13 Best Songs About Travel

Here’s the 13 best travel songs. Following my stab at a list of the 13 best movies about travel, I thought I’d work to come up with the very best songs about travel.

That’s a very different exercise than the best songs for travel, this isn’t a ‘play list for the road’ it’s about borrowing someone else’s poetry to describe the travel experience. There’s no question that George Gershwin didn’t write Rhapsody in Blue to be about travel, but it’s equally clear that the 1924 composition has become inextricably linked with United Airlines.

What songs most evoke travel for you and are missing from my list? Which ones here are new to you?

The 13 best travel songs:

  1. Iggy Pop – The Passenger. This 1977 classic resulted from Iggy Pop travelling with David Bowie on tour in North America and Europe. Reportedly he didn’t have a license and the two drove around in Bowie’s car. Although it’s also said to be loosely based on a Jim Morrison poem.

    The song features in the trailer for Up in the Air and in promos for Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. There’s probably nothing more evocative of travel.

  2. Paul Kelly – Sydney from a 727. I first discovered Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly on a visit to my family Down Under over 25 years ago. I was instantly a fan. He’s been a member of the Australian Recording Industry Association Hall of Fame for nearly 20 years, though a virtual unknown in the States though he’s toured here.

    Listening to Sydney from a 727 (which was also recorded as being from a 747), you can almost picture coming in for approach off the ocean (“I can see Bondi through my window way off to the right”) while capturing the spirit to take off in search of something (“And quit your job on the spot / Bought that ticket yeah spent the lot”). While no song quite captures the landing sequence quite like this one:

    And the captain says belt up now we’ll be touching down in ten
    So I press my seat and I straighten up
    I fold my tray and I stash my cup
    As the red roofs are catching the first rays of the morning sun

  3. The Animals – We Gotta Get Out of This Place. It’s an anthem that speaks to almost everyone, because everyone wants change. It was popular with soliders in Vietnam, with high school students who can’t wait to get out on their own, and with travelers who need to travel and feel cooped up when they’re at ‘home’.

  4. The Proclaimers – I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles). As if taking a journey, taking a long arduous journey, to make your way to someone wasn’t enough someone once actually walked 1000 miles to convince his girlfriend to marry him. It turns out the journey wasn’t a real precondition of marriage and she was joking, but he did it anyway.

  5. David Byrne – A Million Miles Away. No, this singer who once led the Talking Heads isn’t talking about what you have to go through to earn lifetime elite status.

    But he is singing about the need to get away — travel far, far away — and become someone else, and be seen as someone else (“A toad is a prince in someone else’s eyes
    And you can’t tell a man by his clothes”).

  6. Simon & Garfunkel – Homeward Bound. Is there any other song that’s truly the business traveler’s anthem? Waking up in the middle of the night, after being on the road for weeks at a time, and wondering what city you’re in you grab your phone because a weather app is on the home screen. And it tells you what city you’re in.

    I’m sitting in the railway station.
    Got a ticket to my destination.
    On a tour of one-night stands my suitcase and guitar in hand.
    …Every day’s an endless stream
    Of cigarettes and magazines.
    And each town looks the same to me, the movies and the factories
    And every stranger’s face I see reminds me that I long to be,
    Homeward bound

  7. Johnny Cash – I’ve Been Everywhere. Originally an Australian country song which named that country’s towns, it’s amazing the song has been made to work for Singapore, Belgium, Canada and any number of other places too.

    With all the US cities Johnny Cash has been to — Waterloo, Kalamazoo, Kansas City, Sioux City, Cedar City, Dodge City, what a pity — I hope he’s saved up his miles and points because he could really use an international vacation.

  8. George Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue. Gershwin’s classic is more United Airlines now than anything else, at least to a traveler. The original composition from the tunnel connecting United’s B and C concourses at Chicago O’Hare is a riff on Rhapsody in Blue.

  9. Phil Collins – Take Me Home. Maybe the song isn’t actually about going home. And maybe it’s a protest song against involuntary confinement in mental institutions. But for me it’s about longing for home, being on the road so long that you can hardly remember it but home is still your true North. (.. But, seriously.)

    There’s a fire that’s been burning
    Right outside my door
    I can’t see but I feel it
    And it helps to keep me warm

    …So take, take me home
    ‘Cause I don’t remember

  10. Elvis Costello – Peace Love & Understanding. As I walk through this wicked world, searching for light in the darkness of insanity, I ask myself “Is all hope lost?”

    It may not immediately seem like a travel song, but travel is about connecting with and engaging people and culture different from your own and yet building a common bond — of peace, love, and understanding. And it helps that the song was featured in Lost in Translation too.

