The Best Travel Movies To Stream Right Now, From Classics Like ‘Roman Holiday’ To Animations Like ‘Moana’
“Moana” may be an animated Disney movie, but hear me out. It has all the trappings of typical travel film, just, well, no actual footage. But it will nevertheless transport you to a Polynesian paradise. If you love Tahiti, this movie effectively takes you away to those clear, turquoise waters, and jagged volcanic peaks.
This is a child-friendly film, and has themes that resonate deeply with adults such as protection and preservation of the environment, which arouse the attraction between passion in a long journey and embrace domestic life.
Plus, it has one of the most incredible soundtracks thanks to Lin Manuel Miranda of “Hamilton” fame. I played the song “How Far I’ll Go” on loop to get my kids to nap during a Dalmatian coast road trip, so it reminds me not just of the South Pacific but of the very privilege and joy involved with travel of any kind. “See the line where the sky meets the sea? It calls me. And no one knows, how far it goes…” Now just try to get that catchy, poignant tune out of your head.
Based on the memoir of the same name by Cheryl Strayed, Reese Witherspoon plays the author on the trek of a lifetime. After her mother dies and her marriage ends, Cheryl sets out for a solo hike through the Pacific Crest Trail, woefully unprepared. Her backpack is way too heavy and her boots will go on to betray her.
The movie points to both the beauty of nature and its ability to awe — and to humble. A trek through bleak, uncharted territory toward inevitable enlightenment seems a fitting plot for these uncertain times. Witherspoon and Laura Dern, who plays the protagonist’s mom, both received Oscar nominations for their roles. And, if you love the movie, consider also spending some quarantine time reading Strayed’s deeply empathetic advice in the book “Tiny, Beautiful Things,” which is one of my favorites of all time.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” scooped up 10 Oscar nominations and two wins this year, so it’s certainly a worthy streaming pick based on critical acclaim alone.
It’s also a fabulous travelogue of Los Angeles in another era, the summer of 1969 when the Manson Family was stalking its prey. You’ll see stunning vintage Hollywood scenes, including cool residences, cars, movie sets, and real-life landmarks that still exist today, like Musso & Frank Grill on Hollywood Boulevard and El Coyote on Beverly Boulevard. The Regency and Village Theaters in Westwood and the ArcLight Cinerama Dome also make cameos.
And if the travelogue component doesn’t sell you, you’ll also get an eyeful of Brad Pitt on a roof with your streaming purchase.
Under the Tuscan Sun
When the main character Frances (played by Diane Lane) finds out her husband is cheating on her, she falls into a deep depression until her best friend Patti (Sandra Oh) persuades her to go tour Italy.
While there, she makes an impulse buy of a Tuscan villa and a whole new life ensues. If the plot sounds like a common enough trope, the eyeful of jaw-dropping Italian countryside more than compensates. The film was shot mainly in the town of Cortona, as well as in the hills around Lake Trasimene in Umbria.
The movie is a romantic little jewel box of a journey to the Italian countryside, made in 2003, is fantastic escapism from that current reality.
Sure, you may already know this movie well — the bachelor party, the missing tooth, the baby, Mike Tyson, the tiger in the bathroom. But even if you’ve seen this 2009 flick a million times, it’s great fun to watch it again for a trip to Las Vegas without leaving the house.
The front desk, lobby, entrance, pools, halls, elevators, and certainly the roof all make cameos. Filming also took place over a full 15 days in Nevada, so have a spot of fun imagining your next wild road trip.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
A cast of A-list actors — Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Bill Nighy — play British retirees who decide to head to India for their retirement where their money will go farther.
Drawn by ads for the Marigold Hotel, claiming to be luxurious and freshly revamped, they find themselves in a situation far from what they expected, with their host, played by the brilliant Dev Patel, doing the best he can.
Not only does the movie contain some relatable themes about what can go wrong when expectations don’t line up with reality in travel, but it’s also a transportive trip to India from your TV at home. Most filming took place in the Indian State of Rajasthan, including bits shot in Udaipur and in Jaipur, with some shots of the colorful marigold market.
If you’re in the mood to throw it way back — nearly 70 years — indulge in the classic “Roman Holiday.” When it was released in 1953, it was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, and it’s easy to see why.
Audrey Hepburn is a masterpiece playing a European princess who heads out to explore fabulous, lively, beguiling Rome all on her own in a gesture of rebellion against her royal duties. In addition to Hepburn, the film features the great Gregory Peck, with scenes shot in Rome’s Cinecittà studios around the city, during a filmmaking period known as “Hollywood on the Tiber,” because Rome was such a popular spot for international filmmaking.
