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Five Travel Films for the Solo Tripper

August 24, 2014

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There comes a moment in nearly every person’s life when they become suffocated by the feeling of mental stress and anxiety brought on from work, social relationships, or obligations to others, if not all three. This feeling can manifest itself into physical symptoms that include, but are not limited to, shortness of breath, lack of sleep, general malaise, and agitation emerging when faced with thoughts of going through another average soul-sucking day. A common cure for this debilitating mood is simply to escape the situation in which one experiences these feelings by taking time away for oneself on holiday or vacation. The average American work week leaves little time for self-reflection and the freedom to wind down. Working 40 hours a week while maintaining the recommended night’s sleep leaves very little time for fulfilling responsibilities to family or lovers, as well as personal reflection time for oneself. Such devotion to the material world does nothing but add stress and anxiety to the already volatile nature of life.

This type of anxiety had been weighing long and hard on my mind for the past couple of months. I felt the only way to center myself and break the chains of institutional confinement was by changing my perspective on the events of work and living. I decided a break from it all to explore someplace by myself was what I needed. Yet, without a car I had to forego my desires of recuperating in the solitude of nature. Instead, I hopped aboard a Megabus and let it take me to the closest walkable city I could get to in a short amount of time. Charlotte, NC reined as the victor to set up solitary shop in, and what a beautifully invigorating time away it was. I fulfilled the reflection I so desperately craved, I found a resurgence of the independence I had begun to miss. My thirst for travel became quenched. Somewhere in my time away during an alcohol and Chinese food infused night, a film caught my attention. It reminded me how cinema can relay a complex existential narrative into a timelessly relative reflection of my own situations, while also validating my life experiences. These are films that have played a hand at guiding  me to the brave decision of making time for myself to escape the nuances created by own brain and find peace of mind in exploring what I can of this beautiful planet.

#5 On the Road

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The film responsible for conceiving this list. I initially wrote off Walter Salles’ placidly paced cinematic wonder during its initial release. How anyone could retell Jack Kerouac’s desolate narrative of a road tripping boy’s misadventures through America was beyond me. Yet, Salles transcribes Kerouac’s timeless tale into a gorgeous visual tapestry that weaves together astounding cinematography with powerful performances to captures the era of the story and the essence of its tale. Kristen Stewart as Maryann also does wonders fulfilling the usually missing role of an adventurous woman in road films as she treks out on her own to discover what she truly needs and wants out of life. Salles’ visual eyes scrutinizes and romanticizes the open road urging those who watch On the Road to become vexed by the idea of conquering inner squabbles or just taking a breather from the stresses of life by hopping in a car with a few joints and a couple of buddies to see the beauty and face the hardships this country has to offer.

#4 Y Tu Mama Tambien

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Alfonso Cuaron mixes the tale of two immature, sex-crazed teens coming of age on a road trip with that of an older woman’s search for happiness. Y Tu Mama Tambien has been a steady inspiration throughout the years when the thought of travelling comes to mind. Road narratives featuring a lead female is rare. The stories of solo female travelers is usually left to the news pages resulting in many women fearing travelling alone. Vanessa Veselka explores this discrepancy as a typical problem of American gender perception in her fascinating piece featured in The American ReaderY Tu Mama Tambien features a woman whose own personal struggles pushes her into the car of two selfish teenagers. While traveling, she come to terms with the standing of her own relationship, self-worth, and as we later learn, her own mortality. Y Tu Mama Tambien’s focus is undoubtedly the two boys, but Maria’s brave step to setting out on an adventure all by herself was something that always struck me, even when I was too young to realize why.

#3 The Motorcycle Diaries

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Che Guevara’s life had always been above my head in my younger years, but, like most, I became infatuated with him after seeing Salles tale of his idealistic start. Though Guevara didn’t take his trip alone, he’s heart’s journey was much different from his traveling partner, Alberto Granado. Salles paints a lavishly brooding picture of how Guevara’s hedonistic travel on his motorcycle across South America spawned Guevara’s passion for equality among humanity and ignited his disdain for socio-economic class systems in place around him. The Motorcycle Diaries introduced me to the cognitive bliss of a road trip: beautiful landscapes each marked by thoughts and reflections of oneself and the lives of those living within them. I fondly think of The Motorcycle Diaries film every time I travel.

#2 Before Sunrise

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On his way back to the States, Jesse meets a Parisian native, Celine, by chance on a train from Budapest to Vienna. The two strike up conversation and Jesse convinces Celine to get off in Vienna with him. They then spend the rest of the night and into the morning talking about every topic that can possibly cross their minds from politics, to philosophy, to love, and the city around them. Before Sunrise is an important film for the solo traveler as it embraces the simplicity and importance of allowing your feet be your guide while your mind races a mile a minute in wonder and introspection. Jesse and Celine view as much of the city as they can in one night which plays to both my introverted nature and my extroverted moments. Roaming a city while rambling to myself is a pleasure, but Before Sunrise reminds me of how great the company of another who understands you on a fundamental level can be.

#1 Into the Wild

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Sean Penn’s ode to freedom is THE film for solo trippers. Lead character and real life adventurer Christopher McCandless may not have been sharpest knife in the drawer for travelling alone, off the grid with limited survival skills, but he took that ever-present nagging feeling that one occasionally feels about achieving “the American dream” through material wealth and status, and instead seeks something better and more basic out of life. Whether his journey is successful is debatable, but to let go of possessions and baggage and just give yourself over to life instead of holding on to this false illusion of control is empowering and admirable. It’s something I dream about, especially since the life of a Sannyasa has slowly become more appealing to me. I first saw Into the Wild about a month before I embarked on a round trip 6-day greyhound bus ride by myself to meet friends in Montana a few years ago. Into the Wild acted as a personal inspiration for the journey that followed. I slept under an open canopy of stars nearly every night, trekked alone up and down the façade of a mountain in search of a lost phone, was shot at by distant neighbors, cooked a feast of meat over an open fire, and breathed in a new life of independence and joy in an otherwise unfulfilled, desolate summer. Into the Wild reminded me to see the world and live life to the fullest, as well as enjoying the best of both worlds: the joy of spending time in good company and blissful self-reflexive solitude.

Now go out alone if even for a day and explore the world and your inner self! I promise it will do you good.

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