TOP 8 TRANSFORMATIONAL TRAVEL MOVIES

Most of us have been sequestered in our homes for months now. Thankfully, we live in the internet age, where lifetimes of information and entertainment are just a click away. I should be ashamed to admit the amount of time I’ve spent watching movies during Quarantine, but I’m not. As a kid, I always dreamed of becoming a movie star. I spent most of my formative years acting in school productions and entertaining my friends and family.


Before my foray into the travel industry I was a Store Manager at the now extinct Blockbuster Video. During my 7 years of working there, I would watch anywhere from 10–15 movies per week. I started challenging myself to watch any movie that I could, especially anything that my customers may ask about. I quickly built a reputation as a movie expert and even co-wrote a movie review blog with a co-worker. During this time, I was also studying Psychology at the University of Houston. In the course of my studies, I was struggling with figuring out how the concepts I was learning would translate into the real world. At the same time, I started making it a point to get to know as many of my customers as possible. There was a company policy in place for greeting every customer as they entered the store, but I felt we should push further and greet people by name when possible. That way they felt more at home.


As I watched more movies, learned more about psychological concepts and got to know my customers on a personal level, I eventually became able to make personalized recommendations for my regulars. I could predict what movies they would love or hate. What would make them laugh or cry. I consider this to be my first professional foray into consulting. The basis of the TRAVEL AT WILL Trip Design Process is built on similar principles. The biggest difference being that the goal of designing a once in a lifetime trip itinerary is a much more daunting task than simply picking out a movie to watch on a Friday night. Film is arguably the easiest form of media to digest, while the experiences we create for our clients can sometimes be hard to put into words.  

It wasn’t until I stumbled across one of the movies on this list last week that I would have proposed a marriage between our travel philosophy and movies. Most movies are designed to be enjoyable at the cost of meaningful depth. While movies involving deep emotions or important messages, are often less fun to watch. On top of all that, there aren’t a whole lot of genuine travel movies out there. Movies that give you a real look at the destinations, the experiences there and how the journey impacts the traveler. I’m going to do my best to overcome those hurdles and present you with a list of 8 travel movies that are both meaningful and enjoyable. Here are my TOP 8 TRANSFORMATIONAL TRAVEL MOVIESEAT PRAY LOVE  Destination(s): Rome, Delhi and Bali  


I’m pretty sure everyone reading this has heard of, or already watched, EAT PRAY LOVE. This is probably the most popular travel movie of all time worldwide. Julia Roberts delivers her usual solid performance but its the stunning scenery that truly shines here. The delectable pleasures of visiting Rome are conveyed in mouthwatering fashion. The production team brought in Spiritual Consultants to ensure that Ashram life was accurately portrayed in the India portion of the film. Whether you agree with their religious beliefs or not, the spirituality of their way of life permeates off the screen. Finally, Liz finds love and true happiness in Bali. If there is anywhere in the world to find inner peace, its probably Bali. If you’ve read any of my other articles, you already know how much I love Indonesia. I listed this movie first to go ahead and get it off the table. It’s the most obvious selection on the list and also receives the most negative critical reviews. The problem is that the film fails to deliver the emotion and depth of the book that its based on (reinforcing my point from the intro). It just doesn’t dive deep enough into Elizabeth’s transformation from where she started to where she ends up. Still its an enjoyable movie and I think it gives you wide enough look at each of the destinations to entice you to want to travel there. Once you’ve experienced it for yourself, your memories will overfill the holes left by the film.   PARIS, I LOVE YOU (Paris, Je t’aime)  Destination(s): Paris 


They say Paris is for lovers. In Paris, “I Love You” this statement is true and false all at the same time. More of a series of vignettes than a feature film, this film showcases both the good and bad sides of love while all the while showcasing the real star of the film, Paris. This film is beautifully shot and it introduces the audience to neighborhoods and parts of Paris that aren’t typically seen on film. It also features another incredible ensemble cast that includes: Willem Dafoe, Steve Buscemi, Natalie Portman, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Gerard Depardieu amongst other familiar faces. Whether you care for the romantic storylines are not, you can enjoy the way the film captures the essence of Paris. This is a must watch before planning a trip to the French capital.   THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES  Destination(s): Buenos Aires, Osomo, Machu Picchu, Lima, Bogota, Caracas  



The Motorcycle Diaries is probably the other movie that a lot of you would have heard of or have already seen. It was nominated for several awards in 2005 including Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay) and won an Oscar for Best Original Song. This film tells the story of Marxist Revolutionary Leader Che Guevara’s journey across South America, from Argentina to Venezuela. Ernesto and his friend Alberto set off from Argentina during their summer break from college in search of a good time but are forever changed by things they see and the people they encounter along the way. It is said that the atrocities and disparities in living conditions that Che encounters are what inspired him to spark his revolution. While I don’t condone taking up arms in revolt, the story is inspiring in terms of seeing something wrong with the world and trying to change it. This is probably the most glaring depiction of how travel can change your life and how one man can impact the world. Besides the poignancy of its message you also get some spectacular glimpses at the scenery of the Andes Mountains, the Atacama Desert, Peruvian Rainforest, the Amazon River basin and the back roads from Colombia into Venezuela. The main highlight of the journey being the visit to Machu Picchu. A destination that’s high on most people’s bucket list.   HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS  Destination(s): Shanghai, Johannesburg, Glen Afric Sanctuary, Los Angeles 


