Even if you’re not in a position to travel, the right tune can take you just about anywhere. These 20, including compositions by Death Cab for Cutie, Johann Strauss, the Beatles and several that might surprise you, work for me. Let us know what you think by writing to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Grand Canyon Suite”
By Ferde Grofé, 1931. On the way you get squealing burros (violin) and clip-clopping hooves (coconut shells). I like this version by conductor Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra (1957).
“Born to Run”
This song, written by Bruce Springsteen and recorded in 1974, gave the title to his breakout 1975 album. It’s been part of American pop culture ever since.
“Blue Danube Waltz”
This 1866 piece by Johann Strauss II works for Austria, of course, but also for outer space. Stanley Kubrick used it in “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968). The movie version was played by the Berlin Philharmonic under conductor Herbert von Karajan.
“I’ve Been Everywhere”
It’s the ultimate hitchhiker tongue twister (actually, the only one) from 1959, made famous in the U.S. by Johnny Cash but written by Australian Geoff Mack. It begins with the dusty Winnemucca road, but before long you’re racing through Black Rock, Little Rock and Oskaloosa.
“Get Out the Map”
This wasn’t the Indigo Girls’ biggest hit, but maybe it should have been. Written by Emily Saliers. Banjo. Mandolin. Ideal for any American road trip. Here’s a nice version from the road — a gig at the Fillmore in San Francisco.
“Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking”
This 1981 song swings like nobody’s businesses, with co-writer Rickie Lee Jones singing over a shuffle rhythm. (The other co-writer: guitarist David Kalish.) I’m pretty sure it’s more about La Brea Boulevard than it is about China. Don’t care.
“(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66”
You know this Bobby Troup song from 1946, most famously done by Nat King Cole. You might not realize how much it needs an accordion until you hear the 1990 Buckwheat Zydeco version.
“Ends of the Earth”
By the L.A.-based band Lord Huron from 2012. Railroad rat-a-tat rhythm. Anthemic chorus.
“Born To Be Wild”
This 1968 song was written by Mars Bonfire, recorded by the band Steppenwolf and used in the 1969 film “Easy Rider.” Rollicking organ. Great drum break. Gritty guitar. By one account, Bonfire wrote after the exhilarating experience of driving a Ford Falcon.
From 2015, written by guitarist Ben Gibbard and played by Death Cab for Cutie. It starts with Tokyo and continues with Paris, but it’s mostly about being the one who waits for a traveler to return — and embracing in baggage claim.
From 2017, sung by Rita Ora. Written by Ora, Alexandra Tamposi, Brian Lee, Nick Gale, Alessandro Lindblad, Andrew Wotman and Nolan Lambroza. It’s about going “a million miles from L.A.” (but in the video, she settles for Manhattan).
“Going Back to New Orleans”
This 1952 piece was written by Ellis Walsh and first recorded by Joe Liggins and his Honeydrippers. But the raucous, horn-rich recording many of us know, which pays tribute to great New Orleans musicians, is the 1992 recording by the late, great Dr. John.
“Rhapsody in Blue”
This 1924 classic is by George Gershwin, who wrote and premiered it in New York City. The version, used in the 1979 film “Manhattan,” is played by the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Zubin Mehta, with Gary Graffman on piano.
This 1970 work, written by Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Bob Weir and lyricist Robert Hunter, became a theme song of the Grateful Dead, one of the most road-addicted bands ever. (This is where the line “What a long, strange trip it’s been” came from.) Because Deadheads keep track of everything, we know that the band played this song live 520 times from 1970 to 1995, when Garcia died.
“Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”
Best Byzantine Empire song (from 1953) on this list. Also wackiest. Written by Jimmy Kennedy and Nat Simon, recorded by the Four Lads. Recorded in 1990 by They Might Be Giants (who did an antic version of the song with a great trumpet intro on Chris Thile’s “Live From Here” last year).
