11 Must-See Films That Will Change Your Perspective on Travel

It’s very easy to get caught up in the glamour of traveling with all the beautiful sights and experiences that come with it. But travel isn’t always just about relaxation and adventure—it can also be about self-discovery and reflection.

Before you embark on your next journey, consider watching these 11 best existential films about travel that will challenge your perspective on travel in a profound way. All of these films are recommended by movie lovers in an online forum, so they’re sure to make you think twice about the deeper meaning of travel.

1. Wild (2014)

scared hiker
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Based on a true story, Wild follows the journey of Cheryl Strayed (played by Reese Witherspoon), a woman who, amid personal turmoil, decides to embark on a solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail.

As she navigates the physically and emotionally demanding terrain, Cheryl confronts her inner demons and past mistakes and searches for meaning and redemption in the face of loss and self-discovery. Wild explores the existential journey of one woman’s quest for self-acceptance and healing through the transformative power of nature and solitude.

2. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Polar bear express Moothnie Canada
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Directed by Wes Anderson, The Darjeeling Limited tells the story of three estranged brothers, played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman, who reunite for a train journey across India. As they traverse the vibrant landscapes of the country, their physical journey becomes an introspective exploration of their fractured relationships, personal struggles, and existential dilemmas. 

3. The Way (2010)

group of hikers enjoying the view in the Adirondacks
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Directed by Emilio Estevez, The Way follows Tom (played by Martin Sheen), an American doctor who embarks on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in northern Spain after the untimely death of his son. As Tom traverses the ancient pilgrimage route, he encounters a diverse group of fellow travelers, each with their own motivations and personal stories.

Through the physical challenges and encounters along the way, Tom confronts his grief, reflects on his relationship with his son, and ultimately finds solace and a renewed sense of purpose through the transformative power of the journey.

4. The Accidental Tourist (1988)

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Based on Anne Tyler’s novel, The Accidental Tourist follows Macon Leary (played by William Hurt), a travel writer specializing in business travelers’ guidebooks. Following a personal tragedy, Macon withdraws from the world, clinging to routine and familiarity. However, when he meets a quirky dog trainer named Muriel (played by Geena Davis), his life takes an unexpected turn.

Through their unconventional relationship and Muriel’s insistence on embracing life’s uncertainties, Macon is forced to confront his own existential stagnation and embark on a journey of self-discovery.

5. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

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In this imaginative adventure film, Ben Stiller stars as Walter Mitty, a daydreaming photo editor at Life magazine. Faced with the threat of the publication’s closure and the loss of an important photograph negative, Walter takes on a global quest to track down the elusive photographer.

As he saddles up for a real-life adventure, Walter’s journey becomes a metaphorical exploration of his hidden desires, personal growth, and the pursuit of a more fulfilling existence.

6. Wrist Cutters: A Love Story (2006)

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Set in a surreal afterlife reserved for people who have taken their lives, Wrist Cutters: A Love Story follows Zia (played by Patrick Fugit), who ends his own life and finds himself in a desolate and peculiar realm.

Determined to reunite with his lost love, Zia embarks on a road trip through this strange afterlife landscape, encountering eccentric characters. Along the way, he makes unexpected connections. Blending dark comedy and romance, the film explores themes of fate, second chances, and the search for meaning in a uniquely existential and whimsical journey.

7. Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)

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Under the Tuscan Sun revolves around Frances Mayes (played by Diane Lane), a recently divorced writer who impulsively purchases a dilapidated villa in Tuscany, Italy. Frances undergoes a personal transformation as she immerses herself in unfamiliar surroundings.

Through renovating the villa, cultivating relationships with the local community, and embracing the beauty of the Tuscan countryside, Frances embarks on a journey of self-discovery, healing, and rediscovering her passion for life. The film captures the essence of travel as a catalyst for reinvention and finding solace in unexpected places.

8. The Razor’s Edge (1984)

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Based on W. Somerset Maugham’s novel, The Razor’s Edge follows the spiritual journey of Larry Darrell (played by Bill Murray), a disillusioned World War I veteran. Dissatisfied with the superficiality of his privileged life, Larry begins a quest for meaning and truth, taking him from the heights of the Himalayas to the depths of poverty-stricken Paris.

Through encounters with various characters and exposure to different philosophies, Larry grapples with existential questions and explores alternative paths to fulfillment.

9. Lost in Translation (2003)

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Set against the backdrop of Tokyo, Lost in Translation delves into the unlikely connection between Bob Harris (played by Bill Murray), an aging American actor, and Charlotte (played by Scarlett Johansson), a young woman navigating a crossroads in her life.

As the two strangers form a bond amidst their shared sense of displacement and cultural disconnection, they embark on a contemplative journey of self-discovery and companionship. The film beautifully captures the existential isolation and the transient nature of human connections.

10. Before Sunrise (1995)

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Before Sunrise follows Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), two young travelers who meet by chance on a train and decide to spend a spontaneous night together in Vienna. As they explore the city, their encounter evolves into a deeply personal and philosophical conversation about love, life, and the passage of time. 

11. A Walk in the Woods (2015)

Appalachian Trail, U.S.
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Life doesn’t always offer second chances, but in this movie, two old friends (played by Robert Redford and Nick Nolte) are granted one. Having grown apart over the years, Bill Bryson (Redford) and Stephen Katz (Nolte) reunite to embark on a hike that will take them along the Appalachian Trail.

The two men, now in their 60s, must confront their own limitations, physical and psychological, and struggle with whether or not it is worth it to keep going. As they move through nature’s unknowns, Bryson and Katz come to terms with life’s ups and downs in a way only travel can allow.

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