This is the movie most of you will be surprised that you’ve never heard of once I started naming the cast. Hector and the Search for Happiness stars Simon Pegg as Hector, Rosamund Pike as his girlfriend Clara and also features Christopher Plummer, Toni Collette, Jean Reno and Stellan Skarsgard. Because the film failed to make a big splash at the UK Box Office, it never got a mainstream global release and it’s a shame. This is a fun and comedic look at the transformational affects of travel. Hector is a Psychiatrist who is struggling to find happiness In his own life, let alone help his patients. He literally embarks on a journey to find the meaning of happiness. Yes, it’s a bit cliché but most comedies are. Here it’s not so much about the destinations that he visits, as it is about the people he encounters along the way. We also find that for a lot of travelers it is the people that they meet that has the greatest impact on their experience. There’s something truly special about bonding with someone in a foreign environment. It makes the experience resonate more. While this isn’t Pegg’s funniest performance or the most dramatically shot travel movie, it is heartwarming and fun to watch film.   THE WAY   Destination: Spain- Camino de Santiago 


The Way is a touching story of an estranged father and son, who are somewhat reunited by tragedy. Starring real life father and son duo, Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen, this adaptation of the novel “Off the Road: A Modern Day Walk Down the Pilgrim’s Route Into Spain” is genuinely heart warming despite its sad premise. It truly captures the spirit of how travel can change your perspective on life when you step out of your comfort zone and embrace the experience with an open heart and mind. Tom (Martin Sheen’s character) crosses paths with a host of diverse characters on his journey to honor his fallen son. Each interaction and experience offers him a new vantage point on life and his place in the world. You’d be surprised at how much you have in common with a stranger from the other side of the globe once you take a walk or share a meal with them. You never know who, when or how someone will touch your life. This film showcases how chance encounters can have profound effects on personal development. The ending is a bit predictable but as it often is when you travel, this one is all about the journey to get there.  CHANGELAND  Destination(s): Thailand- Phuket, Krabi, Phang-Nga 


Changeland is probably the strangest entry on this list. Those of you who were teens in the 90s will probably be excited to see Seth Green, Brekin Meyer and Macauley Culkin back on the big screen. This film was also written and directed by Seth Green. He was inspired to create the film after a life changing trip to Thailand so logically I had to include it on this list. The film starts off very broody and mopey but be patient it’s a slow strange ride to get to the good stuff. We learn early on that Brandon (Green) has just been dumped by his by his girlfriend, hence the somber mood, so he decides to take his old friend Dan (Meyer) on the romantic getaway that he had planned for her. This premise does lend to some lighthearted comedic moments but for the most part this film has a pretty dark tone. What makes this film worth watching is the breathtaking cinematography and the clever way it handles the healing the process. Out of all the films on this list, Changeland does the best job of capturing the scenic beauty of the destination. You can see how the environment is the first element to impact change in the boys. Then as their journey continues you see how their experiences and the people they meet further develop these changes. Its so easy to get trapped in your day to day life. Sometimes all it takes is a change of scenery to give you new hope or change your perspective. This leads to transformational experiences that can heal your mind, body and soul. This one isn’t for everybody, but give it a chance. It just might change you.   BACKPACK   Destination(s): Germany, Indonesia- Jakarta, Bali 


This is a dark and gritty German film, although English and Bahasa Indonesia are also spoken prevalently, that probably serves better as a cautionary tale than an inspirational travel movie. Backpack finds a young teacher Daniel setting off on his first International adventure during school holidays. Unfortunately for him, anything that could go wrong does. His luggage is lost and so is he, but then he meets Clara. An attractive female traveler who seems to have it all figured out. With her as his guide he experiences moments that he didn’t think were possible. By now you’re probably thinking of love stories like “Before Sunrise”, but this is not a cookie cutter story of romance. Things do not turn out the way you would expect. You’ll have to watch it to find out what happens. Just know that I was joking with my Team that we should show this film to any clients who ask why they should book with us. You want to have a life changing experience without having to go through the perils that Daniel faces and our Travel Designers take care of every detail to ensure you don’t have to.   THE TRIP TO ITALY  Destination(s): Italy- Rome, Tuscany, Amalfi 


The Trip to Italy isn’t a film in the typical sense. Its basically an extended episode of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s hit British TV show. The movie finds the gents touring around Italy doing what they do best, eating and engaging in witty banter about a broad range of topics. While this film doesn’t carry the emotional weight that some of the other films on this list do, it does proudly feature one of my favorite things about travel, FOOD! I don’t have to explain it to my fellow foodies but for the rest of you, a delicious meal can make you fall in love with a place, culture or way of life. It can deliver sensations that make you feel more alive than you’ve ever felt before. People will scour the globe in source of a great meal. Coogan and Brydon certainly know how to dine in style. The movie does a good job of keeping you laughing while showcasing a few different types of regional Italian food. Making it fun and insightful at the same time. It’s the perfect appetizer for anyone planning a trip to Italy.   BONUS MENTIONS   These two didn’t make the official list because they’re documentaries and not films but they are certainly worth checking out for those of you interested in seeing some incredible stories about how transformational travel can be.  MAP OF SATURDAY 

This documentary tells the story of long-term travelers. People who spent months or years traveling around the world in search or themselves and higher purpose of life. It introduces us to missionaries, volunteers and thrill seekers. All with different inspirations and goals.  

25,000 MILE LOVE STORY 


This documentary tells the story of Serge Roetheli, a Swiss endurance runner, who is on a mission to run the circumference of the Globe in order to bring awareness and raise money for child suffering worldwide. His wife follows him on this perilous journey, showcasing the beauty of true love and determination.

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