“On the Road Again”
From 1980. Willie Nelson wrote it, recorded the definitive version and may still be playing it long after you, I and the cockroaches are gone. There’s a pleasantly ragged live version from the US Festival (1983) on YouTube.
From 1973. Written by guitarist Dickey Betts and recorded by the Allman Brothers Band. Go ahead. Tap your fingers on the steering wheel.
“Magical Mystery Tour”
Written by John Lennon and (mostly) Paul McCartney. The Beatles released this song in 1967 along with a chaotic made-for-TV movie about a bus tour. Later McCartney acknowledged that various forms of “tripping” were involved in the project.
“This Land is Your Land”
This was written in 1940 and first recorded 1944 by Woody Guthrie. But not just any version. I’m talking about the R&B treatment it gets from the late singer Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings at the beginning of the 2009 film “Up in the Air.”
“I Left My Wallet in El Segundo”
Written and recorded by Jonathan Davis (a.k.a. Q-Tip), Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Malik Taylor and Jerobi White, better known as A Tribe called Quest. This 1990 piece is a fine reminder that no road trip — or song list — should be taken too seriously.
— Christopher Reynolds
I am a huge fan of travel by television, series and film. Travel shows, such as “The Amazing Race” (CBS.com, Hulu), “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” (go.cnn.com), “An Idiot Abroad” (Amazon) and “The Trip” (Amazon) are no-brainers , as is the array of nature-doc series, including “Our Planet” (Netflix) and “Planet Earth II” (Amazon).
But there are also loads of dramas and comedies that span the globe. (In the silver lining department, Acorn TV, which has lots of great British and Canadian shows, including “Vera,” “Doc Martin” and “Keeping Faith,” is now offering a 30-day, as opposed to seven-day, free trial. Code: FREE 30). Here is a list of some of my favorite trips:
“The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” (HBO Go, Hulu). I love this adaptation of Alexander McCall Smith’s famous series, which stars Jill Scott, Lucian Msamati and Anika Noni Rose, and was sad when it was canceled after one season. But that season will transport you for seven delightful hours.
“Derry Girls” (Netflix). A group of teenage girls in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. The second season (more are on the way) ends with a visit by President Clinton. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll long for fish and chips even if you don’t like fish and chips.
“Moone Boy” (Hulu). A young lad in rural Ireland copes with the “help” of his adult imaginary friend played by Chris O’Dowd. Rural Ireland, Chris O’Dowd. Need I say more?
“Letters to Juliet” (Showtime via Prime Video). Amanda Seyfried and Vanessa Redgrave in a movie that revolves around new and old love forever changed by letters left in Juliet’s wall in Verona. Totally crazy and absolutely beautiful.
“The Trip to Italy” (Amazon). Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon eat, bicker and trade Sean Connery impersonations through Liguria, Tuscany, Rome, Amalfi and Capri. It is part of “The Trip” series, which began with the two on a restaurant tour of Northern England. (There also are a “The Trip to Spain” and an upcoming “Greece.”)
“Da Vinci’s Demons” (Starz). This highly fictitious and fantastic imagining of a youthful Leonardo was filmed in Wales, but it feels like Renaissance Italy. Escapism at its best.
“Outlander” (Starz, Netflix). Obviously. Based on the novels of Diana Gabaldon, the tale of a woman transported back to the time of the Highlanders is historic, gorgeous and romantic. The first season could have been sponsored by the Scottish tourism board; subsequent seasons take us to 18th century Paris and Scotland, 19th century Boston, 18th century Caribbean and, finally, the British colony of Georgia. If that isn’t enough travel for you, I don’t know what is.
“The Illusionist” (Amazon). An animated film by Oscar-winner Sylvain Chomet follows an out-of-work French magician in Edinburgh as he befriends a young woman who is convinced his magic is real. Almost no dialogue because it is absolutely unnecessary.
“Shetland” (BritBox). Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez (Douglas Henshall) solves crimes on the Scottish archipelago while raising his daughter and occasionally making trips to Glasgow.
