Can't Afford A Vacation? Live Vicariously Through These Movies

If your childhood family vacation felt like less comical versions of the National Lampoon’s Vacation series, trust me, you’re in good company. Between the stories I could tell of epic nose bleeds in any location even slightly more elevated than sea level to the time a flock of birds unleashed a wave of bodily fluids that would make that scene in Bridesmaids seem tame, I’ve come to accept my family is just not very good at traveling together. And, while some trips with friends over the years have improved my personal travel juju, I often find I have little time, money, or energy to spend on getting away from it all.

Instead, I find myself more and more often being an armchair traveler—happy to spend a weekend in with a bottle of wine, some popcorn, and a new place to visit through the powers of the internet. So, if you’re like me and can only travel as far as Netflix can take you, here are some different “journeys of a lifetime” (to every continent except Antarctica) that you can take in just a few hours:

The Road Trip

Photo: Universal Pictures
Photo: Universal Pictures

The road trip is the classic American travel story. And these films are the best of them—from the buddy film Thelma and Louise to the hilarious holiday travel nightmare Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. If you’re looking for a more offbeat trip, there’s always To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar about three drag queens (Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, and John Leguizamo, no less) who travel cross country in an old Cadillac convertible to compete in the “Miss Drag Queen of America Pageant” in Los Angeles. If Westerns are more your speed, it’s hard to go wrong rooting for outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. And, of course, there’s the ultimate road trip—the surf documentary The Endless Summer, which just might convince you to spend your own life pursuing the elusive perfect wave until you realize a) you don’t know how to surf and b) Northern California’s water is really, really cold.

The Internal Journey

Photo: Paramount Vantage
Photo: Paramount Vantage

If you’re in the mood to reflect about the meaning of life, try Into the Wild (the true story of Chris McCandless’ fateful solitary journey to Alaska), Wild (the true story of writer Cheryl Strayed’s solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail) or Tracks (a woman’s 1,700 mile trek across Western Australia with just four camels and a dog). If the thought of even going solo to the grocery store makes you break out in hives, there’s always the opposite story: the journey back to love. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love (the food alone will make you feel surrounded by warmth), How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Under the Tuscan Sun will make even the most cynical viewer feel a little better about the world.

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The Stories to Wistfully Tell Later Trip

Photo: Universal Pictures
Photo: Universal Pictures

Of course, not all travel romances can result in happy endings. Two of the most beautiful films ever shot—Out of Africa and The English Patientare also among some of the most heartbreaking.

The Epic Adventure

Photo: Columbia Pictures
Photo: Columbia Pictures

Forget romance. When you’re more in the mood for explosions, great world scenery, and witty one-liners, there’s nothing wrong with traveling with James Bond (any film will do, although Pierce Brosnan is still my personal favorite), Indiana Jones or Crocodile Dundee. Hats, knives and whips are optional for viewers, but martinis (shaken, not stirred) are mandatory.

The This Won’t End Well Trip

Photo: Paramount Pictures
Photo: Paramount Pictures

I save these next films—The Talented Mr. Ripley, Murder on the Orient Express, and The Italian Job—for my bad days, when everything is going wrong and I need reassurance that someone else has it far worse off than I do. Of course, all of these films feature gorgeous locales (and even hotter actors) that might make you jealous, but then there’s also the fact that at least one person ends up dead.

The Fantasy Trip

Photo: Warner Bros.
Photo: Warner Bros.

If traveling to another country doesn’t seem like enough of an adventure, you can always visit a whole other time, world, or reality. The animated film Up about a trip to Paradise Falls in South America might leave you cheering, while The Lord of the Rings trilogy will have you googling prices for real trips to Middle-Earth (a.k.a. New Zealand) and Midnight in Paris will almost have you wishing for insomnia.

The Whole New World Trip

Photo: Focus Features
Photo: Focus Features

Want to feel like your time on the couch is educational? Learn new things about other cultures with these Oscar-winning films Lawrence of Arabia (based on Lawrence’s experiences during World War I), Doctor Zhivago (based on the classic Russian novel by Boris Pasternak), The Last Emperor (the first Western film shot in the Forbidden City), and Lost in Translation (featuring the bright lights of Tokyo through a sad Sofia Coppola filter).

The Classic Holiday

Photo: 20th Century Fox
Photo: 20th Century Fox

There’s a reason why these next films are classics. 50 years later, people are still visiting the scenes in Salzburg from The Sound of Music, while Audrey Hepburn fans wish they were the ones being led around Rome by reporter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) in Roman Holiday. Of course, for the more adventurous viewers, there’s the thrill of a ride on a rickety old riverboat manned by Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen or traveling by hot air balloon in the 1956 version of Around the World in 80 Days.

The Staycation

Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

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But, of course, as Californians, there’s sometimes not as much incentive to travel because we live in the one of the most beautiful places on Earth! Need a reminder of why so many millions travel to our golden state each year? There’s always Sideways, a film about a middle-aged slob who happens to love wine (yes, I realize it’s no Napa, but Santa Barbara is gorgeous too) that might remind you that, despite your love of travel, there’s nothing quite like the views of home sweet home.

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