The Best Backpacker Movies

Travelled by Brucini on 29 January 2009 | 10 Comments

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Brucini Brucini

Brucini started seriously travelling after attempting to move to Queenstown, New Zealand, in 1996.Inspired by drunkenly meeting a world of travelers on a Kiwi Experience bus, he changed his plans and roamed the world for a year. ...Find out more!

The Best Backpacker Movies

Backpacking provides all manner of unexpected adventures, twists and turns, which contribute to experiences you would never have in your ‘normal’ non-travelling life. Your travels have you as the hero at the centre of the action. No surprise then that backpacking has been the basis of many movie storylines.

Movies sensationalise the excesses of  youthful lifestyle choices so perhaps it’s no surprise that sex, drugs, and death far from home are abiding themes running through these backpacker-influenced movies.  Here is a few of my favourite travel movies for backpacking: 

Into The Wild

An excellent adaption of the Jon Krakauer book, directed by Sean Penn, that tracks the true life story of 22 year old Christopher McCandless who gives up his wealth and career opportunities to follow his ideals and seek adventure across the USA. The movie tracks Chris’s encounters and influences on his journey to an eventual Alaskan conclusion. At best the movie is a philosophical meditation on Man’s relation to Nature with powerful messages that doesn’t preach. The Eddie Vedder soundtrack is a rewarding listen in its own right.


Emile Hirsh plays Charles McCandless in Into the Wild

Emile Hirsh plays Chris McCandless in Into the Wild

Hostel 1 & 2

If you don’t like your movies, violent, bloody and intense, then avoid. Follow the chaotic events of a gang who is killing backpackers for high-paid sport. Don’t let it put you off travelling to Slovakia where the movie was set. There ain’t nothing like playing upon the twin stereotypes of hot Eastern European women and American backpackers to make a dollar. Especially when you can appeal to lots of viewer markets by adding another backpacker nationality to the cast. Disturbingly enough Hostel 1 made enough money to demand a low-budget sequel.

Wolf Creek

Before the recent ‘Australia’ movie popularised travel to the Australian Outback, Wolf Creek did its best to warn everyone away. Two British female backpackers meet an Australian man at a party and decide to visit the real and very remote meteorite crater known as Wolf Creek in the Kimberley region of northwest Australia. A crazed loner starts killing and there’s no likelihood of escape or hope for those involved. The film has some similarities to some notorious Australian crimes but is not based on a single event. Note to female backpackers: it is safe to travel to Australia.

The Beach

The Alex Garland novel of the same name that everyone once loved to read when travelling later became the movie that those same readers later sniffed at when Leonardo DiCaprio was cast in the lead role. The movie was not as bad as some hype made out. Leo made a pretty good fist of the role which was written as an English character in the novel. Leo is told about a secret ‘beach’, a backpacker utopia cut off from the rest of the world. His adventures getting to the beach and once there show off the natural beauty of the southern islands of Thailand.

Before Sunrise / Before Sunset

When I saw Before Sunrise in 1995 it made up my mind to go to Europe and buy Eurail ticket. I too hoped to meet a hot French girl on a train. The movie focuses on a chance meeting between two characters played by (hot French girl) Julie Delpy and (American backpacker) Ethan Hawke and the ensuing 24 hours of their lives in Vienna. Ask most people about this movie and they’ll tell you there’s no plot. True enough. In 2004 the Director Richard Linklater made a sequel with the same cast but set it 9 years on in Paris. The cynic would say again nothing happens. For the romantics, the Parisian streetscapes and literary chatter will satisfy.

Honorable mentions (part-backpacker, part road movie, part-don’t smuggle drugs as a backpacker movies):

  • The Motorcycle Diaries
  • Midnight Express
  • Return to Paradise
  • Bangkok Hilton
  • The Killing Fields
  • Hideous Kinky
  • The Man Who Would Be King
  • Brokedown Palace
  • The Accidental Tourist
  • Topkapi
  • Vanishing Point

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