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Best Movies and Series to Watch When You Can’t Travel

It has been said that a reader lives many different lives... As a bookworm, I can certainly attest to this. Yet, as much as books can transport us to new worlds, imaginary planets and even different countries – so too can movies (and series). In this post, I share the best movies (and series) to watch when you can’t travel… Whether you’re stuck at home or simply lack the means, funds or health to do so.

Each of these movies and series offer the viewer a chance to travel to different parts of the globe.

Explore Middle Earth (read: New Zealand); road trip across the States in a food truck; or help track down a long-lost Italian lover… all without so much as leaving your couch.

8 Movies and Series to Watch When You Can’t Travel:

1) Explore New Zealand with The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)

Photo credit: Greg Nunes on Unsplash

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am a die-hard LOTR fan. I have been watching the movies since I was eight-years-old – and reading the books since about 10 or 11. (There are very few of Tolkien’s incredible literary works I have not devoured.)

You honestly can’t call yourself a true LOTR/Tolkien fan until you have watched the movies so many times that you can quote every important line… from the extended versions. (Or you have successfully completed The Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings six-part books at least twice over.)

There was a time when I watched Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy almost monthly. (And I read the books every summer till I was at least 19.)

I didn’t just love the meaningful narratives, fantasy world and cinematic moments that those movies made iconic… I loved the rich, beautiful scenery as much as anything else. The fact that it was real made it even more enchanting.

Where It Was Shot:

For those who don’t know, aside from the green screen and studio shots, The Lord of the Rings movies were entirely shot across New Zealand.

In fact, Edoras – home of the people of Rohan – was even built on the top of a well-known hill… The fact that they had to tear the set down after filming still quietly guts me.

Today, you can literally visit Hobbiton, as my brother and his girlfriend did when they stayed in New Zealand.

Growing up, I dreamed of living in or visiting New Zealand (still do). It’s safe to say, I knew more about the country and its different cities and locations than most people (excluding those who happily reside there).

New Zealand is known for its stunning, diverse countryside; unmarred natural spaces; crystal rivers and lakes; towering mountains; and special towns and cities.

For The Lord of the Rings trilogy, over 150 real-world locations were used. So there is very little of New Zealand’s North and South Islands that didn’t somehow feature in these multi-award-winning films.

Places You Can Virtually Travel to with The Lord of the Rings trilogy:

Some of the more famous, real-life New Zealand attractions and natural spaces that you can see in the films include:

  • Tongariro National Park (North Island), where Mordor was largely shot. When visiting this park in real life, you can even climb ‘Mount Doom’ – or Mount Ngauruhoe.
  • Hobbiton, near the town of Matamata (North Island). Since filming, it has become one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions.
  • The Putangirua Pinnacles (North Island). This is recognisable as the Paths of the Dead where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli bravely venture.
  • Mount Sunday (South Island), which doubles as the beautiful Edoras. The town may be gone now (to preserve this beautiful place) – but it doesn’t take much imagination to picture where it once stood.
  • Wellington’s Kaitoke Regional Park (North Island). This is where the ethereal Rivendell, home of Elrond and Arwen, was setup.

There are so many other famous filming locations that, upon visiting, will become instantly recognisable.

For more information on film locations, please see here.

So sit back, put your hairy Hobbit feet up and enjoy travelling across New Zealand with the LOTR trilogy. (No comment on The Hobbit film trilogy… As a loyal Tolkien/LOTR book fan, I can’t possibly endorse those movies.)

2) Travel Across Italy with Letters to Juliet (2010)

Photo credit: Simone Baldo on Unsplash

Filmed primarily in Italy, Letters to Juliet is, at its heart, a feel-good romance. It has a good cast, unmistakably strengthened by seasoned actress, Vanessa Redgrave. For me, Redgrave quietly steals the show; she is a joy to watch.

It isn’t the lightest of romances though.  There is a lot of grief and unhealed wounds – but it is one I always enjoy watching, if only to see more of beautiful Italy.

It also touches on some important life lessons, such as beginning again (even amid uncertainty), following your heart and perhaps even about the staying power of true love.

Where It Was Shot:

Letters to Juliet was filmed across Italy. Though primarily in and around Verona (northern Italy), Siena (central Italy), Montalcino (central Italy) and Castelnuovo Berardenga (northern Italy).

Places You Can Virtually Travel to with Letters to Juliet:

These are some of the places you can visit virtually when watching this fun romance:

  • Casa di Giulietta (Juliet’s House), 23, Via Capello, Verona… It really has nothing to do with Juliet Capulet – but it is still a lovely symbol of love and a popular local attraction.
  • Piazza Delle Erbe (Market’s Square), Verona’s bustling square.
  • The beautiful town of Siena.

For more information of film locations, please see here.

3) Live Out Your Travel Dreams with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

Photo credit: Rodrick Zhu on Unsplash

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is one those films you need watch only once – because it stays with you thereafter.

