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7 classic road trip movies that will spark your wanderlust

It’s 10 before 10 in the morning. I grab the traditional on-the-run-breakfast made up of a bagel and a small bottle of yogurt and rush down the steps to catch the subway. I am two steps away from the meeting point across the street from the University. I have been doing this for almost three years, so the unknown attached to it has shrunk. Even if people are always different, the experience holds little surprises for me.

I have probably delivered around 250 tours in the time I worked solely as a guide. It was a thrilling experiment in which the routine of taking people around the same paths was distilled into the freshness of the perspectives I got to share with thousands of people from all over the world. I kept telling them, truthfully, that since I don’t own a TV set, meeting and talking to them was my way of keeping in touch with the news around the globe. News is flawed anyway, and that which is out there labeled as journalism puts forward rarely some other than the agenda of media trusts that often are politically funded. But personal encounters, conversations around what matters more for each person at a time, the chance to make and receive a recommendation based on someone’s personal interaction with a place – that is something one can trust. And that makes you come to life. It awakens your senses and your curiosity and sparks your wanderlust.

So, people. Dozens and hundreds of people, that is what this job is about. And hours of conversations, in which you hear life stories. Stories about what makes people leave the comfort of their homes, hometowns, the familiarity of their native language, the ease of getting around places they know like the palm of their hand. Because invariably, there is something there, a little innerspring that pushes them to pack their lives in a 50 liters backpack. Buy that ticket and take the ride. A ride that can be months, or years long.

In my experience as a guide, I have met some truly interesting travelers. Not tourists. Tourists are driven by an inner need for entertainment away from the environment where they work and spend most of their lives. Travelers, however, are a different breed, one that feels the need to explore the depths of the big audacious bold questions in life. And to do that, often they need to go away. Just like the prodigal son, there needs to be at distance from the familiar. A distance that allows one to look at life more objectively. Or perhaps facilitate a sort of solitude in which the background noise is brought to silence and the inner, more truthful voice of reason, comes clear passing its message.

Road trip movies to spark your wanderlust
Road trip movies to spark your wanderlust

From this need to figure life out stems the urge to travel to distant places. Surely the individual reasons can vary. Some may simply have a checklist of anthropological curiosities about cultures far and away. Others may need a long holiday in a place with eternal summer. No matter the inner reasons, travelers have always been enveloped in an aura of mystery. Which often in the past century, has made the central story of a good movie.

Yes – this article IS an encouragement for everyone reading it to start exploring the big audacious goals by planning a long trip in a place far, far away to help with this. I am going to leave here some movies that you can watch in order to spark your wanderlust. They can spark in your mind ideas of routes or types of experience you can access. They can give you a sense of the freedom you can have access to while being on the road, apart from a fixed context. They can give you that impulse you need to pack your bags and go!

1. Little Miss Sunshine

A 7.8 movie on IMDb, Little Miss Sunshine is a 2006 movie about a rather large family from Albuquerque who starts a trip to California in order to support the youngest of the family who was admitted into a preteen beauty pageant. The plot unfolds along the 2-day trip the family needs to rush through in order to cover all the more than 1000 miles and make it to the big event. The film puts light on numerous problems of the typical American family and society.

The characters personal challenges range from trying to make a career in a hypercompetitive work environment, being gay and in love, growing up as an introverted teenage boy all the way to trying to be 13 and wanting to win a beauty pageant against a hypersexualized competition made up of other thirteen-year-olds in California. That is Olive, the character whom the title makes reference to.

The story unfolds in the yellow type 2 Volkswagen until the climax, reached in California when the entire family steps on stage to support Olive in front of a not such a welcoming audience. This moment brings the entire family together on the same page. The comedy ends while we watch the yellow car starting to drive back home to New Mexico, all family members more closely knit to each other after having performed this trip together.

2. Into the wild

Looks at the life of a fresh university graduate with a promising future ahead, who, instead of pursuing his way into a comfortable life and career, opts for a different take on things. The 22-year-old Christofer McCandless decides instead to give away his life savings to charity and embark on a rebel trip to Alaska.

His way is paved with fateful encounters, a trip on which he meets colorful characters from all walks of American society, encounters that reshape his view of the world he lives in. In the end, he tested himself by heading alone into the wilds of the great North, where everything he had seen and learned and felt came to a head in ways he never could have expected.

3. Stand by me

This is not only a hit of the ’60s and ever since, but also is a small, quiet film that walks tall and resonates long after. It honors the friendship of four boys around twelve years of age in the town of Maine in 1959. In the small town where they were living there, the police were searching for the dead body of a young boy, thought disappeared or dead, but never confirmed.

One of the boys overhears a conversation about how the dead body was found by two teenagers who were trying to ditch a stolen car. Obviously the two couldn’t come clean about it, so our main character assembles his little group of friends and they start a road trip to find the dead body. Along the way, they have deep moments of sharing as well as all sorts of challenges that mark their friendship for good. The end shows them successfully returning home.

4. The way

A son leaves the US to do the Camino in Spain. He dies along the way and the news leaves his father longing for a goodbye and a certain kind of closeness he never managed to have. In a bold decision, the father packs his bags and takes off to Spain, to walk the Camino with his sons’ ashes all packed in a little square box. As the road unfolds, he finds awesome travel companions to share the learnings if walking the Camino with. It is a beautiful, heartwarming story about fatherhood and friendship, that I encourage you to take especially if you are considering walking the Camino.

5. Thelma and Louise

Thelma and Louise is an all-time classic movie about the homonymous duet of friends that leave for a fishing trip. Their luck changes when, into a bar, a guy hits on Thelma, trying to rape her and gets gunshot by Louise who steps in to protect her girlfriend. Realizing that the situation is not going to put them in the most favorable light, the two decide to flee to Mexico.

A little love sparks their trip as Thelma falls for sexy young thief played by Brad Pitt and the sympathetic Detective Slocumb (Harvey Keitel) who tries to convince the two women to surrender before their fates are sealed.

6. The motorcycle diaries

Let the world change you and you can change the world. That could very well the motto of this movie about Che Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado. As well as being a road trip movie, the film is a coming-of-age film; as the adventure, initially centered on youthful hedonism, unfolds, Guevara discovers himself transformed by his observations on the life of the impoverished locals.

Through the characters, they encounter on their continental trek, Guevara and Granado witness first hand the injustices that the destitute face and are exposed to people and social classes they would have never encountered otherwise. The movie presents an X-ray of Latin American society. It proves the impact that long term traveling can have in shaping human life.

7. Rain Man

If this movie was food, it would be comfort food. This is a classic that touches upon many aspects of life, from the selfishness of a comfortable life to brotherly love, from living with autism to being on a road trip with someone who grows from being a complete strange into your assumed brother. The character of Raymond the Rain man was inspired by Kim Peek, a real-life savant with the same condition. A rightful winner of four Oscar awards, Rain man is a must-see for everyone who wants to let his or her heart fill up with gratitude.

So, I hope that this potpourri of beautiful cinematic experiences will inspire you to attack the questions you long for answering most. Take time this winter and watch them one by one. If on your list of objectives for the next year there will be one long trip, we will consider this article a job well done. You can count on us for advice regarding the places to see, experiences to have and people to meet along the way.