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Around the World: This Summer’s Best Pseudo-Travel

Jennifer Merin on

Summer is officially here and that means that this year’s peak vacation travel season has officially taken off. However, if you’re still not quite comfortable about jumping aboard a flight to your destination of choice, you can visit many desirable places via the movies. And you can do it from the comfort and safely of your own home – via the convenience of the internet.

Virtual vacations won’t measure up to the real thing, of course, but if you pick enjoyable flicks, you can discover alluring destinations that will jump start your travels again when you do feel comfortable ensconcing yourself in an aircraft’s densely occupied space or a train or a cruise ship, and staying in staying in rooms that are not your own.

If you imagine when you dim your ambient lights that you are about to take off on a great adventure, you may find that some films give you travel experiences that would otherwise never occurred to you or would be impossible for you to have. For example: Think “James Bond” or “Mission Impossible” --any of the editions.

Even more engaging than those magnificently over the top spectacular spy tours are dramas and comedies that capture possible travel experiences. So set a one-a-week schedule for yourself to plunk yourself down on your sofa to get away from it all.

There are so many great movies set in marvelous places that you can trust to the random find on Netflix or Hulu or one of the other streaming platforms, but here are some suggestions of sure winners.

“Under the Tuscan Sun” (2003) will put you in the mind to find romance and good food in Italy. The romcom centers on the adventures of 30-something Frances (Diane Lane), a writer who’s just been dumped by her husband and takes up a friend’s offer to travel to Italy, where she finds and buys an old villa and sets about renovating it – and renovating her life, as well. As she encounters local people and learns their customs, she falls in love with Tuscany, and you will, too. The scenery and cinematography are absolutely stunning and the story is refreshingly charming. The film is available on Prime Video.

‘Eat Pray Love” (2010) also involves Italy and food, as well as spirituality and love in Bali and India. Liz (Julia Roberts) is newly on her own after a divorce, and she sets off on a round the world trip to find herself and decide her future. Through her experiences and observations, you discover how travel to new and unknown destinations awakens the senses and expands consciousness in Liz and, by virtual extension, can do the same for you. Again, gorgeous scenography and cinematography make watching “Eat Pray Love” a very satisfying trip. Available on Netflix.

Speaking of India, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (2011) presents a truly appealing junket to Jaipur. A group of British senior citizens (a sterling cast lead by Judi Dench and Bill Nighy) are seeking to maximize their retirement funds by relocating themselves from expensive England to affordable India, but when they arrive at their new home, the titular hotel, they find it in shocking disrepair. The hotel’s charming and always eager to please young owner (Dev Patel) convinces them to stay, and they – one by one and all together -- find themselves discovering the riches of local culture and new meaning in their lives. With them, you get to visit temples and markets and historic sites, and absorb enlightening details about the culture and history. The film was so successful that a sequel, “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” was released in 2015, following the British seniors sharing their expertise in helping the hotel owner to open a second location. So you get two exotic getaways to Jaipur. Both are available on Prime Video

The Oscar-winning “Nowhere in Africa” (2001) is Carolyn Link’s epic film about a German Jewish family who escape Nazi persecution by fleeing to Kenya where they trade their life of luxury in Berlin for survival in rural Kenya. The narrative is complex and compelling, as the husband, a very successful lawyer in bustling Berlin, becomes a poorly paid farm manager and the high society wife faces huge challenges of adjustment. Told from the point of view of their young daughter, who quickly embraces Africa and African tribal culture, the story is galvanizing. And the film’s locations, ranging from Berlin and snow-clad mountains in Germany to Nairobi and the hot and arid landscape in Kenya, will transport you from your living room for an historic two and a half hour journey of discovery. Available on

“Whale Rider” (2002) will take you to entirely different corner and culture of the world, a Maori community in New Zealand. Niki Caro’s film tells the story of a young Maori girl (Keisha Castle-Hughes) who has a natural talent for riding on the backs of whales, a skill that is supposed to be pursued by men. The story is a marvelous reveal of Maori tradition and culture and the way Maoris relate to the sea and sea creatures. Seeing a whale rider is something you probably wouldn’t be able to witness even if (or when) you were to go to New Zealand, but the film will put you into the exceptionally beautiful land and seascapes and undoubtedly whet your appetite for a real physical visit to the island nation. “Whale Rider” is available on IMDb TV.

If summer heat makes you crave the cold, tune in for “The Grizzlies,” (2018) a wonderful sports movie that takes place in the remote and impoverished Canadian Arctic town of Kugluktuk, an Inuit community plagued by alcoholism and drug use, domestic violence and one of the world’s highest teen suicide rates. But the establishment of a local Lacrosse team gives the school kids a sense of hope and self-esteem that helps them to overcome their sense of despair and disenfranchisement. The story sounds too good to be true...but it actually is true, and residents of the town play the characters in the film. As for the scenography, think glacial. This film is definitely cool, and it will warm your heart. It’s streaming on Netflix.

Travel virtually to these diverse destinations with these wonderful movies, and if you have other places you’d like to visit from the comfort and safety of your couch, just do an internet search for ‘films shot in (your pick of place)” and bon voyage.


Copyright 2021 Jennifer Merin



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