Music and travel often go hand in hand. Listening to banging beats helps stave off boredom while we wait in the airport lounge for our flight. It keeps our mind occupied on long flights or train rides. It comforts us when we’re away from home for an extended period of time. We sing along to it in the car, inadvertently making it the soundtrack to our road trip and creating memories we’ll look back on fondly one day. But exactly what makes a good travel inspiration song? Though there’s not one defining answer, it can often be found in the lyrics, words that somehow capture aspects of travel we relate to or that allow us to fantasize we’re somewhere far away. Music videos enhance our emotions even further, and make us wish we were there just like the people on our screen, on that island, or that mountain top, sharing in their experience.
There are travel themed songs that many consider to be classics; ‘Route 66’ by Nat King Cole, Johnny Cash’s ‘I’ve Been Everywhere’ or Frank Sinatra’s ‘Come Fly With Me’ for example. Those are just a few that while not listed here, still deserve recognition and a listen. It’s impossible to list every super fantastic travel inspiration song ever written in the history of music, but here are 25 that cut across genre and decade, stir up wanderlust, and bring out our inner bohemian. Think of it as a potential playlist for your next trip.
25 California Dreamin’ - The Mamas and The Papas
I love a lot of things about my home county. The Lake District has, in my opinion, some of Britain’s most astounding views. Our landscape is incredible. I’m passionate about our farming industry and the shellfish that comes from our coast. But heck, it rains a lot here. We actually get more rainfall a year than anywhere else in England and on those rainy days, I’d easily swap it all for California.
See, California seems to have everything I need. It has the valleys and mountain ranges that I adore so much. It has the seafood and a massive agriculture industry, but it doesn’t have the rain. Then, let’s not forget the bonus of a built-in wine region.
A semi-autobiographical song by The Mamas and The Papas is a song that many of us can relate to even if we’ve never been to California or experienced the drudgery of winter. We all know what it’s like to be living in one place while wishing we could be somewhere else, enjoying a much happier existence, especially if we’ve already had a taste of the good life. Listening to this one gets us thinking that it might be time to turn the dream into a reality.
24 Do You Want To See The World? - The Kooks
A little lyrical decoding work might be needed to know if this song is about a figurative journey or a literal one but we choose to believe it’s the latter. The notion of travel is there (though less directly than in other entries on this list) with lines about leaving, being the passenger and sailing away. But perhaps the inspiration to travel begins and ends with the opening lyrics: ‘Do you want to see the world in a different way?’ to which we answer a resounding yes.
23 Permanent Vacation - Aerosmith
Permanent Vacation is basically the old school version of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). In the song, after receiving a letter from a friend telling him about the hot weather in Montego Bay, Lead singer Steven Tyler realizes that he “really really need[s] to get away [to] Saint-Tropez”. We’ve all seen our friends in their vacation photos splashed across our social media, looking like they’re having the time of their life. And just like this song, it makes us want to pack our bags.
22 Midnight Train to Georgia - Gladys Night and the Pips
Most songs in this list deal with travelling for positive reasons. But Midnight Train to Georgia is a case of pursuing a dream and when that dream doesn’t work out, we’re left in a nightmare. So what do we do? Go back to where we started from. Home. Written between the lines is the message that giving up on a dream is sad, but at least he tried, and the decision to leave is an empowered one. He should hold his head high, and so should we.
21 Ventura Highway - America
Inspired by a real road trip that band lyricist Dewey Bunnell took with his family when he was in seventh grade, Venture Highway conjures all of those good feels we have on a road trip. While there’s no real Ventura highway (though there is a highway 101 that runs through Ventura County, California), it doesn’t really matter. We imagine ourselves speeding down any open road with the sunroof down, a blazing sun above, and the wind in our hair, just like the song says.
20 King of the World- First Aid Kit
Family vacations are great but if you’re not at that stage of life, you may want to give this song a listen and use it as a reason to see a bit of the world before you settle down. It’s about being a wanderer, trying to figure things out, starting your day off in one place and finishing it in another. As you observe the mundane and cross paths with strangers on your journey, somewhere along the way you feel like you belong nowhere but everywhere at the same time. You’re at once “the queen of nothing and the king of the world”.
