kendrick, who attempts to make his position obsolete with video conferencing. A family wedding and a surprise visit to Alex in her hometown lead to big revelations.  Everything about this film is realistic especially the ending.

While the film has many lessons, the most important takeaway is to make sure you earn frequent flyer miles and hotel points on all work travel so you can travel for free on your vacations. (Seriously, this is how I earned a lot of free travel!)


Anna Mazurek is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Austin, Texas. For more about Anna and her travel tips, check out her new book Good With Money: A Guide to Prioritizing Spending, Maximizing Savings and Traveling More and follow her adventures on Instagram, Twitter and on her blog, TravelLikeAnna.com.

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