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The Best Travel Movies, Music and Books

After actually physically traveling to a destination, books, music, and movies are among the best ways to get a feel for a place and its people.

Whether you’re watching movies to get inspiration for your next trip, reading on the road, or listening to a location’s music to reminisce after the fact, we’ve got a few recommendations for your viewing/listening/reading pleasure.

Check out our staff picks for travel movies, travel books and travel music below:

Best travel books: fiction and nonfiction

Reading books is a great way to get a feel for a place before you go, or even while you’re there–books are very portable, especially if you pack a fully-loaded e-reader. Here’s a list of favorites that AirTreks staff keep on their bookshelves. Happy reading!


Shantaram – by Gregory David Roberts – A novel set in Mumbai, India about an Australian ex-pat who gets caught up in the local mafia.  Rated a “sensational read,” by Publishers Weekly.

River Town: Two Years on the Yangtzeby Peter Hessler – An honest, engaging and amusing real-life account of a man who spent two years with the Peace Corps in a small town in central China teaching English literature. An interesting portrait of modern China.
 
Long Way Round, Chasing Shadows Across the Worldby Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman – The story of two actors who circle the globe on motorcycles. Elaborate, humble and entertaining.

Daughter of Fortuneby Isabel Allende – The engrossing story of a orphaned Chilean girl who is raised by English merchants then travels to Gold Rush era California to meet her young lover.
 
Queen of the Southby Arturo Perez Reverte A thrilling page-turner about drug-trafficking in Mexico, Spain, and the Mediterranean and the story’s complex heroine who becomes tied up in it all.
 
Red Azaleaby Anchee Min A striking memoir about a woman who grows up during the cultural revolution in Mao Tse-tung’s Communist China.

Snowby Orhan Pamuk – A journalist on assignment writing about a suicide epidemic of young Muslim girls in a small frontier town in eastern Turkey finds himself immersed in a political coup when a debilitating snow storm cuts the town off from the rest of the world.
 
Norwegian Woodby Haruki Murakami A love story set in modern-day Japan between a young woman with mental illness and the boy who falls for her.

The Sun Also Risesby Ernest Hemingway – The perennial classic about Spanish bullfighting, drinking and love, Hemingway-style.

1000 Places To See Before You Dieby Patricia Schultz – This well-written and researched book is a guide to amazing places to visit around the world.
 
Three cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace… One School at a Timeby Greg Mortenson A lively story about helping the young and disenfranchised in the mountains of northern Pakist
 
The Alchemistby Paolo Coelho An allegorical fable about a shepherd boy who dreams of seeing the world and finding his success. Cutting in its simplicity, this book will force you to remember that it’s not the destination but the journey. It takes place in Spain, Morocco and Egypt.
 
The Sheltering Skyby Paul Bowles – The story of a young and glamorous post-war American couple voluntarily thrust into the harsh Saharan landscape of Northern Africa.
 
Midnight’s Childrenby Salmon Rushdie Winner of the 1980 Booker Prize, about 2 children who were born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the moment when India became a nation and were accidentally swapped at the hospital. Each were brought to the other’s respective homes, a well-to-do Muslim family and destitute Hindu one.

Snow Leopard – by Peter Matthiessen The author’s account of two months spent trekking deep in the the Nepalese Himalayas with a field biologist friend, searching for the elusive snow leopard and learning about Buddhism.
 
The Size of the Worldby Jeff Greenwald – The story of a man on a mission: to circle the earth without leaving its surface. Possibly one of the best (and funniest) travelogues ever written.

 Best travel music

Many people have strong opinions about the importance of indigenous music and how listening to it before, during and after traveling can help you connect with a destination. At AirTreks we tend to agree: music can give you a deeper understanding and appreciation of people and place.
* you can listen to (and purchase) the music at Amazon by clicking on the link!

Air – satiny smooth French electronica.

Café Tacuba – Probably the preeminent rock band to come out of Mexico in the last three decades. Loud, boisterous, fun rock & roll.
 
Noir Desir – Brooding French rock with dark, punk-inspired stylings.
 
Los Fabulosos Cadillacs – Latin surf rock, dub, ska and reggae-themed music.
 
Rodrigo y Gabriela –A sensational flamenco duo from Mexico.
 
