Thursday, January 27, 2011

10 Best Travel Movies

Lights, Camera, Action!

What better way to stave off the ill effects of a travel lull than by watching movies about faraway locales? Whether it's a jaunt in the station wagon to see Grandma, or a grand European tour, travel movies inspire us to escape the doldrums and see the world. Always entertaining; sometimes poignant and sometimes comical, movies that center on travel offer a cozy way to travel from my very own sofa. After ‘visiting’ a place from home I feel even more enthused to go there and see it for myself.

The following movies always leave me daydreaming about my next adventure:

1) Shirley Valentine (1989)

This British ‘dramedy’ is about Shirley Valentine; a middle-aged housewife from Liverpool, England. Shirley finds herself talking to her kitchen wall while preparing her husband’s Chip and Egg, wondering what happened to her life. She compares scenes in her current life with what she used to be like. Stagnated and in a rut, she feels as though she's lost herself forever. When her best friend wins an all-expenses-paid vacation to Greece for two, Shirley begins to see the world, and herself, in a different light. If you have ever felt like going on holiday and not coming home this is a must-see!

2) The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)

This Argentinean film chronicles the four-month long journey taken in 1954 by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado. Together they fulfill a dream motorcycle trip throughout South America starting from their home in Buenos Aires. Their quest is to see things they've only read about in books and to finish the trip on Alberto's thirtieth birthday on the other side of the continent, in Venezuela. They encounter trials and tribulations on the road to discovering what is important in life. Motorcycle Diaries inspires me to buy a motorcycle and take a transcontinental trip!

3) Eurotrip (2004)

This hilarious, slap-happy comedy follows Scotty Thomas and his three best friends across Europe as they search for Scotty’s German pen pal, Meike, whom he initially mistakes for a man. Once Scotty realizes he has feelings for Mieke, he and his friends visit London, Paris, Amsterdam, Bratislava, Berlin and Rome encountering embarrassing and awkward situations along the way. The movie portrays stereotypes for each country with side-splitting perceptibility. Eurotrip is so, so, so funny and highly quotable!

4) Lost in Translation (2003)

An American ‘dramedy’ that stars Bill Murray as Bob Harris, an aging actor, and a recent college-graduate named Charlotte, played by Scarlett Johansson, as the two develop a unique closeness after a chance meeting in a grand Tokyo hotel. Bob and Charlotte, both Americans, find themselves 'lost' in a culture that is foreign to them, and their displaced location during their blossoming friendship enhances their connection with one another. The movie explores themes of loneliness, alienation, insomnia, and culture shock against the backdrop of a modern Japanese cityscape. This is definitely a travel movie that, ‘with more intensity’ creates a feeling of being overwhelmed in a faraway land.

5) Out of Africa (1985)

This epic adventure drama is based on the memoir, Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (pseudonym for Karen Blixen). Meryl Streep plays Karen Blixen who immigrates to Kenya from Denmark and establishes a plantation. The film chronicles her experiences in the African bush during the years of 1914 to 1931. Her life is complicated by a marriage of convenience, a true love, and troubles on the plantation; schooling of the natives, war and disease. This film is a testament to the perseverance and strength of Karen Blixen, a woman whom is out of her element and alone. Out of Africa inspires me to always keep trying harder.

6) Beyond Rangoon (1995)

A poignant American drama based on real people and real events. A distraught Laura Bowman (Patricia Arquette) travels to Burma with her sister after her son and husband are brutally murdered. There she discovers the suppression of democracy under General Ne Win and receives her first glimpse of Aung San Suu Kyi, the embodiment of hope for a peaceful future in Burma. When Laura loses her passport at a rally, she gets detained in Burma. She meets a former university professor and pro-democracy students, monks and others. This puts her on the junta's enemies list. She spends most of the film evading soldiers while attempting to make her way out of the country with her group. Laura, who is a doctor, decides to remain in Thailand treating refugees fleeing oppression. Beyond Rangoon is one of my absolute favorite movies; it educates, it inspires, and deeply impacts me every time I watch it.

7) Vacation (1983)

This is a travel movie classic! Vacation is a comedy that follows Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) and his family’s ill-fated trip to Wally World, ‘America’s Family Fun Park’. The Griswolds pack up their metallic pea green station wagon a make the trek from Chicago to Los Angeles and face hilarious mishaps all along the way. From vandals in St. Louis to Aunt Edna’s accidental death in Arizona the Griswolds experience less of a vacation than a descent into a peculiarly American kind of hell. Catastrophe after catastrophe create laugh after laugh.

8) Before Sunrise (1995)

On his last night meandering around Europe, a 20-something American named Jesse (Ethan Hawke) convinces Celine, a French grad student (Julie Delpy), to explore Vienna with him. They get off the train and explore the city while opening up to each other as only travelers can. They wander the city all night and fall madly in love, unsure if they’ll ever see each other again. Before Sunrise is a great movie for adventurers, explorers and hopeless romantics.

9) Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)

Divorced and Depressed, Frances Mayes (Diane Lane) travels to Tuscany to get her mind off of her troubles. While stopping in the small Tuscan town of Cortona, Frances discovers a small villa for sale. By happenstance, her tour bus stops in front of the villa and Frances believes it is a sign. She buys the dilapidated house and renovates it room by room. During her renovations she makes a life for herself in Cortona. Her dreams of having a wedding and a baby in the villa, and people to cook for are realized when she opens herself up and makes friends throughout the town. Under the Tuscan Sun is a beautiful look at the courage it takes to move to another country.

10) Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

A tale of two friends who take a vacation to Barcelona, where they meet a mysterious painter, Juan Antonio, who asks them to spend the summer with him. Vicky is the more reserved of the two, engaged to be married, while Cristina is more of a free spirit. The relationship between the three is sexually charged, and drama ensues. Things only get more complicated when Juan’s mentally disturbed ex-wife shows up. The movie is entertaining, and is set in the beautiful landscapes & cityscapes of Spain. It shows how travel can open you up to new experiences.

The above films leave the viewer asking questions about how other people live and that’s what travel is all about. Travel opens our eyes to not only the ‘where’ but also the ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘who’. The location of the story becomes like a character itself.

Any filmmaker will tell you how important it is to develop characters, create a sense of place, and leave the viewer feeling like they were part of the story. Travel, while real and unedited, achieves the same thing. We must feel a place, understand its people and experience it on an emotional and personal level.

While it’s snowy and stormy, airports closed and flights delayed, trade in airline peanuts for a bowl of popcorn. Snuggle up with a blanket and travel to a faraway place from the comfort of your own couch.

What are your favorite movies about travel? Comment with not-to-be-missed flicks and I’ll update my Netflix queue!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Battle the Bulge

I travel heavy. This may come as a surprise, since you might well assume that someone who travels as frequently as I do would be the type to throw a T-shirt and a toothbrush in a paper bag and go. Unfortunately this is not the case. I like selection when it comes to what I wear, especially while traveling. I like to pack and repack, envisioning all possible scenarios and the perfect ensemble for each and every one.

Trip after trip, my arms bulk up from hoisting my massive suitcase(s) to and fro. I limp to the airport, the train station or parking garage with my gross overload. On a recent trip, burdened and beaten, I realized that if I don’t change my packing habits; I’ll soon need to add a Sherpa to the payroll.

One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2011 is to lose weight…in my suitcase. Like a closet eater who hides in the closet to indulge in private, I’m a closet packer. Quite literally, in the privacy of my own closet I admit to sitting and jumping on top of my suitcase to force the locks shut. I know it’s ridiculous and that I’m going to have to heave the massive bag across the world but I can’t help myself and add more clothes, shoes, and accessories to my already bursting baggage.

I’ve realized that preparedness is one thing, OCD is quite another. Is it really necessary to pack eight black shirts? On a trip a few years ago I asked my husband to get my black shirt out of the suitcase. He returned with a black shirt but it wasn’t the one I had in mind. He patiently returned to the luggage to retrieve another, again… not the one I had imagined. He rummaged though all of the clothes only to find eight seemingly similar black shirts. I honestly didn’t realize the excess until they were lined up in front of me.

Shamed by my over-packing, this year I will battle my bulging suitcase and pack only what I need. I will reject my strong urge to hold onto the familiar before embarking on voyages to the unfamiliar. I will leave the comforts of home, at home, and will be freer to nimbly explore all that a place has to offer.

Bygone are the sleepless nights spent worrying how I will be able to lift my two eighty-pound suitcases over the waist bars of the Paris Metro station by myself. Farewell to the days of flabbergasted looks from bellhops around the world. So long to back aches, broken zippers, and embarrassing orange ‘over weight’ airline tags crudely slapped on my big-boned bags. I’m doing this for me… and for baggage handlers across the globe.

It’s the eleventh day of 2011; ten days since many people broke their New Year’s resolutions. Not me…I’m already devising strategies on how to lose weight in my suitcase and keep it off. When packing, I resolve to heed the advice of experts and follow these tips:

-Make a list of items to pack. Edit the list by scratching off half the items, and only pack what’s on the list.
-When in doubt...leave it home.
-Find the right suitcase. A big suitcase begs to be filled. Buy a medium sized suitcase and bring only what fits.
-Fold clothes in an efficient, wrinkle-free way to maximize space.
-Every 7 pieces should yield at least 14 ensembles. Bring items that are versatile and interchangeable.
-Bring travel sized toiletries.
-If you can’t hold your packed suitcase over your head for 10 seconds…you have over-packed.
-Check the weather at your destination and pack for the climate.
-Skimp on shoes. Pack a dressy pair and wear another more sensible pair.
-Leave space to bring souvenirs home.
-Always carry a spare set of clothes and any medicine you may need in your carry-on bag in case your luggage is declared delayed or missing.

From my years of travel I’ve come to understand that attitude affects adventure, not wardrobe. Whether it rains in Edinburgh, swelters in Accra, or snows in Riga; the contents of my luggage have little to do with the outcome of the trip. I'll try to pack appropriately as possible. I'm not travelling to Mars- they sell just about anything I could need wherever I'm going.

Rather than buy another suitcase, the next size up, I’m going to put my current suitcase on a strict diet. I’m determined to ring in 2011 with freer arms; fewer airline surcharges on excessive luggage; and a new, lighter packing, outlook on life.