19 Free Man in Paris - Joni Mitchell
If you’ve ever felt like a different person when travelling abroad, then Free Man in Paris is your jam. Mitchell wrote the song based on comments made by her record label President about the stresses of his job, but how being in Paris made him feel “unfettered and alive”. Implicit in the lyrics is the idea that who we are can get buried beneath deadlines, appointments, and meetings. But when we’re elsewhere, the change of scenery brings out our alter ego. Suddenly we’re not only a new person, we feel more in tune with who we truly are. A trip away can bring us back home.
18 Fast Car - Tracy Chapman
Yet another song with driving involved but this time with some very sombre themes. Unlike Ventura Highway, there are no happy vibes to be found in Chapman’s Fast Car. Instead, it’s a story about travelling out of necessity and survival, not in search of love or adventure. Still, it motivates those of us pondering over making a life-changing decision: stay and continue to live in misery or leave and never come back. Choosing to not just travel but leave is always a big risk. But it’s a choice that can make all the difference.
17 Get Here - Oleta Adams
Sometimes we travel not to see someplace, but to see someone. We all have people in our life that matter to us but unless you’re lucky, they don’t all live in the same city. Get here is about letting a loved one know that no matter how far away, they are missed and someone is awaiting their return. Hearing Oleta Adams’ soulful and emotional rendition of the lyrics is enough to make anyone think about taking a trip back home.
16 Barcelona - George Ezra
George Ezra’s better-known track might be ‘Budapest’, but it’s his song ‘Barcelona’ which captures the sense of nostalgia that comes after spending time in a country that’s not home. Ezra wrote it based on his 1-month stay in a room he rented from a total stranger in Barcelona. If we can’t go back to a place we’re wistful for, we can at least take a mental mini-trip as Ezra does, singing:
“Every time you have to go
Shut my eyes and you know
I’ll be lying right by your side
15 Have Love, Will Travel - The Sonics
If you’re single, looking for love and willing to cross borders to find it, then this Sonics cover of a 1959 song can help you get the word out. It’s like a personal ad set to music and the message couldn’t be more clear; he’s a guy that’s willing to travel for any girl that's got love for him, “No matter when no matter where I'll be I'm looking for a woman that'll satisfy me”. Who says love has to be complicated?
14 Leaving Las Vegas - Sheryl Crow
Imagine you’ve spent your whole life living in the same place, or conversely, chose to leave your hometown and live abroad. Fast forward to years later and things have become mundane. You’ve grown tired of surroundings, of your routine, and of seeing the same faces all the time. It dawns on you that you’ve had it. Officially. Leaving Las Vegas is about when a place has lost its charm and the realization that it’s time move away and move on. Listen to it when you want to say goodbye not just to a city, but a time in your life.
13 Paris - Tokyo Lupe Fiasco
Part of being an artist is about going on tour and travelling around the world. While it must have its drawbacks, on this track Lupe’s mostly highlighting some of the benefits. It allows him to be a jet-setter, as the lyrics suggest, and whether he’s rapping to his girlfriend or a groupie, I hope she takes him up on his offer to go with him. She should do it for those of us who wish we could “go to sleep in Paris and wake up in Tokyo”.
12 Around the World - Kings of Leon
Travel inspiration here doesn’t come from the lyrics necessarily but from the song’s video. Watching it we’re taken around the world, from Sweden to Chile, Nicaragua to Spain as various dance groups perform traditional and modern dance routines. The joy that the performers exude while highlighting various cultures is infectious, giving us the travel bug. We want to go to some of those mountain tops and town squares, immerse ourselves in a different culture, and maybe even dance a little.
11 American Boy - Estelle feat. Kanye West
This song may seem like an odd choice for this list at first but in some ways, it’s a classic travel love story about a boy and a girl who meet while on holiday and sparks fly. What follows is a potential long-distance relationship with one asking the other to play tour guide when they visit their hometown. Moral of the story: a chance meeting abroad can bring you unintended benefits like a foreign lover, and maybe even dual citizenship.
