Books and Movies that Inspire Wanderlust

Film buff, book worm, travel bug: these are just some of the two-word parallel descriptions that plagued my social media profiles in the past. These days I just stick to letting virtual strangers know where in the world I currently am, followed by a convenient link to this blog. I still breathe movies, books, and travels, however; probably more so than I did in the past. As a result, all three passions past-times of mine have somehow all meshed together and formed what is now known as “my life”.

The simplest explanation I can give for this is that I grew up exposed to film (I gave up a not-so promising career in violin playing in high school to pursue film, best decision of my life) and literature (it’s no surprise I eventually became such an avid writer and story teller after dissecting so much imagery and symbolism). Traveling was something I didn’t get to do as much as I wanted to growing up (try having a different summer vacation as the rest of your family) and so the effect those pseudo-adventures in films and books had on me was lasting: I no longer wanted to just live vicariously through these jet-setting characters, I wanted to live travel through myself.

With that I give you a [growing] list of movies and books that are near and dear to me, definitely having induced in me an unprecedented state of wanderlust over the years. Some of them I have lived out on my own, others I have yet to check off.

SPOILER ALERT: Some descriptions may include spoilers so read at your own risk.

Movies That Inspire Wanderlust

1.  Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), Before Midnight (2013) dir. by Richard Linklater

Before SUnrise
Setting: The hip nightlife in Vienna, Austria

As a complete introvert, I  am not one to romanticize the idea of strangers talking to you on the train but Before Sunrise definitely gave me a reason to hold out for the cute and cultured guy of my dreams, particularly so while traveling through Central Europe. The conversations these two have across the years, from wide-eyed aspirations as young adults in Vienna, to disillusioned rants as dissatisfied adults in Paris, and finally, through marital woes as vacationing parents in southern Peloponnese, prove their respective character developments to be some of the most enlightening to watch on-screen. If there’s a trilogy responsible for my strong affinity with European culture and ideals, it’s definitely this one.

2. Lost in Translation (2003) dir. by Sofia Coppola

Lost in Translation
Setting: The skyscrapers and temples of Tokyo, Japan

I owe my love affair with Japan to three different persons: writer Haruki Murakami, animator Hayao Miyazaki, and director Sofia Coppola. Lost in Translation was not only my first encounter with existentialism (at the tender age of 11), it was also the first to introduce me to the delightful eccentricities of real-life Japan. After having been to Japan a couple of times, I now appreciate how perfectly the movie encapsulates the balance between that distinct feeling of being submerged in your own anonymity and the irony in [yet] automatically sticking out as a foreigner in the land of the rising sun. Needless to say, I watch this film on two occasions: 1) when I am planning a trip to Japan, or 2) when I already miss it.

3. Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain (2001) dir. by Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Setting: The arrondissements of Paris, France

I have seen so many movies set in Paris (Midnight in Paris, Paris Je T’Aime, La Vie en Rose, basically any Audrey Hepurn movie to name a few) but nothing comes close to the almost as bizarre version of the city as the movie’s protagonist that we come to know from Amélie herself. It was the Paris that I naively expected to see on my first trip to this dreamy city, after five years of learning French and immersing myself in Francophone culture; granted, I was a little disappointed given the heavy use of CGI and color manipulation in the cinematography. But the feeling I got upon actually seeing Café des 2 Moulins in Montmartre, where Amélie works in the film, is one I will remember for the rest of my life.

4. The Darjeeling Limited (2007) dir. by Wes Anderson

The Darjeeling Limited
Setting: The cabins of the train traveling across the Himalayas

Wes Anderson is known for his iconic movies and quirky characters but the locations in which they are filmed are usually overlooked. I would argue, however, that these places are characters in their own right (other examples include the cove in Moonrise Kingdom, the house in The Royal Tenenbaums, the hotel in The Grand Budapest Hotel, and the vessel in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou). In The Darjeeling Limited, the eponymous train is almost entirely to blame for the progression of the three brothers’ stories. It takes them through various stops across India up until they reach their destination, in the same way that it gives them the space to confront and resolve their issues once and for all. I could only wish to have the opportunity to go on a similar trip one day (across the Himalayas, please!).

5. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) dir. by Woody Allen

Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Setting: The neighborhoods and suburbs of Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is easily one of my favourite cities in Europe. It’s hip, it’s happening, and it’s as Catalan as can be. Even though the city as we know it does not actually feature prominently in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, save for some subtle and almost necessary nods to the works of Antoni Gaudí, the movie does an amazing job of introducing its viewers to the beauty of northern Spain (specifically of Oviedo in Asturias). Despite having lived in the North multiple times, I have never been to Asturias and it is something that, due in part to this movie and the almost-mythical reputation of the region across Spain, I wish to do as soon as humanly possible.

6. The Beach (2000) dir. by Danny Boyle

The Beach
Setting: The hidden beaches and lagoons of Ko Phi Phi Leh, Thailand

Despite the reputation that The Beach upholds (what with the bulldozing and altering of the location in which it was filmed), the movie is still the one to be credited for my earliest recorded experience of wanderlust. In other words, The Beach is where it all began. Back in 1997, like many other young girls, I was feverishly in love with a young Leonardo DiCaprio of Titanic fame. It would follow naturally to watch this movie as well [when it showed on the TV] even though I was practically a baby then. A repeat viewing years later allowed me to finally make sense of the mature content but as a child I was simply enamored with the paradise-like islands featured in the movie and decided I wanted to become a backpacker one day.

7. The Sound of Music (1965) dir. by Robert Wise

The SoUnd of MUsic
Setting: The gardens and palaces in Salzburg, Austria

Prancing about the Mirabell Gardens while pretending to be a problem like Maria is what I went all the way to Salzburg for. I grew up watching The Sound of Music on a regular basis at home, with both parents being in love with it (yes, they own VHS copies and tapes and CD’s of the soundtrack, you name it). My dad and I even wanted to name one of our dogs after Edelweiss, to the dismay of the rest of the family (we ended up naming her Beyoncé, by the way). It’s not a surprise then that on my first trip to Europe I made sure to check this place off my list. Salzburg in itself is a such a beautiful city that’s definitely worth a visit even for the non-musical types.

8. Seven Years in Tibet (1997) dir. by Jean-Jacques Annaud

Seven Years in TIbet.jpg
Setting: The ancient palaces and monasteries in Lhasa, Tibet

Over the years, I have read a ton of the Dalai Lama’s writing and watched a lot of his talks and they have all transformed my life. I was more than happy to find out that there was a biographical novel which featured a young Tenzin Gyatso, and that it was adapted into a movie starring Brad Pitt. While Seven Years in Tibet recounts the adventures of an Austrian mountain climber in the isolated country, the friendship he formed with His Holiness is what cements the importance of his stay there. The two characters learn so much from each other as the audience learns more about them. They also make it hard not to appreciate the beauty of Tibet’s geography and its people. Lhasa in particular tops my list of places to visit one day. But I hope that before that day comes the Dalai Lama will find a safe refuge in it once again.

9. Copenhagen (2014) dir. by Mark Raso

Setting: The alleys and establishments in Copenhagen, Denmark

While the fact that the actor who plays Renly Baratheon stars in this movie is what made me watch it, Copenhagen turned out to be such a raw and honest reflection of the capital city of Denmark. Just watching the two main characters (also love interests, might I add) go about their business, to find out the truth about a bitter past and to recreate vintage photos in iconic landmarks, made me book a one-way flight to Copenhagen in an instant. I’m not even kidding. The film is as emotionally stimulating as it is beautifully shot. And as per my experience, Copenhagen successfully highlights the liveliness of a city otherwise notorious (to budget travelers like me) for how expensive it is.

Books That Inspire Wanderlust

1. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist.jpg

Even though I read The Alchemist at random and finished it in just a few hours, the effect it had on me is profound and lasting. It gave me hope to set out on my own journey and never look back; it gave me hope in a benevolent universe that perpetually rooted for my success. The Alchemist easily became the anthem of my pursuit of adventure, which has always been my Personal Legend. It might be an easy and succinct read but the novel’s potential to change lives is unparalleled. Bonus points because the titular character hails from Andalusia, one of my favourite regions in Spain.

2. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse


Siddhartha is one of those rare fictional novels that speak my preferred language: the language of the soul. The novel takes its readers on a journey of self-discovery, arguably one of the most important journeys of all. Siddhartha, referring to the titular character and not Gautama Buddha himself (although they were alive at the same time), leaves home in pursuit of enlightenment in true Bildungsroman fashion. This is the one book outside of the Dalai Lama’s written work that first inspired me to take a good, hard look at myself and the world around me, and to do so with love and compassion.

3. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

Jonathan Livingston SeagUll.jpg

Another personal favourite of mine is Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a book about a stubborn seagull and his relentless pursuit to learn everything he can about flying. As a result, he becomes an outcast and leaves. His efforts bear fruit under the tutelage of a wise gull named Chiang and he eventually is able to impart what he learns to other seagulls. I identify so much with this one-in-a-million bird just knowing that he sees the flaws in a society that forces him to conform and quickly decides to abandon it. Fables exist to teach us a lot of things but what I love about this one is how it focuses on the theme of flight, and consequently, of travel.

4. Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Eat Pray Love.jpg

Eat Pray Love had been pending on my reading list for a long time until I was stuck in the airport in Manila for six hours after a flight from Hong Kong. To kill the time, I decided to finish the book once and for all. It ended up being one of my favourites, although a bit cheesy for my usual taste. From Italy to India to Indonesia, Liz Gilbert recounts an important journey to self-acceptance after a particularly difficult divorce. What resonated with me most, however, is how the protagonist was essentially just a solo female traveler in search of goodness in the world, just like me.

5. Memoirs of A Geisha by Arthur Golden

Memoirs of A Geisha.jpg

I am a complete sucker for period pieces. Anything set during a time other than now or the recent past I would gladly devour. I am especially obsessed with pre-war Japan, back when traditions and cultures were deeply embedded in daily life. Needless to say, I have a strange fascination with geisha (and samurai). Thus, when I read Memoirs of A Geisha as a pre-teen, I became instantly engrossed in an exotic culture so different from my own. Years later, I finally found myself watching geisha apprentice in a traditional performance in Gion, the geisha district in Kyoto, and it honestly felt like a dream coming true.

6. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

The Unbearable Lightness of Being.jpg

My love for world history is especially magnified by novels like The Unbearable Lightness of Being, set against the backdrop of the Prague Spring, a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia. I find that novels like ULOB (as we fondly referred to it in my IB Higher Level English class back in high school) give its readers a glimpse of how present-day countries and territories were formed and why their people are the way they are today. A trip to Prague a couple of years ago made the Prague of this novel almost indiscernible. Still, The Unbearable Lightness of Being brings together characters from different backgrounds and of differing sensibilities to form a philosophical conversation that transcends time and itself.

7. Letters To A Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

Letters to A YoUng Poet.jpg

Letters to A Young Poet is one of those coming-of-age compilation of letters that just bring you home every time. It is a series of written correspondence between Rilke and an aspiring poet, both living in different parts of the globe and never meeting in person. Fine, I admit the world isn’t exactly abundant with these types of publications but the charm of Letters is not at all dependent on its format (although going back to my favourite passages has proven to be easier). Instead, it is replete with timeless wisdom not only about writing or travel, but more importantly about life.

8. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Where the Wild Things Are.jpg

Whenever I have to play Two Truths, One Lie, one of my favourite truths to say is that I have a tattoo on my back that says “Inside All Of Us Is A Wild Thing”, which is an homage to the movie version of this well-loved children’s book. Where The Wild Things Are taught me early on the importance of going on personal adventures, whether literal or figurative. We might meet wild things along the way but we cannot deny that there is one living inside all of us as well. As I get older, I appreciate the virtue of picture books even more in subconsciously teaching us what is truly of value in life: loving and accepting one’s self.

9. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Little Prince.jpg

My ultimate favourite book is one that I have read in English, French, and Spanish. By now, I already know the whole story, its ins and outs with its twists and turns, from beginning to end. In my humble opinion, the friendship formed between the little prince of asteroid 325 and an unnamed narrator from Earth is one of the most underrated fictional relationships, ever. This meeting occurs as the child/little prince resolves to leave his home to see what else the universe has to offer while the adult/narrator accidentally crashes his plane in the Sahara. The Little Prince is a classic for good reason; it is brimming with childlike curiosity and innocent observations, two things that we seem to simultaneously forget and pine for as we become adults.