Like “Moana,” “Coco” is an animated Disney picture without real-world filming locations. But it’s a love story to Mexico all the way. The story centers around a kid from rural Mexico who dreams of being a musician and seeks connection with his ancestors along the way.
It celebrates both Mexican culture and also its stunning beauty, expressed through vibrant colors and lively, art-filled, and a tradition-rich atmosphere. It’s the biggest blockbuster American movie in the history of the country by far (grossing nearly $58 million), in part because of the authenticity in which some of the themes and scenes are presented, void of negative tropes about Mexicans, who are often typecast in other American movies.
The Darjeeling Limited
Wes Anderson at his finest, this movie stars Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman as estranged brothers who haven’t spoken to each other since their father died. They all reunite for a trip by train across India, each with their own problems and individual dramas, of course.
But among the stars of the movie is also the evocative journey by rail. No, the train called Darjeeling Limited does not actually exist, but there are other posh ways to see India by rail if this deeply evocative movie inspires you to plan a trip for when it’s safe to do so.
Crazy Rich Asians
“Crazy Rich Asians” is a feast for the senses with fabulous costumes, cars, parties, and copious amounts of scintillating street food and stunning travel shots across Asia.
The plot follows a Chinese-American New Yorker named Rachel who realizes her boyfriend Nick is actually part of the richest family in Singapore — crazy rich, you might say. And when she goes with him to attend his best friend’s wedding there, drama ensues. As do incredible filming locations.
One notable scene takes place at the famous Marina Bay Sands, a bucket-list hotel with triple towers topped with a rooftop garden and pool. The Four Seasons Resort Langkawi in Malaysia is another jaw-dropper that makes an appearance, and even Singapore’s Changi airport makes an impressive cameo. While most American airports aren’t much to write home about, this one is on a whole other level.
Eat Pray Love
No travel movie list is complete without “Eat Pray Love,” which is based on the memoir of the same name by Elizabeth Gilbert. Here, she’s played by Julia Roberts, who takes a sabbatical from her job to set off on a year-long, round-the-world adventure following her divorce.
In some ways, it’s the ultimate travel fantasy: Step away from work and domestic obligations and all other trappings of real life and hit the road. After leaving New York, Gilbert makes three stops, first to Italy (filmed in Robe and Naples), then to an ashram in India (filmed in Delhi and Pataudi, and finally Indonesia (filmed in Ubud and Padang-Padang Beach in Bali). It’s all about soul searching, self-discovery…. And pasta.
Lost in Translation
Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film stars Bill Murray as an actor in middle age who has gone to Tokyo to film an ad for Suntory whiskey. There, he connects with a much younger college grad played by Scarlett Johansson in a hotel, the Park Hyatt Tokyo.
Both are married, both are experiencing some version of their own existential crises. And the whole thing feels almost like a dream sequence, all set against the backdrop of vibrant Tokyo and Japanese scenes. The pair experience boredom, insomnia, and culture shock. The instant classic scooped up four Oscar nominations when it came out, including for Best Picture.
The premise is simple enough in “Sideways.” Two friends go on a wine-tasting trip to the picturesque California wine country and drink a lot of wine.
But the film is filled with magic moments — both emotional and scenic — that made it not only a fast fan favorite but also the 2005 Oscar winner. It also drew attention to the California Central Coast wine region of Santa Ynez valley, which saw tourism rise significantly following the film’s release in 2004. The wine industry was affected in other ways beyond travel, too. The movie trashes merlot, for which sales subsequently dropped. And it celebrates Pinot Noir, for which sales volume and price increased significantly across America.
Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen’s 2011 movie “Midnight in Paris” has the double delight of conjuring both modern Paris and Golden Age Paris.
In the movie, the couple Gil and Inez travel to the City of Light to join Inez’s parents on a business trip. He’s a writer and thinks the pair should move there after they wed, but she’s not convinced. When she goes out on her own for the night, he takes a walk at midnight and enters into the world of the 1920s literati. It’s an epic cast with Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, and Kathy Bates, and is a Francophile’s cinematic dream.
Out of Africa
Whether you’re in quarantine or not, your life can always be improved by a dose of Meryl Streep — one of the greatest stars of all time. This 1985 romantic drama starring Streep alongside Robert Redford is not just a stunning display of acting, but also an incredible journey to Africa.
The film takes place in 20th-century colonial Kenya, where a Danish baroness and plantation owner falls in love with a big game hunter. Most of the movie was shot on location in spectacular Kenya, around the Ngong Hills outside Nairobi.