THERE’S A GOOD reason many of us take music with us when we travel; it can transport us — back home, away from an overcrowded bus, or through a restless night.
Music helps us connect to others — to fellow travelers who might share our taste in songs and to locals who might not speak our language but can carry the rhythm.
For those of us with gipsy blood, music can speak to who we are and why it is that we can never seem to settle down. Music engenders a desire to see a new place, or to travel simply for the joy of the journey.
In the few minutes that a song lasts, the ember of wanderlust inside us can be stoked into a bonfire that can’t be ignored. Suddenly, we’re inspired to earn that money, book that flight, pack that bag — do whatever it takes to get back on the road.
So here I present thirty songs that best capture the spirit of travel.
Go ahead and load up your phone, slip on your earphones, and crank up the tunes. Who knows where these songs will take you.
Other songs don’t name names, but in your mind, the place evoked by the tune is so exact you have no doubt what town, city, or country the singer is crooning about…until you meet another traveler who pictures an entirely different place every time that song is played.
1. Carolina in My Mind by James Taylor
Who doesn’t see that Carolina sunshine or feel that moonshine when this classic comes through the speakers? I certainly hear “the highway calling” each time this song appears on my play list.
2. Marrakesh Express by Crosby, Stills, and Nash
The vivid imagery of this song–colored cottons, charming cobras–brings this famed Moroccan city right to life. Can you resist its call?
3. Africa by Toto
Come on, I couldn’t leave this one off, could I? It’s classic.
4. Katmandu by Cat Stevens
Strange and bewildering is certainly one way to describe this town. If you’ve been there, I’m sure you can think of many other fitting adjectives.
5. Graceland by Paul Simon
On the surface, sure, it’s a song about Memphis, but I think we all have our own Graceland, that place where we go for reasons we can’t explain, with the hope of being well received.
6. We Danced Anyway by Deana Carter
In each of our histories, there’s that “happy little foreign town,” where we danced, laughed, and were in love with every minute of every day. It’s the place we find a way to go back to time and again, even if just in our memories.
7. Where the Streets Have No Name by U2
It’s the town not in any guidebook, the one you found when you got off the train at the wrong stop or surreptitiously shared a hostel room with someone who had just come from there. It’s the restaurant without a sign, the guestroom tucked away in a back alley, the beach you’ll never be able to find again…but will always remember.
8. Proud Mary by CCR
Is it possible to listen to this song and not want to give up that “good job in the city” to “hitch a ride on a river boat queen”? Whether it’s on the Mississippi, the Amazon, the Nile, the Ganges, or some smaller, quieter river, boats are a great throwback way to travel.
9. City of New Orleans by Arlo Guthrie
I’m not sure you can call yourself a traveler if you’ve never made at least one trip by train, passing time playing cards with friends and watching the world pass outside your window.
Often we journey in search of something–ourselves, love, adventure, understanding, the place we belong. Sometimes we go simply because we can’t stand to stay where we are or because of an almost desperate urge for movement.
And in some cases, there is no reason. We travel simply because we are travelers.
Stay in one place too long and sometimes it really seems that you can feel the grass growing underfoot. That’s when you know for certain that it’s time to move on.
10. The World at Large by Modest Mouse
With the changing of seasons comes a desire for a change of scenery. The migrating instinct awakes in our souls.
11. America by Simon & Garfunkel
While every trip might be a search for somewhere new or different, it’s also true that every journey away from home is an opportunity to better understand the place from which we come.
12. The Long Way Around by the Dixie Chicks
You have them – the friends who stayed at home and settled down. You look at their lives and can’t imagine finding happiness that way. They, on the other hand, look at your life and wonder why you always have to take “the long way around.” Different strokes, right?
13. The River by Garth Brooks
Some people are content to sit on the shorelines, but those of us who travel know that we’ve got to get out there and chance the rapids, dance in the tides, and follow the dream wherever it leads.
14. Fly Away from Here by Aerosmith
As Steven Tyler sings, “our hopes and dreams are out there somewhere.” We can stay where we are and hope our dreams come to us or we can go out and find that better place. I’m not seeing much of a choice here.
15. Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd
If you live for that feeling of freedom that comes with arriving in a destination where no one knows you, there’s nothing in the world that can hold you down.
16. Ramble On by Led Zeppelin
Is it love that we’re all looking for as we ramble on? Maybe… though not necessarily romantic love. Love of a place, love of a time, love of life itself.
17. Here I Go Again by Whitesnake
Sometimes the road is lonely and the destination isn’t always clear, but the dream is always big enough to compel us to walk down that road time and time again.
18. Ramblin’ Man by the Allman Brothers
Trying to explain why you travel to those who’d rather stay in one place is often futile. You’re coming from places too far apart, so sometimes the best answer (and maybe the true answer) is simply that you were “born a ramblin’ man.”
Songs that Capture the Joy of Travel
At the end of the day, what most often inspires us to go is the ecstasy of travel, pure and simple. The frustrations of airports, the struggles with packing, and the tedium of days spent working all fade away when you set off on your journey.
Who hasn’t scanned the departures at the airport and recalled all the places that they’ve already been and made plans for the places still to be explored?
19. On the Road Again by Willie Nelson
Going places that you’ve never been, seeing things that you’ve never seen, making music with your friends…isn’t that what travel is all about?
20. A Good Day to Run by Darryl Worley
The only question this song leaves to ponder is: what day isn’t a good day to run?
21. Roam by the B-52’s
Fly the skies, see the seas, run around all the continents. Go ahead, roam without a care.
22. Come Away With Me by Norah Jones
I’m not sure it’s possible to resist this siren’s call to walk with her in yellow-grassed fields, to stand with her atop a mountain, to lie with her under a tin roof in the rain. It’s travel the romantic way.
23. Fly Away by Lenny Kravitz
Just think of all the places you would visit if you could fly, taking off with every whim. And travel without the hassle of the airport…I’m not sure it gets better than that.
24. Life is a Highway by Tom Cochrane
Windows down, gas tank full, an open road in front of you. This song demands that you sing along as you see the world from behind the wheel.
25. Wherever I May Roam by Metallica
When you’re able to find home on the road, you know that you’ve reached a new level of travel and you no longer care how the world defines you.
26. I’ve Been Everywhere by Johnny Cash
Though I’ve yet to actually meet anyone who can claim they’ve been everywhere, there certainly are a lot of people trying. Regardless of whether you like to hit as many spots as you can or take it slow and easy through one place, rambling through the many places listed in this song is always fun.
27. King of the Road by Roger Miller
Everybody wants to be king of something, and if you’re a traveler, there’s no better kingdom than the road.
28. Around the World by the Red Hot Chili Peppers
No arguing here. Life is indeed beautiful all around the world.