So much to choose from, but in honor of Idris Elba, who just announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus (though not yet symptomatic), I pick “Luther” (Netflix), in which Elba’s Detective Chief Inspector John Luther handles crime of every sort in a London that looks like an actual city rather than a Big Ben-dominated postcard.
If you love green and gorgeously gloomier parts of Northern England, you can spend loads of time in Yorkshire through the lens of Sally Wainwright:
“Last Tango in Halifax” (Netflix). Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid play former high school sweethearts reunited, bringing together two very different families, one headed by Nicola Walker, the other by Sarah Lancashire. If that cast doesn’t get you, the Yorkshire hills will.
“Happy Valley” (Netflix). Lancashire also stars, this time as West Yorkshire police sergeant Catherine Cawood, who is the greatest British cop since Jane Tennison.
“Gentlemen Jack” (HBO). Wainwright’s historical drama explores the life of 19th century landowner, industrialist and (sort of) out-lesbian Anne Lister (Suranne Jones).The same lovely Yorkshire countryside, different century.
“Call My Agent!” (Netflix). Members of a Paris talent agency deal with all manner of conflict and comedy in French, which somehow makes it seem smarter and funnier.
“Maigret” (BritBox). There are several TV versions of the famous George Simenon detective, who has been played by Michael Gamboneand, more recently, by Rowan Atkinson, but all take you through every neighborhood in Paris and occasionally into the French countryside.
— Mary McNamara
We’ve put away passports, canceled reservations, returned the suitcase to the closet. For inveterate travelers, it’s hard to bear. As author Martha Gellhorn said, we’re “in the same position towards travel as a leopard is towards his spots.”
In this strange, stationary time, travel books are the answer. Books that transport, expertly inform and speak to the soul. So self-quarantine, sit in a chair by a window or fireplace, and read one of these travel classics about our still wondrous world.
“Questions of Travel” by Elizabeth Bishop contemplates in delicate verse the need we feel to go away:
“Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?”
Bishop, orphaned as a little girl, was cast into a world she nervously roamed, seeking home, writing poetry that critic Ernie Hilbert compared to a tremulously balanced Alexander Calder mobile, “turning so subtly as to seem almost still at first, every element, every weight of meaning and song, poised flawlessly against the next.” For travelers who’ve pondered their predisposition deeply, Bishop’s poetry comes as a pure joy.
“In Patagonia” by Bruce Chatwin is a cunning blend of fact and fiction that traces the author’s 1974 pilgrimage to Chilean Patagonia, “the far end of the world.” His ostensible purpose is to investigate a snippet of desiccated skin found by sea captain Charlie Milward, a distant relative, and said by his grandmother to be from a brontosaurus. But on the way from the Natural History Museum in La Plata to the Cave of the Mylodon near the tip of the continent, Chatwin finds quizzical distractions and stories within stories that replicate and mutate.
“Travels With Myself and Another” by Martha Gellhorn begins with the author bemoaning her tough luck while “sitting on a rotten little beach at the western tip of Crete, flanked by a waterlogged shoe and a rusted potty.” Gellhorn, a foreign correspondent who covered most of the wars of the 20th century and was the third wife of Ernest Hemingway, had a penchant for horrible trips that she ultimately decided were the most unforgettable kind.
Whether flying over the Himalayas in a shuddering DC-3 or visiting a leper hospital in Cameroon, Gellhorn always has something outré, opinionated and hilarious to say. No matter how much she complains, she loves every minute of it. “Stop traveling?” she says, “Come, come. That was carrying despair to preposterous lengths.”
“A Moveable Feast” by Ernest Hemingway is the Nobel Prize-winning writer’s myth-making memoir of Paris between the wars, when it was cheap and somehow more authentic than it seems now. In Hemingway’s signature plain, powerful prose, the lights come on in the Latin Quarter and Montparnasse as the original expatriate wanders from bar to cafe to bistro with Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and others, gabbing with fishermen and booksellers on the banks of the Seine and occasionally writing. Hemingway used these years and experiences as a basis for his first celebrated novel, “The Sun Also Rises,” but if you’re a traveler and lover of Paris, you’ll like this more.