Based on the short story by James Thumber, this movie tells the fictional life story of a man named Walter Mitty. Stuck in a monotonous life and job at Life Magazine, Walter daydreams about epic adventures, with himself as the unlikely but obvious hero.

When the publication’s new owners send him on a daring adventure to capture one last image, Walter ends up living out the greatest adventure of all… As he does so, he learns more about himself – and life.

It touches on a lot of true-to-life scenarios and ultimately, reveals the life-changing power of travel.

It is a positive and inspiring tale about overcoming fears and getting out of your head… and into the world. (With some of Ben Stiller’s usual, if more subtle, comic relief thrown in for good measure.)

Where It Was Shot:

Before Iceland became everyone’s go-to destination, I had seen this movie and been quietly moved and fascinated by the raw beauty of this unique country. I decided, as Walter arrived in Iceland, that this was a country I would love to visit someday.

Much of the film was filmed largely in Iceland and parts of the US, including Los Angeles and New York City, although they also shot some scenes in British Columbia (Canada) and one in Greenland apparently.

However, Iceland also served as the setting for the film’s staged Greenland, Afghanistan and Himalayas scenes.

Places You Can Virtually Travel to with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty:

As you relax with some popcorn, this uplifting film can take you to the following stunning places in Iceland:

  •  Eyjafjallajökull (south Iceland).
  • Höfn (south Iceland).
  • Seydisfjordur (east Iceland).
  • Vatnajökull National Park (encompasses various sections of Iceland). This serves as the location for both the Himalayas and Afghanistan. It is also the biggest national park in Europe, so it is a great place to visit in real-life too.
  • Grundarfjörður (west Iceland).

For more information on the film locations, please see here.

4) Enjoy a Country Romance in France with A Good Year (2006)

Photo credit: Auriane Clément on Unsplash

This romantic drama – which includes a stellar cast in Russell Crowe, Marion Cotillard, Abbie Cornish, Tom Hollander, Freddy Highmore and Albert Finney – is loosely based on the Peter Mayle’s 2004 novel by the same name.

It is quite a moving story, covering the life of Max Skinner. As a young boy, Max loses his parents in a tragic accident, and starts spending summers on his uncle’s farm in beautiful Provence, southeastern France.

When his uncle dies some years later, Max inherits the farm. He returns to it, with a mind to hurriedly sell it… and so the story unfolds.

It is a beautiful tale, with some interesting twists. This is a film I find quite easy to watch and enjoy.

Where It Was Shot:

Although some scenes were filmed in London – like its story, A Good Year unfolds in gorgeous Provence. Specifically in a region called the Luberon.

Places You Can Virtually Travel to with A Good Year:

Fall in love with A Good Year and travel to the following special places in France:

  • Château la Canorgue, Bonnieux (southeastern France). This is an actual working wine farm, home to Max’s fictional chateau. You can visit the tasting room and wine shop – but no visits to the family’s now-famous chateau are permitted, as it is a private residence.
  • Cucuron (southeastern France).
  • Gordes (southeastern France).

For more information on the film locations, please see here.

5) Eat Pray Love (2010) Your Way Across the Globe with Julia Roberts

Photo credit: Anastasiia Chepinska on Unsplash

This movie – starring Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem – is inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, entitled Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. It features the same key elements – but there are some fictional accounts too.

It tells the story of Liz Gilbert, a woman who realises she is unhappily married and stuck in life.

After a painful divorce, Liz sets off across the world. As she travels, she essentially eats, prays and loves her way back to life. At its core, it is the story of self-growth and self-love.

For a few years, I was sceptical about watching it – but it exceeded my expectations. If nothing else, it offers some funny scenes, a good cast and great travel elements.

Where It Was Shot:

True to life, the film was shot in several key destinations in Italy, India and Indonesia respectively.

Where You Can Virtually Travel to with Eat Pray Love:

Follow this at times quirky, yet fun, movie’s storyline across the globe:

  • Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome.
  • L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, Naples. This is considered one of the world’s best and oldest pizzerias.
  • Piazza Navona, Rome.
  • The Hari Mandir Ashram, Pataudi, India.
  • Mizapur, an ancient Indian city in Uttar Pradesh.
  • Tegallalang Rice Terraces, Ubud, Bali.

For more information on the film locations, please see here.

6) Become a Dancing Queen (or King) with Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

Photo credit: Jared Lisack on Unsplash

Okay, so I know not everyone enjoys musicals – or ABBA… But this film is positively endearing. Especially with a brave, beautiful Lily James as young Donna.

This sequel centres around Donna and her friends and beaus. It features both a fresh-faced, young cast and the original group.

This movie has everything fans loved about the first film. Somehow though, it feels less cheesy and the songs, more nuanced.

It is a pretty fun film, ideal for some light-hearted viewing.

Where It Was Shot:

Although it is set on a fictional Greek Island – this movie was not actually filmed in Greece. Instead, it was shot in beautiful Croatia… Specifically, on the island of Vis.