10 On the Road Again - Willie Nelson
You don’t have to be a musician on the road to appreciate the sentiment behind this Willie Nelson song. Perhaps the quintessential track for bohemians and gypsies, what it’s really about is doing what you love, and for some, that means being constantly on the move, quite literally. It appeals to the nomad in all of us with Nelson’s lyrics about ‘Goin' places that I've never been, seein' things that I may never see again’ succinctly summarizing why most travel in the first place
9 Two Tickets To Paradise -Eddie Money
Let’s be honest: when work is boring and life is a drag, who hasn’t daydreamed about dropping everything and taking off on a much-needed vacation? Eddie Money’s Two Tickets to Paradise indulges this fantasy, leaving us wishing our lover, like the singer, would show up, tell us to pack our bags then whisk us away to ‘paradise’, that same night, no questions asked. The song is an ode to spontaneous travel, and a reminder that sometimes the trips we plan the least for, turn out to be the best.
8 Destination Calabria - Alex Gaudino feat. Crystal Waters
With dance music (that’s EDM to you millennials) it’s usually all about the beat, not the words, but on this track, you get the best of both worlds. You don’t need this song as an impetus to visit Calabria, that picture-perfect Southern region of Italy with turquoise waters and a rugged coastline, but a listen to the lyrics definitely doesn’t hurt. Crystal Waters tells us to leave everything behind, including the city, the pollution and life’s worries to go to “a paradise of love and joy...where we belong”. Any objections? Didn’t think so.
7 Tour The World - Renald Francoeur
If you’ve got kids and want them to be as passionate about travel as you are, then Renald Francoeur’s ‘Tour The World’ will do the trick. Part song, part geography lesson, every country in existence as of 2013 is in this 8-minute track (though there are skeptics out there). Truth be told, you’d be hard pressed to find this on anyone’s playlist, but watch the entertaining and informative illustrated video as you listen, and you’ll quickly realize even us adults need to brush up on our world knowledge.
6 Orinoco flow - Enya
A song about a river that flows through Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil? Or a nod to the studio in London where it was recorded with which it shares its name? The title inspiration is debatable but what’s not is Enya’s haunting and otherworldly voice imploring us to ‘sail away, sail away, sail away’. The song cleverly rhymes popular destinations with lesser known places (‘from Fiji to Tiree’), piquing the curiosity of even the most well travelled. New age music isn’t for everyone, but the strong imagery in Orinoco flow is enough to make anyone who loves to travel a fan.
5 Traveling Alone - Passenger
Passenger wrote this song after an old man related his tragic story to him about his wife passing away shortly after they had bought tickets to travel around the world together. The inspiration and the lyrics may be sad, but the tragedy can compel us to follow through on lifelong travel dreams, regardless of circumstance. This song is also for those of us who put off travelling because we fear doing it alone. If a recently widowed 70-year old can do it, so can we.
4 Born To Be Wild - Steppenwolf
This is the perfect song to play right before a long trip on the road, or that weekend in Vegas, whether it’s on 4 wheels or two. The lead singer’s voice, like a motorcycle engine, revs us up, gets our juices flowing, our mojo rising, and any other energy euphemisms you can think of. Lyrics like “Lookin’ for adventure and whatever comes our way” put us in the mindset of hedonism. We know a crazy trip is about to begin.
3 Roam - B52’s
If there’s one song that encapsulates the emotional charge of excitement and sense of adventure that comes with going on a trip, this one would be it. The upbeat rhythm and positive lyrics of ‘Roam’ is a celebration of travel and exploration. The B52’s are encouraging us to be carefree wanderers, to “Fly the great big sky”, “See the great big sea” and “kick through continents” in any way we can, with nothing but love as a guide. It’s a song with a simple and clear message: It’s a big world, so seize the day, get out there, and discover it!
2 Come away - Norah Jones
Come Away With Me is essentially a love song but it still belongs on this list, and not simply because of Jones’ line about travelling on a bus. Within the lyrics is the idea being tempted away, and following your heart to exist with someone in an isolated space, safe from distractions and detractors. It’s for romantics who believe in walks on cloudy days, ‘in fields where the yellow grass grows knee-high’ or kissing on mountain tops. For that kind of love, people would travel anywhere.
1 Holiday - Madonna
With its catchy chorus and upbeat feel, ‘Holiday’ is a piece of pop perfection that exemplifies what this entire list is about. The overall theme is taking a break from life and all its problems to celebrate but it’s been adopted as a song for holidays of any kind. The simple but very convincing lyrics are easily relatable, which explains why a song released in the early eighties can still fill up a dance-floor to this day. Even non-Madonna fans need a holiday (even if it’s just one day) so pump up the volume and enjoy.