“River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze” by Peter Hessler recollects the author’s stint as an English teacher for the U.S. Peace Corps in Fuling, China. He isn’t the first Peace Corps volunteer to turn his experiences into a book; author Paul Theroux started that way. But Hessler stayed and became something of an expert on China during its economic opening. A careful, honest, thoughtful observer, he beautifully renders the cultural shocks American travelers in China may experience, as well as those the Chinese feel when presented with visitors from the West.
“The White Nile” by Alan Moorehead chronicles Victorian-age exploration in Africa, especially the quest for the source of the Nile by Richard Burton and John H. Speke, David Stanley and Henry Morton Livingston, Samuel Baker and his wife, Florence. None of them got it right. But it hardly matters because their misadventures, blunders and outright lies about what they questing through in what they called “the dark continent” make captivating reading. The book is richly illustrated and chockful-full of maps.
“The Virago Book of Women Travellers,” edited by Mary Morris with Larry O’Connor, gathers smartly selected and edited writing about travel by women, as varied as reports about early 18th century Constantinople by Lady Mary Wortley Montagucq, a British diplomat’s wife, and Annie Dillard’s unsettling account of the killing of a deer in Ecuador’s Amazon.
The collection showcases the achievements, adventures and hardships women travelers faced while giving readers a deep drink of the places they visited. It will keep you reading for weeks and claim an important place on your travel bookshelf.
“On Persephone’s Island” by Mary Taylor Simeti is a long, enchanting tour of Sicily from its sublime Greek ruins, Baroque churches, vineyards and olive presses to its poverty, corruption and violent cities. By moving across the island and through the seasons with the goddess of spring Persephone — said to have been born on Sicily — Simeti finds a way to reconcile the contradictions. The author, who arrived on the island after graduating from Radcliffe in 1962, married and never left, is also an expert on Sicilian cuisine.
“Travels With a Donkey in the Cévennes” by Robert Louis Stevenson is a movingly written story about a 120-mile walking trip with a donkey — the snarky Modestine — and a homemade bedroll from the hamlet of Le Monastier to the town of St.-Jean-du-Gard in the Cévennes mountains of central France.
These sparsely populated peaks are considered the Appalachians of France, with a tragic history of religious persecution. Stevenson was 28 when he wrote this memoir in 1878 and in love with an unsuitable woman (whom he later married). On this walk, communing with mountain vistas, chestnut forests and rocky, fast-running streams, he worked out his problems and found his way forward, part of the purpose for traveling.
Homer’s “Odyssey,” newly translated by Emily Wilson, makes the story of Odysseus’ long, treacherous trip home from the Trojan War a travel adventure of the first order. We encounter tales we probably read in college as Odysseus sails the Mediterranean, evading Sirens, sea monsters and spellbinding sorceresses. But this new translation makes them psychologically real. Poor Odysseus is visited by these troubles because he’s offended the sea god Poseidon. And aren’t we all in the hands of the travel gods when we set off to see the world?
— Susan Spano
So you canceled spring break and summer’s travel plans are looking a bit iffy as well? We have no words, but we do have some movies to suggest. They’ll take you places, and you won’t have to navigate Customs. Here’s a selection of staff favorites that will let you travel vicariously — or at least smile at the relatable moments.
Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Christina Baranski, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth (2008)
If ever there was a time for a feel-good, low-stakes jukebox musical, it’s now. Donna, a free spirit, came to a gem of a Greek island decades earlier and fixed up a crumbling hotel. Sophie, her daughter, is engaged to be married, which has her wondering about her family history. As her mother plans the wedding with her lifelong BFFs, Sophie secretly invites three contenders in an effort to discover which one is her real dad. There’s singing, dancing, glittering seas and endless blue skies — and shirtless Greeks. There’s also a sequel with Cher. — Jessica Roy
Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh (2004)
Following two middle-aged men on a bachelor weekend road trip might not, at first blush, seem like feel-good escapist fare. But there’s something about the pace of the film that makes it feel as if you’re on a weeklong wine-tasting tour of California’s Santa Ynez wine country. It’s an effect heightened by showcasing touristy must-visit spots such as Ostrichland, the Hitching Post II restaurant in Buellton and Fess Parker Winery, where a cringe-worthy guzzling of a wine spit bucket makes you realize that maybe, just maybe, you’re better off watching this road trip meltdown from afar. — Adam Tschorn
You might not think a film about smuggling money out of Nazi Germany is a travel story. But this movie, based on what may or may not be events in the life of playwright Lillian Hellman, covers much ground — New York, Vienna, Paris, Berlin and Moscow. If the long train ride across the snowy countryside to deliver the goods doesn’t give you chills, the tension of what’s at stake will. — Catharine Hamm
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Ralph Fiennes, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray (2014)
Looking for a hotel to whimsically sweep you away? You can thank Wes Anderson for this cinematic respite. Pretend you are a guest in the wedding-cake-style, gloriously pink, nonexistent grand hotel in the nonexistent European capital of Lutz. Watch the absurdly dedicated concierge and lowly lobby boy skip through time as they encounter adventure (where’s that stolen masterpiece?), death (a funny one), bullies (the not-so funny Nazis) — then watch a mini-feature on how Anderson created this fictionally fascinating hotel. — Mary Forgione
“The Great Race”
Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, Jack Lemmon, Keenan Wynn (1965)
There’s a big car race, in the early days of the automobile, from New York to Paris by way of Alaska and Russia. Lemmon is the bad guy in black (with mustache). Curtis is the good guy in white (with strangely twinkling eyes). Wood is the reporter on their trail. It’s nothing but worldly fun, especially the epic pie fight in which Curtis stays immaculately clean ... until he doesn’t. It is a bit long — two hours and 40 minutes — but it’s zany. We need zany. — Christopher Reynolds
“Planes, Trains and Automobiles”
Steve Martin and John Candy (1987)
Ever feel as if a trip is cursed? This is a brilliant spoof on Thanksgiving travel — a hilarious, character-driven John Hughes classic. The magic is in the play between Martin and Candy. The comedy gives you the warm and fuzzies despite the escalating series of travel mishaps. Predictable story line, till Candy’s Del Griffith reveals: “I haven’t been home in years.” — Chris Erskine
“Lawrence of Arabia”
Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif (1962)
Director David Lean uses the wide screen to give us a mesmerizing vision of the desert and a handful of compelling characters in a struggle with each other and themselves. Haunting theme by Maurice Jarre. The story portrays greater Syria during World War I but was shot in Jordan (including spectacular Wadi Rum), Spain and Morocco. Lean didn’t shoot at Jordan’s most widely admired landmark — Petra, where buildings are carved into canyon walls — but I can’t find fault with anything that’s on screen. — Christopher Reynolds
Jack Lemmon, Sandy Dennis (1970)
New York City was hardly at its best in the late ’60s. There were constant strikes, and Mayor John Lindsay seemed at the mercy of things. So did the couple in this Neil Simon movie, Gwen and George Kellerman, two visitors from Ohio who suffer every urban indignity. Lemmon is at his sensational everyman best, and Dennis — “Oh, my god!”— might be even better. — Chris Erskine
“A Room With a View”
Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench (1985)
Be sure to have a decent bottle of wine on hand, because this Edwardian-era rom-com will make you yearn for a glass or two, along with a chance to wander unspoiled northern Italy. This classic adaptation of E.M. Forster’s novel is worth a watch if only to see a very young (19) Helena Bonham Carter and her chaperone, Maggie Smith, become demurely but deliciously undone by stifling Edwardian values made ridiculous by freewheeling Italian culture, a passionate novelist (brilliantly played by Judi Dench) and honest-to-God love. — Jeanette Marantos