We’ve gone from “What’s a coronavirus?” to “Inject me with that sweet, sweet COVID-19 vaccine” faster than you can ask “Wouldn’t it be nice if we valued science at all times and not just mid-crisis?” That’s still not quick enough for long-caged, wandering souls who are straight-up thirsty for a trip to literally anywhere.

Hold your antibodies, y’all. Don’t be the idiots in a horror movie who think the ax-wielding face-eater is out of commission just because he fell down and got a boo-boo. We need to back over COVID with a truck a few times, light its corpse on fire and spread its ashes like good gossip before we start sharing cooties with other zip codes.

I beg y’all with a lust for wander to chill just a bit longer, pop open a window and spin one of these travel flick recommendations. This is a very specific prescription: Consuming all these films will both flood you with the sight-seeing feels you’ve been craving and show you why you don’t actually need (or want) to go anywhere.

Hang in there, my travel-hungry babies.

Recommendation 1: Spring Breakers

The thought of copious sweaty human bodies pressed all up into one another was grody to some of us long before doing so became a golden ticket for a nasopharyngeal swab. Nearly a decade ago, writer/director Harmony Korine gave us the super-fun visual STD that is Spring Breakers, a movie that finally used James Franco’s inherent not-so-subtle grossness to grand effect.

The film is primarily a sizzling satire about the hedonistic meat grinder that American youth call vacation. However, it should also scratch the itch for folks who enjoy having travel stories that cross the line from “We got pretty crazy!” to “I am confident we have broken many laws…” Korine’s debauched hallucination is as much a cautionary tale about “leaving your inhibitions behind” as it is a neon-soaked cinematic rave. Also, it features Gucci Mane in a performance so energetic and exciting that he fell asleep while filming a sex scene.

Oh, and according to Franco, Werner Herzog said “Three hundred years from now, when people want to look back at dis time, dey won’t go to de Obama inauguration speech, dey will go to Spring Breakers.” This one has it all, people!

Recommendation 2: The Before Trilogy

Richard Linklater’s narratively breezy, emotionally dense Before triptych stands at the intersection of travel and true love, serving collectively as perhaps the best relationship movie ever made. In Before Sunrise, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is a naïve American student who falls for Céline (Julie Delpy) over the span of precisely one night in Vienna. Before Sunset, set nine years later in Paris, finally reunites the couple, who had broken their Viennese promise to meet again. Before Midnight jumps another nine years ahead and moves to Greece. Jesse and Céline now have two kids together and fear the sand slipping through the hourglass of their hearts.

Because these are less plot-heavy, intricately woven stories and more “Let’s talk as we stalk through gorgeous European scenery,” they feel more like visual postcards. Some say “Wish you were here!” while others scream something closer to “Can we ever really love another person?” Who doesn’t like a little existential crisis about the nature of true intimacy when traveling, right? 

Recommendation 3: The Trip Series

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon star as fictionalized versions of themselves, which likely leads to the inevitable question “Who are Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon?” In addition to looking vaguely familiar to American audiences, the answer is that they are British comedians who specialize in dad humor. If you’ve never wanted to go to Europe with your father, here’s a chance to remember why.

The Trip series consists of four films that were hobbled together from four seasons of a TV show, each dedicated to dining and relaxing in a different country. Does watching two rich, bored white dudes waste time while eating expensive meals and staying in quaint accommodations sound enriching or enraging to you? Either way, this will help with your travel yearning.

Recommendation 4: Midsommar

Hear me out: Technically, yes, this is a pagan horror film that’s really about emotional abuse and processing trauma. It is also very pretty. Primarily set in a Swedish commune, cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski doesn’t skimp on visual poetry, his lens dancing around flower-soaked hillsides like a maiden twirling around a pole. The, let’s say “deliberate,” pace of writer/director Ari Aster’s ode to “reasons you should dump him” provides ample opportunity to ingest the luscious surroundings.

It may also provide the kind of epiphany that so many hope to find on their travels. Is it a happy epiphany? I mean, the film does end on one heck of a smile! The idea of vacation isn’t always to get away; it is sometimes about the quest for perspective. Midsommar might well allow you to reframe assumptions about relationship dynamics and anxiety disorders without having to pay a luggage fee for all your emotional baggage.

Recommendation 5: Up in the Air

Was I not going to mention a movie with ties to Omaha and Anna Kendrick in it? Technically, this is not a “vacation” movie so much as a “travel” movie. George Clooney stars as a terminator — meaning companies hire him to fire people — who also gives motivational speeches about living a minimalist life that allows you to move about freely without connections. The film also relies heavily on the rise of videoconferencing and has a lot to say about capitalism treating human blood like oil for its machine. It wasn’t so much “ahead of its time” as “evergreen.”

Ultimately, the film doesn’t say that a vagabond life is inherently bad so much as it says that “home” is a very, very good thing to have. Over these past months, those of us lucky enough to have a safe, happy place to call our own may well have come to take it for granted. Even the best vacation eventually gives way to the bliss that is the first night in your own bed. Up in the Air gives you that feeling without making you accumulate 10 million frequent flyer miles.


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