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. If you put Take Me Home by Phil Collins you have to put Peter Gabriel Solsbury Hill since it’s also about going home. I actually like both songs.

  2. Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad. Traditional song covered by many included the Grateful Dead. Song in the Grapes of Wrath movie.

  3. I would put “I’ve been everywhere” at No. 1 with a bullet (to use the old Billboard term) but the old Hank Snow version is better than Cash’s later rendition.

  4. Born To Be Wild–Steppenwolf

    Get your motor runnin’
    Head out on the highway
    Lookin’ for adventure
    And whatever comes our way…

  5. Sentimental Journey –Muggsy Spanier has best recording
    Up, Up and Away 5th Dimension
    This Train Sister Rosetta Tharpe
    Leavin’ on a Jet Plane John Denver
    Goin’ to Kansas City Fats Domino
    Chattanooga Choo-Choo Glenn Miller
    2:19 Blues Louis Armstrong

  6. +1 City of New Orleans.
    I would add “Midnight Train to Georgia” performed by Gladys Knight & The Pips which was on a based on midnight plane to Houston I think.
    Kentucky Rain by Elvis Presley.

  7. With the recently ended Christmas season still fresh in mind, try Chris Rea’s “Driving Home for Christmas”.

    https://youtu.be/czhZbqpyBm8

    And from the 60’s, we have The Association doing “Six Man Band”

    https://youtu.be/UOBS8oPhTxY

    ‘Cause I’m a traveling man
    Yes, I’m a traveling man
    Well, I’m a comer and a goer
    In a six man band
    Well, I’m a California man, my instrument in hand
    I’m electrified
    On a fast flying trip, dirty laundry in my grip
    Mostly drip-dry
    We got the seventeen jewels that dictate the rules
    And the time to fly, as we’re passing by
    We just got the time to say hello, and then a fast good-bye
    I’m a traveling man

  8. Southern Cross – CSN (Jimmy Buffett version also good)
    Home and Dry – Gerry Raferty
    Jet Arliner – Steve Miller, not sure how you missed this one.
    Agree about the Hank Snow version of I have been Everywhere being slightly superior to Cash version.
    Now I have to go find your travel movie post, which I somehow missed.

  9. “What Do We Do? We Fly!” from the musical “Do I Hear a Waltz?”, music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

    It starts the minute you check in:
    Departure time is at noon.
    A cup of tea and a schnecken,
    And quick, it’s leaving soon!
    One o’clock and you’re at the gate.
    Two o’clock and the flight’s still late.
    When you finally leave, it’s eight.
    And what do we do? We fly!

  10. “You Belong to Me” , Jo Stafford c 1952, reprised by Dean Martin later….” Fly the ocean in a silver plane”, etc, possibly alluding to American ( but most if not all planes were silver then). Certainly AA used it in advertising in the ‘70s.
    Lovely song.

  11. If you speak Hebrew… Enjoy the song “Flight 5325” about Moshe Perez’ adventures on that flight. BTW, poor Johnny Cash must have missed Fresno!

  12. Paul Rodgers, of Free, “Traveling Man,” i.e., “Traveling’ man, goes anywhere, but I don’t stay nowhere long.”
    The classic Robert Plant line from Stairway to Heaven, “There’s a feeling I get when I look to the west, and my spirit is crying for leaving.”
    And the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High,” which as about flying in a jet, not on drugs (though one can understand the presumption).

  13. Several Bob Seger songs come to mind, among others: Turn the Page, Roll Me Away, and Travelin’ Man/Beautiful Loser (expressing a sentiment many of us feel: “He wants his home and security/He wants to live like a sailor at sea”)

    Also, Jackson Browne’s entire 1977 “Running on Empty” album is about life on the road.

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