Paolo Conte – one of the most charismatic Italian singer/songwriters of the last 40 years. A jazz Pisano, he sings original songs.

Manu Chao – The father of Latin worldbeat music, always lively and infectious, Manu Chao’s style bounces from salsa to dub to rock to pop in unexpected and welcome ways.
 
Edith Piaf – Parisian legend, icon, enigma. ” La Môme Piaf” or “the sparrow” her vocals are almost as universally adored as they are intrinsically linked with France and La Vie en Rose.

Charles Aznavour – A French vocalist and entertainer with a career spanning nearly 45 years and vocal pop/cabaret stylings.
 
Pink Martini – This Portland, Oregon orchestra combines salsa, jazz, samba-rumba, flamenco and other traditional styles in at least ten different languages.

Seu Jorge – Brazilian samba singer churns out stoic but lively and sensual tunes.
 
Fela Kuti – Exuberant and provocative Afro-beat music out of Nigeria.
 
Facundo Cabral – A powerful singer/songwriter from Buenos Aires whose songs have been translated and recorded in 9 languages.

Oumou Sangare – West African singer with a silky voice and decidedly African arrangements using modern and traditional instruments.
 

Best travel movies

It’s a given. Films set in exotic locations make people want to see places with their own eyes.

The Harder They Come (1972) – Reggae artist Jimmy Cliff stars in this great film about a young singer who travels to the city to make it big, only to get mixed up in his boss’s marijuana business. Shot on location in Jamaica.

Motorcycle Diaries (2004) – The intriguing story of a young Che Guevaras and the trip across South America that inspired his life’s calling.
 
The Battle of Algiers (1966) – This dramatic and touching historical movie is based on events at the start of Algeria’s 1954 war with France.
 
City Of God (2002) – The tragic story of young people in Rio de Jaineiro slums and how their lives are affected by drug trafficking.
 
Paris Je T’aime (2006) – A series of  vignettes celebrate life, romance and loss in the City of Light.

Monsoon Wedding (2001) –Take in all of the drama, humor and chaos of an Indian wedding, no gift required.

Kundun (1997) – This beautiful, slow moving piece tells the story of the 14th Dahli Lama’s escape from Tibet in 1959.

In Bruges (2008) – A hilarious (if completely riddled with obscenities) buddy story of two contract killers on the lam in the lovely town of Bruges, Belgium.
 
Breathless (1960) – A timeless classic with about a car thief trying to persuade a pretty young American to hide out with him in Italy. In easy to understand French with subtitles.

Darjeeling Limited (2007) – Wes Anderson’s flight of whimsy about India starring Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000) – Cinematic poetry showcasing the lush landscapes of China in Mandarin with subtitles.

Roman Holiday (1953) – An Oscar-winning classic romance shot in Italy starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn.
 
The Killing Fields (1984) – A New York Times reporter goes in search of his Cambodian friend after he’s sent to Pol Pot’s regime’s labor camps.
 
Swimming to Cambodia (1987) – A Spaulding Grey monologue about the time he spent in SE Asia while filming the Killing Fields. If you’ve never seen a Spaulding Grey movie, this is the one to see. A hilarious and fast-paced showpiece.
 
The Unbearable Lightness Of Being (1988) – A well-scripted and perfectly acted love story starring very young Juliette Binoche and Daniel Day-Lewis. Based on the book by Milan Kundera and incorporating events surrounding the 1988 Russian invasion of Prague.

Persepolis (2007) – An animated film detailing a woman’s childhood during Iran’s politically turbulent and war-scarred 1970s.
 
The Last Emperor (1987) – Bernardo Bertolucci’s epic Oscar-winning movie about the last monarch of China.

Very Long Engagement (2004) – A love story by the director of Amelie (another great movie). Set in France during WWI, the movie follows a woman (Audrey Tautou) as she discovers the fate of her lover after the war.
 
Powaqqatsi, Koyaanisqatsi, & Naqoyqatsi (’82, ’88, ’02)– A fantastic trilogy of cinematic art produced by Godfrey Reggio. The three films focus on turmoil, industrialization and war in countries around the world. Stirring images without dialogue are set to music by Philip Glass.

Lost in Translation (2003) – This movie showcases modern Tokyo in all its alienating and sweeping beauty.

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