As consumers of entertainment, we love following along on a character’s journey to a happy ending and the self-discovery that creates it. It’s a plotline that exists across nearly every genre of film but none quite as literally as in the beloved road trip movie. Within those two hours, we feel vicarious freedom and the incentive for adopting what the characters learn into our own lives.
What do these travel movies teach us about slow travel? Does ditching the itinerary serve the characters? We’ll look at three movies, The Holiday (2006), Eat Pray Love (2010) and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), and examine how each portrays slow travel.
Home swapping is a common practice in slow travel used to save money and achieve an authentic glimpse at life as a local. In The Holiday (2006), Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz play Iris and Amanda, two women seeking refuge from the emotional torment caused by (you guessed it) unfaithful men.
Iris and Amanda swap houses, cars, everything for two weeks with the sole purpose of existing in a place – any place – that isn’t where they are. Both were eager to subjugate themselves to the other’s life, exposing the purpose of travel in its purest form: to experience life from a different perspective.
Iris, a woman burdened by unrequited love, spends time in Amanda’s lavish L.A. compound and sparks relationships with the neighbors, becoming engrained in their lives. By the end of the movie, she’s helped a widowed film industry legend reclaim his autonomy and helped Jack Black’s character through a breakup (by dating him, but whatever). Through the process, she finds the confidence to distance herself from the toxicity she left in London.
Meanwhile, Amanda makes the trek to a remote English cabin, where she plans to do nothing but read books in the tub with a bottle of wine. That lasted six hours. The emotionally stunted workaholic wasn’t too keen on the idea of slow travel. That is until Iris’s charming brother comes in and, with the help of his two adorable daughters, helps heal the wounded child within her.
Swapping homes and engaging with locals proved that these characters didn’t have to cross attractions off a list to reap the benefits of travel. Although the thought of processing pain and betrayal on vacation sounds rather sad, what was most healing for them was simply being in their new environment. Sometimes clarity is elusive when you’re in the muck of things. Physical relocation from a situation and openness to new connections can have an inexplicable effect on your perspective.
In the words of Iris: “You’ll go somewhere new, and you’ll meet people who make you feel worthwhile again, and little pieces of your soul will finally come back.”
Eat Pray Love
I’ll spare the synopsis as most have seen it or read the 2006 memoir on which it’s based, but what’s worth noting is Julia Roberts’ character’s sensitivity and respect for the cultures she’s inserting herself in and the response of the locals who quickly become family.
During her yearlong travels throughout Italy, India and Bali, Roberts’ character surrenders to the new ways of life she’s exploring. Abandoning the customs of her own culture led her to authentic cultural experiences and connections that gave rise to unimaginable opportunities, most beneficial to her being the discovery of dolce far niente, “the sweetness of doing nothing.” The absence of a daily itinerary allowed her the mental space for introspection she needed to rediscover an appetite for life and find inner balance.
The experience documented in Eat Pray Love is the extreme. Most vacationers aren’t doing so in yearlong intervals, and, to nitpick, this instance was a disservice to the character financially in terms of blowing all her money and jeopardizing her foundation back home. It did, however, prove to be sustainable for the local environment through her connections with local business owners and trip to attractions off the beaten path.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
“Off the beaten path” finds new meaning in The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert (1994). Three drag performers embark on a road trip through rural towns in the Australian Outback aboard a tour bus christened “Priscilla.” With sights set on a four-week casino resort gig that awaits them in Alice Springs, Priscilla gives out, and the trio winds up stranded in the desert.
“I hereby christen this budget Barbie camper – Priscilla – queen of the desert!”
With nothing to do but keep the party going, the queens rehearse for the upcoming shows. The fun catches the attention of a group of indigenous Australians with whom they share a night of drinks and performances before a savior in the form of heterosexual Bob, the mechanic and drag aficionado who takes a liking to Bernadette, comes the next morning and ends up boarding Priscilla for the remainder of the trip.
The characters tackle more than mechanical issues along the way. We see them plagued with hate crimes from locals, childhood traumas, inner-circle cattiness and the pressures of self-acceptance and fatherhood. With those challenges came the most fulfilling connections in this movie: when any one of the characters stepped out of their comfort zones and were rewarded with kindness. I imagine each character feeling exhausted after weeks on the road but unarguably more deeply fulfilled by the journey.
As these films suggest, traveling slowly serves a purpose greater than exposing you to new experiences, it can also create space for us to make daily life infinitely better upon our return.
Ditching itineraries and opting out of traditional tourist attractions can be a huge step out of your comfort zone. You open yourself up to experiences you might not know how to navigate, making yourself vulnerable in a totally new place. But like these characters, you open yourself up to explore and learn freely in new spaces without the confines of a schedule or predetermined objectives, and that is a catalyst for personal discovery and growth that makes a lasting impression.