As we endure this last stretch of social distancing and staying at home (hopefully!), I’m finding comfort in any and all movies that feature some of the world’s best travel destinations. From action-packed spy movies to romantic love stories and even animated films, I’ve compiled a list of a few of my favorite movies to help cure your wanderlust. Popcorn, anyone??
Warm + fuzzy wanderlust movies
Nine times out of 10, my movie choice falls into a category I call “warm and fuzzies”. These movies are entertaining, often funny, sometimes pull at your heartstrings, and generally make you feel better after having watched them. A mixture of comedies, dramedies, and romcoms, these warm and fuzzy wanderlust movies are sure to brighten up your next movie night!
If I had to choose one movie to watch for the rest of my life, I would choose Notting Hill, hands down. I studied abroad in London and naturally gravitate toward anything that makes me feel like I’m back at my flat in Earl’s Court. Having walked up and down Portobello Road countless times, the scenes in Notting Hill evoke some serious nostalgia. Doesn’t hurt that the love story is on point. I tell ya – I’ve seen this movie a million times and I always cry in the classic “I’m just a girl…standing in front of a boy…asking him to love her.” GAH!
Wanderlust destination: London | Starring: Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts – classic!
Let’s just stay in London, shall we? Technically, I think Love Actually is a Christmas movie. That doesn’t stop me from watching it in the dead of summer, though. This movie is quintessentially British – it’s quirky, it’s lovable, and it’s witty.
While I love watching Hugh Grant (playing Britain’s Prime Minister) dance like a dork at 10 Downing Street, my favorite part of the movie is at the beginning in Heathrow Airport’s arrivals terminal – a terminal I’ve frequently found myself waiting for my own loved ones:
“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.”
Wanderlust destination: London | Starring: Hugh Grant, Kiera Knightly, Liam Neeson, and more
Also technically a Christmas movie, but who cares? There’s no bad time to watch The Holiday. Flipping between the snowy Cotswolds and sunny Los Angeles, The Holiday provides some travel eye-candy for any season! I don’t know about you, but the next time I visit England, I’m searching Airbnb for a little Cotswolds cottage just like Iris’.
Wanderlust destinations: England, Los Angeles | Starring: Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Jack Black
I LOVE Queen Latifah and I keep her movies in a solid rotation in my “warm and fuzzy” genre. This one might be my favorite, though. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, Georgia sets out on a trip of a lifetime, to the Grandhotel Pupp (guys, it’s REAL!). It’s located in the Bohemia region of the Czech Republic and you too can experience it! I won’t ruin the movie – just go check it out, and then daydream about visiting the Pupp.
Wanderlust destination: Czech Republic | Starring: Queen Latifah, LL Cool J
Ah, Paris. Anyone who’s spent time here knows the feeling of falling in love – not with a person, but with a city. Directed by Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris is full of quirks, whimsy, and nostalgia as Owen Wilson’s character finds writing inspiration in the most unlikely place.
Wanderlust destination: Paris, naturally | Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams
I just love watching cultures collide and unfair expectations shatter. That’s exactly what happens in The Hundred-Foot Journey. It’s a story of dueling restaurants in the French countryside – one a Michelin-starred mainstay and the other a new, family-run Indian restaurant. Not only will the movie make you hungry for Indian food (or French, if you fancy that sort of thing), but your heart will also be warmed by the bond formed between the two establishments.
Wanderlust destinations: France, India | Starring: Helen Mirren and Manish Dayal
Viewer discretion is advised: watching this film might make you move to Tuscany, too. In all seriousness, though, where has Diane Lane been lately? Her character in Under the Tuscan Sun is loveable and relatable. I know I’m not the only one who has laid eyes on a charismatic old estate while visiting the picturesque countryside and thought “I’m buying that and staying forever”. I just haven’t actually pulled the trigger yet!
Wanderlust destination: Italy | Starring: Diane Lane
Musicals: you either love ’em or you hate ’em. I just happen to love them. And this one tops my list of feel-good musicals – both on-screen and on Broadway. While the ensemble cast is packed with A-listers, it’s the Greek landscape that steals the show. I know this story by heart, but continue to return again and again to daydream about the sky-blue waters and traditional Greek Isle architecture.
Wanderlust destination: Greece | Starring: Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Amanda Seyfried
There’s a reason this movie was the highest-grossing romantic comedy in the 2010s. Based on a book of the same name, Crazy Rich Asians is a fresh, modern, romantic comedy, with some jaw-dropping Singapore travel inspiration. Like the rest of the world, I fell in love with Henry Golding, but it was the strength and steadiness of Constance Wu’s character that keeps this movie in rotation when I need a pick-me-up.