  11. Frank Sinatra – Come Fly With Me. Come fly with me let’s fly let’s fly away. It spent 5 weeks at number one, and just as I want to claim George Clooney as one of us for Up in the Air we’ve got to lay claim to Sinatra…

  12. Ricky Nelson – Travelin’ Man. This 1961 classic shows its age, there’s no question it objectifies women, the song is about each city in the world in which he has a girl. But he clearly gets around.. to Mexico, Berlin, Hong Kong not to mention Hawaii and Alaska. But since its 1961, there’s no music video so it’s safe for work!

  13. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Around The World (or maybe Aeroplane or Road Trippin’). When I first started thinking about this list it didn’t occur to me that The Red Hot Chili Peppers would be on it, but they have several songs about travel, from the plane to car but Around the World is the most meta and in some sense follows Elvis Costello with lines like “life is beautiful around the world” and indeed it is.

So what am I missing? What belongs on this list?

    best travel songs

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Great list, Gary!

    When Patrick Smith (“Ask The Pilot”) repeated a quote about the band Hüsker Dü’s version of the Byrd’s Eight Miles High being “one of the most powerful pieces of rock music ever recorded”, we both agree on that. It’s something fierce!

  2. Flying Home – Chris DeBurgh

    Any song that starts:

    We’re sitting out here on the runway,
    Waiting for the plane to leave,
    And the Captain says, “There’ll be a short delay,
    Bear with me please, “

  3. Beautiful Day – U2

    See the world in green and blue
    See China right in front of you
    See the canyons broken by cloud
    See the tuna fleets clearing the see out

    See the Bedouin fires at night
    See the oil fields at first light

  4. Leaving on a Jet Plane John Denver
    Silver Wings Merle

    Two of the best, especially if you were a flight attendant in the 70s

  5. Travelin’ Band, by CCR

    737 comin’ out of the sky,
    Won’t you take me down to Memphis on a midnight ride…

  6. Holiday Road – Lindsey Buckingham

    Not that it is a long song and meaningful, but how many people hear this and think of Clark W. Griswold’s and maybe your own family travels?

  7. A few I can think of:

    “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere” -Dwight Yoakum
    “Back In The USSR” -The Beatles
    “Rockaway Beach” -The Ramones
    “Carrying Your Love With Me” -George Strait
    “Last Exit To Brooklyn” -Gene Pitney
    “Cruisin’ ” – Smokey Robinson
    “Amarillo By Morning” – George Strait (#2!)
    “Chatanooga Choo-Choo” -Glenn Miller
    “Party Train” -The Gap Band
    “Last Train To Clarksville” -The Monkees
    “Jet Airliner” -Steve Miller Band

  8. Flying High Again – Ozzy
    Home Sweet Home – Motley Crue
    Freebird – Lynyrd Skynyrd

  9. The Letter – Boxcars (“Give me a ticket for an aer-o-plane…”)
    Runnin’ Down A Dream – Tom Petty
    Movin’ Right Along – Muppet Movie soundtrack
    Upvote on Two Tickets For Paradise and Leaving on a Jet Plane

  10. Holiday Road: Lindsay Buckingham
    He Went to Paris: Jimmy Buffett
    Africa: Toto

    Actually a lot of Jimmy Buffet songs are on my Playlist, especially if you travel to islands, on a boat or like the beach

  11. Holiday in the Sun – The Sex Pistols
    Safe European Home – The Clash
    Holiday in Cambodia – Dead Kennedys

  12. missing changes in lattitudes, changes in attitudes

    READING DEPARTURE SIGNS IN SOME STRANGE AIRPORT REMINDS ME OF PLACES IVE BEEN

    sigh. YES!!!!

  13. Um, AC/DC “Highway to Hell” about flying domestic coach?

    Seriously Gary, this is one of the most interesting articles you’ve ever written! And great comments! Enjoying all the embedded videos!
    Thanks!

  14. sitroomlarry yes! “Running on Empty!” Loved that whole album recorded on the road, about the road!

  15. Just curious Gary, why 13?
    Did I miss something?
    That would not be a first for me…..

  16. Wasted Years – Iron Maiden
    Passage to Bangkok – Rush
    Mamma I’m comin’ home – Ozzy
    Home Sweet Home – Motley Crue

  17. Most apropos for me is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” — yes I’m a Bama native and graduate so this is the ultimate homecoming song for me

    Close runner up is “Tennessee Jed” by the Grateful Dead — “Tennessee, Tennessee, there ain’t no place I’d rather be/Baby won’t you carry me back to Tennessee” I got my grad degrees at Vanderbilt so it too has a wonderful homecoming quality for me

  18. Beyond the Blue Horizon
    East of the Sun and West of the Moon
    I’d Like to Get You on a Slow Boat to China
    Side by Side

  19. “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” by Nat King Cole! In my view, it’s number one (and fun to sing to yourself).

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