One of the easiest ways to travel is with a movie and a little imagination. Snuggle up, grab some popcorn, and let our recommendations for the best family travel movies take you away on your next adventure.
Best Family Movies to Inspire Travel
We have organized our list of family travel movies by continent. You can be inspired by a particular region or just pick something on the list that catches your eye. All the movies are rated PG or below (according to the US film rating system). We encourage you to check they’re OK for your family. We use Common Sense Media, but we’ve heard good things about Kids-in-Mind too.
With one exception, we did not include documentaries on this list. We love documentaries and watch them frequently, but decided not to include them on our list of best travel movies for families. Let us know if we should write up our favorite documentaries in another post!
We’re old school (and sensitive) and prefer the original version of The Lion King. If you want something edgier, try the 2019 remake. Either way, the storyline is the same. Simba the lion cub is destined to be king of the pride lands. His power-hungry Uncle Scar has plans of his own for the throne. From creepy hyenas to rampaging wildebeests to laid back warthogs, Lion King is a great introduction to the wildlife and scenery of the African savannah.
The Queen of Katwe
Queen of Katwe is a Disney-fied version of the real-life story of Phiona Mutesi. Phiona unexpectedly takes up chess, a game that could give her a pathway towards education and financial stability, rare opportunities for a girl experiencing poverty in Uganda. Will she have a successful path as a chess player? Follow her amazing (and true!) adventure. Queen of Katwe is a raw movie with several gritty moments that might not be OK for your family. We met Phiona’s coach, Robert Katende, at a chess tournament. What an inspiration!
Duma is the story of a South African farm boy and his cheetah. Xan and his father have a plan to release Duma, their rescued cheetah, back to the wild. Sadly, Xan’s father dies and the plan falls to pieces. Spunky Xan decides to escape his new city life and embark on a quest to return Duma to the wild on his own! An adventurous and enchanting movie about a boy, his cheetah, and the true meaning of family and friendship.
Adventures in Zambezia
Cheetahs may be the fastest land animal, but peregrine falcons are the fastest creature on earth. Adventures in Zambezia follows Kai, the peregrine falcon, who chafes at life with his over-protective father (shades of Finding Nemo). Kai takes off alone for the island of Zambezia, where all species of native birds live in a bright-colored paradise…for now. Adventures in Zambezia is a gentle introduction to the bird and animal life found on the African continent. The storyline is predictable, but still light-hearted fun for the whole family.
In 1958, severe weather forced a Japanese Antarctic expedition to abandon their nine sled dogs. A year later, the research team returned and found two of the dogs still alive. Eight Below is Disney’s re-imagining of these events. Thankfully, the Disney version involves a lot more dogs surviving! Severe and early winter weather forces Jerry, and his fellow American Antarctic exploration team members, to evacuate Antarctica, leaving Jerry’s beloved sled dogs behind. Will he be able to return in time to rescue the dogs? Eight Below follows both Jerry’s fight to return to his dogs and the dogs’ fight for survival.
March of the Penguins
Yep. You found our one exception to the “no documentaries” rule for this post. Why? Well, largely because it’s hard to find movies based in Antarctica that hold the interest of the whole family. Also, who doesn’t love a baby penguin?! March of the Penguins follows the grueling annual trek of the Emperor penguins in Antarctica. The penguins face peril and some die, but overall we find the story inspiring and uplifting.
My Neighbor Totoro
Have you ever wanted a giant, cuddly, magic feature for a best friend? That’s just what you’ll get in My Neighbor Totoro. It’s 1958 and Satsuki and Mei move to the countryside to be nearer their hospitalized mother. Unexpectedly, magical creatures abound in the woods surrounding their new home. This masterpiece of anime by Miyazaki (Studio Ghibli) is a whimsical movie that still packs a girl-power punch.
Kung Fu Panda (series)
The first time we saw Kung Fu Panda, I expected to dislike it. Boy, was I wrong! OK, there is some occasional potty humor, but overall these movies are funny with great messages around family and teamwork. Can a clumsy panda who stumbled, literally, into being the Dragon Warrior save all of China from a series of terrible enemies? Together with Master Shifu and the Furious Five, he will seek to answer the question “can you achieve greatness if you’re not destined for it?”
What would you do if you found a yeti on your roof? In Abominable, Yi faces that exact dilemma. Committed to returning the yeti to Mount Everest, the first challenge is to escape Shanghai and the evil scientists tracking them down. Abominable is a high-energy and occasionally tense romp through Shanghai and other top tourist destinations in China.
Australia & Oceania
Get the tissues ready because Storm Boy is a tear-jerker. Expect lots of gorgeous scenes on coastal South Australia…and lots of sad people and sad events. Nothing is sugar-coated. We love the strong messages of nature and cultural conservation. We also love the antics of inquisitive and mischievous Mr. Percival, the pelican. Storm Boy splits between Michael’s childhood and his life as a grandfather. As a child, Michael forms an unlikely, but deep friendship with Mr. Percival, the pelican he rescued. As a grandfather and successful businessman, he alone can prevent his company from mining on sacred Aboriginal land, a cause close to his granddaughter’s heart.
A Disney princess movie without any, not even one, mention of romance or marriage! My kind of girl power! Moana is the story of a Polynesian princess Moana who must take to the sea in order to save her people. Her quest takes her on a perilous adventure to find the exiled demi-god Maui and restore the stolen Heart of Te Fiti. If a good story isn’t enough for you, the music is awesome and will have you singing for days afterward.