Places You Can Virtually Travel to with Mamma Mia 2:

Explore pristine beaches, hidden coves and adorable island spots in Croatia:

  • Vis Town, as well as Dionis Pizzeria and Pansion.
  • Small town, Komiza, makes an appearance.
  • Barjoska beach.
  • Vis’s most photogenic beach, Stiniva.

For more information on the film locations, please see here.

7) Get Down to Earth with Zac Efron (2020)

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Photo credit: David Marcu on Unsplash

Although this is considered more a documentary than series – to me, it feels like a series. Whether you love or hate Zac Efron (and Darin Olien), this series touches on some important principles. These include things like respect for others; preserving our planet; eating less meat and rather, more plant-based meals; and above all, leading a more sustainable, eco-friendly life.

While most of us can’t go out and change our whole life to match Efron’s (continuing to drink tap water, using less plastic and eating more plant-based meals will have to do for me…), there are still key takeaways – aside from all the incredible destinations they visit.

The show has been criticised for its factual information and accuracy – but most of the people they speak to are experts in their field or knowledgeable on the topics discussed. So personally, I felt it was accurate enough.

So far, the Netflix series has one season. Each episode is set in a different part of the world and shares an inspiring or interesting narrative with the viewers.

Some episodes were especially moving – like when they head to France, Sardinia and Puerto Rico – and generally, I found it to be a good show.

Personally, I actually really enjoyed this series – and pretty much binged it because the film locations and stories were so diverse and interesting to me.

Where It Was Shot:

Shoot locations generally match the places shown and mentioned, so this can be anywhere from LA to London to Iceland to Peru.

Places You Can Virtually Travel to with Down to Earth with Zac Efron:

Each episode is set/filmed in a different country. Here are the countries and places covered:

  • Iceland
  • France
  • Sardinia, Italy
  • Lima, Peru
  • Puerto Rico
  • London, England
  • Iquitos, Peru

8) Embark on a US Culinary Road Trip in Chef (2014)

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Photo credit: Rosie Kerr on Unsplash

Chef is one of my more recent discoveries on Netflix and I have to say, I thoroughly loved every minute of this independent film.

It broaches some serious topics – like the pressures of the restaurant/food industry; the effects of reviews on businesses; amicably co-parenting with and supporting an ex-spouse; and above all, chasing your dreams, even when everything has crumbled around you.

With a good, solid cast – including Jon Favreau (who also wrote and directed it), Sofía Vergara, Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr, John Leguizamo and a young Emjay Anthony – it needs very little to make it feel instantly well put together.

I love the way the film deals with losing a job (albeit after a public meltdown that goes viral on Twitter), reconnecting with who you truly are and reviving a young father-son bond in a way that is both meaningful and fun to see played out.

The cast do a great job of adding a sense of realness and humour to it – but it is Favreau, Anthony and Leguizamo who ensure the film plays out in a poignant way.

This is a feel-good movie about the things that really matter in life: family, good food and following your passion.

Where It Was Shot:

The film is set in the United States, primarily in LA and Miami so it makes sense that it was filmed in these places, as well as New Orleans and Austin, which are worked nicely into the culinary US road trip that is at the heart of this story.

Places You Can Virtually Travel to with Chef:

Take a heart-warming and altogether, artistic food road trip across parts of the States:

  • Various places in Miami, Florida, including Fountainebleau Hotel and Versailles, arguably the world’s most famous Cuban restaurant.
  • New Orleans, Louisiana. Most notably, the French Quarter and the legendary Cafe du Monde.
  • Head to Austin, Texas for some tasty BBQ brisket.
  • Los Angeles, where the film starts and eventually ends.

For more information on film locations, please see here.

In Closing

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These are just eight of the best travel-themed movies and series to enjoy – among so many others – but each promises a taste of adventure, culture or realness, ensuring a memorable journey from your couch.

 

Photo credit (lead image): Shan Li Fang on Unsplash

Author: Tamlyn Ryan

Content writer by day and blogger by night, Tamlyn Ryan passionately runs her own travel blog, called Tamlyn Amber Wanderlust, from her home base of Cape Town, South Africa. And, despite a national diploma in Journalism, in her free time, Tamlyn’s preferred niche remains travel writing.

Tamlyn is a hopeless wanderer, equipped with an endless passion for road trips, carefully planned, holiday itineraries and, above all else, an innate love for the great outdoors.

2 thoughts on “Best Movies and Series to Watch When You Can’t Travel”

  1. Continue to enjoy your traveling and experiences in nature. I enjoy reading about them.
    Try and take a trip to Hogsback in the Eastern Cape.. especially when the gardens are open to the public…
    It is breathtakingly beautiful.
    Kind regards
    Val Busse

    1. Hi Val,

      Thank you for your kind comment! 🙂 I am so glad to hear you are enjoying the posts, especially my nature ones.

      I definitely want to revisit the Eastern Cape – and especially Hogsback, (where I have not yet been) so I will definitely try do that in the future.

      Many thanks,
      Tamlyn.

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