Wanderlust destination: Singapore | Starring: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Awkwafina
This movie is stupid…in the best way possible. The cast is comedic gold. The plot is expected, yet fresh and hilarious. And the backdrop of Hawaii brings it all together. This is a must-see if you’re looking for an easy-watch and just want to laugh.
Wanderlust destination: Hawaii | Starring: Zac Efron, Adam DeVine, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza
My bucket list includes experiencing and celebrating the Day of the Dead in Mexico. Until I make that happen, this movie helps to fill the void. The animation is vibrant and detailed. The characters will make you smile and make you cry. And you’ll be humming the songs in your head long after the credits roll. It is also the first nine-figure film with an all-latinx main cast.
Wanderlust destination: Mexico | Starring: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal
Drama wanderlust movies
Unlike my rotation of warm and fuzzy movies, I rarely re-watch dramas. These films, though, are ones I return to again and again. From connecting with one’s ancestors to finding one’s purpose, these movies (all based on true stories) take you on personal journeys that are sure to inspire.
Based on a true story, Lion had me in tears within the first 20 minutes. It’s the story of a boy who was tragically separated from his family in India and, later, adopted by a loving Australian family. The film follows the boy, now an adult, on a journey to return to India to find his family. I laughed, I cried, I smiled, and I recommend everyone watch it.
Wanderlust destination: India | Starring: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman
I’ll be honest: sometimes this movie erks me. Julia Robert’s character is at times insufferable as she journeys to find herself. However, it is also my go-to movie when I’m feeling the need to escape reality. Plus, you can’t top the wanderlust inspiration – from Italy to India to Bali.
Wanderlust destinations: Italy, India, Bali | Starring: Julia Roberts
This movie follows a recently-divorced woman on a quest to hike more than 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in California – alone – with zero hiking experience. Maybe it was my new-found love for hiking or the determination to reach her goal despite intense challenges along the way. But this movie left me inspired to lace up my hiking boots and challenge myself.
Wanderlust destination: Oregon, California USA | Starring: Reese Witherspoon
Action-packed wanderlust movies
I could go on and on…and on with the best action-packed movies from around the world, particularly ones with central plots focused on espionage and international intelligence. Since I can remember, I’ve had a rather odd fascination with the CIA and, more recently, learning more about the decades-long conflicts in the Middle East. Fun fact: my dream as a teenager was to be an international correspondent, covering war-torn and conflict regions around the world.
Movies like Zero Dark Thirty and A Mighty Heart are some of my favorites. Unfortunately, though, they don’t really make for the easiest viewing. Maybe I’ll put together my top list of CIA-esque movies in the future. In the meantime, here are three of my favorite movies to watch when I want to be entertained, kept on my toes (even though I know the plots through and through), and get lost in the destinations.
The Bourne series, particularly the first three films, are, without a doubt, my favorite CIA movies ever made. With every release (ironically always coinciding with my August birthday), my mother, grandmother, and I would head to the movie theater and then go for a glass of wine, lunch, and birthday cake afterward. Aside from my own nostalgia, they also provide a very comprehensive tour of the best of Europe.
Wanderlust destination: Europe | Starring: Matt Damon
What is there not to love about these fun, creative, and funny movies that also happen to have some serious eye-candy? I’m talking Clooney, Damon, Pitt, and more recently in the women-led spinoff, Bullock, Blanchett, Hathaway, Kaling, and…oh yeah, Rihanna! From Las Vegas to Europe, each series installment has you admiring both their latest heist scheme and their luxurious digs.
Wanderlust destinations: Las Vegas, Europe, New York: Starring: literally everyone
What do you know about the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979 – 1981? If you’re like me, probably next to nothing. Growing up, I heard my parents mention it in conversation, but I don’t remember learning about the 444-day conflict in my history classes or textbooks. Argo is a fictional retelling of the crisis, from the viewpoint of a handful of Americans who managed to escape the hostage-taking and, eventually, the country. When I watch most historical fiction movies, I know how the movie (history) ends. With next to nothing in terms of context, I was on the edge of my chair until the very end of this one.
Wanderlust destination: Iran | Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, and more
For as long as I can remember, movies have transported me from my couch to a faraway land. From comedies to dramas and the occasional action film, I inevitably draw inspiration from the characters and destinations for future travels. Tell me below: what’s your favorite movie to help cure your wanderlust?
P.S.: Did all that wanderlust inspiration have you in full-on trip planning mode? Be sure to check out our latest travel guides and inspiration!