A potentially controversial choice since some people seem scarred by Finding Nemo. I admit that we usually still skip the part where a barracuda eats Nemo’s siblings and mother. Once past that gruesome bit, we find Finding Nemo a fun-filled, love-filled, occasionally tense romp from the Great Barrier Reef to Sydney Harbour. Clownfish Marlin is a loving, overprotective father who isn’t quite ready to let his son Nemo go to school. When Nemo is captured by a trophy-hunting dentist, his fears become reality. Marlin’s search is on to rescue Nemo!
The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep
If you read The Water Horse by Dick King-Smith, you might get a shock. “Based on the book” is a stretch since they changed the main character, time period, and more. However, The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep is still a touching story about the relationship between a boy, Angus, and the water horse, Crusoe, he hatches from an unusual egg found on the shore. The film was primarily shot in New Zeland, not Scotland where it takes place, but you probably won’t notice as you get sucked into the idea of magical water horses and Scottish lore.
The Secret of Roan Inish
A sweet, soothing movie steeped with Irish storytelling, The Secret of Roan Inish is a winner. The moody scenery shot in Donegal, Ireland might just have you booking tickets to this beautiful place! Years before, 10-year-old Fiona’s infant brother was lost when his cradle floated out to sea. After she is sent to live with her grandparents in a remote Irish coastal village, Fiona is convinced that Jaime is still alive. Her adventurous and determined spirit fuels her secret search to find her brother.
The Sound of Music
The Sound of Music has been transporting families to Salzburg, Austria since 1965. I can still remember the first time I visited Salzburg and couldn’t believe how recognizable scenes from the movie still were! The memorable music will have you singing Do-Re-Mi long after the credits roll!
Harry Potter (series)
It feels slightly ridiculous to put a movie as well-known as Harry Potter on this list. In case you’ve missed it, there is a nondescript boy named Harry Potter who lives a downtrodden existence with his aunt, uncle, and bully of a cousin. On his 11th birthday, Harry learns that he is a wizard when he’s accepted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy! The movie has great shots from all over London and Great Britain. As with the books, the movies get progressively darker. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the 4th in the series, is the first in the series with a PG-13 rating.
Life’s tough when you’re a foodie and a rat. People just don’t appreciate you! Such is the struggle Remy endures in Ratatouille. Then Remy meets Linguini, a kitchen helper at the struggling Restaurant Gusteau. Together Linguini and Remy can restore Gusteau’s to greatness! The Parisian food and street scenes will carry you away to the City of Lights…although hopefully, an actual visit would involve fewer rats!
An excellent adaptation of Brian Selznick’s Caldecott-winning novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabaret”, Hugo takes you on a wild romp through the streets of 1930s Paris. Orphaned Hugo lives in the walls of a Paris train station eeking out an existence caring for the station’s clocks. Hugo’s life goal is to repair the automaton left to him by his father. When Hugo makes a new friend, they embark on a fast-paced quest to solve the mystery of the automaton before the station inspector can capture them.
The Secret Life of Pets (series)
Get a glimpse into the unexpected life of pets in New York City. Who knew that they travel the city finding adventure and battling evil villains? The Secret Life of Pets follows the trials and tribulations of dogs Max and Duke, who find themselves lost in New York City after a gang of rough cats leaves them collarless and at the mercy of Animal Control. The Empire State Building, Washington Square Park, Central Park, and New York City skyline shots give you plenty of New York vibes.
Night at the Museum (series)
Night at the Museum is a hilarious romp through New York City’s Natural History Museum. Larry Daley is the new nigh security guard at the Natural History Museum. Imagine his shock when night falls and all the exhibits come to life! Chaos reigns…even more so when thieves break into the museum and put the lives of the exhibit at risk. The series continues in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, which takes place at several Smithsonian museums in Washington, DC, and Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb when Larry hits the road to the British Museum in London.
National Treasure (series)
National Treasure is a fast-paced, treasure hunt through USA Revolutionary War monuments and documents in Washington, DC, Boston, and Philadelphia. Benjamin Franklin Gates, part historian-part treasure hunter, has spent his life searching for an infamous treasure armed only with the clue “the secret lies with Charlotte.” He finally catches a break, only to be double-crossed by a friend. Who will win the race to unravel the clues that lead to the treasure? We didn’t care as much for the sequel, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets, but that could be because it’s more intense than the first.
Apparently all our favorite North American family travel movies take place in New York or Washington, DC. Anyone have suggestions for some other locales?
South America & Latin America
We cheated a little bit on this category since Mexico is really North America. We chose to align movies with a Latin American cultural theme with South America.
Coco is such a wonderful movie! But you may need a hankie near the end. I did! Miguel, a Mexican boy, dreams of being a musician. Unfortunately, in his family music is strictly forbidden. On the Day of the Dead, Miguel ends up in the Land of the Dead. Getting home will prove to be a challenge! This colorful, music-filled movie is a meticulously researched introduction to Mexican Day of the Dead traditions.
Blu, a pet blue macaw, and his owner Linda live in Minnesota, USA. Opportunity strikes for Blu and Linda to visit Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and learn more about Blu’s ancestral home. Unfortunately, disaster strikes when Blu and another blu macaw are stolen by smugglers! Rio is a light, family movie set in Brazil.
Another movie for the younger or young at heart family members, Pachamama is a Netflix original movie set in 15th century South America during the height of Incan civilization. The movie follows the adventures of Tepulpai and Naira as they seek to recover their village’s most prized gold artifact that was stolen by tax collectors. The whimsical animation evokes the sense of the Andes mountains and Peruvian countryside.
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