Music is a powerful device. It can pick us up when we’re down, have us soaring and feeling on top of the world or crash our moods with just a couple of beats. People listen to music every day, songs get stuck in your head and everyone moves to their own beat.
I love making playlists. I’m not going to lie; they rule my life. I have playlists to fall asleep too and ones to wake up to. I have lists for running, ones for writing, playlists that remind me of books and ones to rage to… the list is endless.
What I also have is a very large playlist of songs that I associate with travel. Time spent overseas, lengthy times away from friends and songs that remind me of all the people I am yet to meet.
So I decided to take that list and shorten it down, giving me this post.
These are the songs of life lovers and experience chasers; those roaming to quench their wanderlust. They should make you want to pack your bags and hit the road; or maybe grab your phone to close great distances with a call. Either way, they are inspiring, mood setting and heartening and while classics like Highway to Hell will always hold a place in my heart, as will We Gotta Get out of this Place (for great escapes from horrible locations) they didn’t quite make the list. I’ve tried to focus on songs from the last ten years with a blend of mainstream and indie so hopefully there will be something for everyone.
But first, onto the Honourable Mentions:
Broods – Free
A great strong anthem for anyone setting off to live the life they’ve always dreamt about. It’s inspiring and powerful and catchy as hell.
The Hackensaw Boys – Gypsy
I have an odd affinity for Southern Gothic and Bluegrass types of music and while trolling around 8tracks one day, I came across this amazing piece. Nothing to do with travel but I love the picture it paints. After all, don’t we all just want to dance around a fire and be mysterious and free?
Florence + The Machine – Heartlines.
Let’s just face it. These guys are an institution! While this song is particularly great, I will throw a curve ball into this mix. While I love the original, I’m actually in love with the Mike Semesky feat. Aleka Farha cover. You can find it on youtube.
The XX – Intro (the long version is the best)
I first heard this instrumental during an episode of The BBC’s Top Gear. It was instant love and after Soundhounding it, I then found the video below. Full of beautiful scenery and imagery, it has stayed in my mind and on my travel playlists ever since.
OneRepublic – Counting Stars.
Yep. The song that made everyone want to pack their lives up and life like gypsies. To stop slaving the nine to five and count experiences over money.
It’s a good song, and I do love it and it does deserve a mention, but it was a little too common to make the top ten.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Red Right Hand.
The unofficial theme song for the Scream Trilogy and, more recently, the opening theme to Peaky Blinders has no rightful place in any travel playlist.
Or does it?
South Australia once released a tourism campaign featuring this song and, you know what? It rocked. Check it out for yourself. The imagery, the sensual feel and the promotion of the food and wine that the state is known for somehow went hand in hand with the dark, sensual undertones of the song.
I’ve always been a fan of this track and, funnily enough, when my best friend and I were in Pemberton and staying in a cabin in the woods, this song (possibly with the food and wine advert in mind, or maybe because we’re just a little weird) became the theme song of the tip. It was the first thing we played when we got in the car in the morning. The first thing we put on after visiting a vineyard. The first thing we blasted while sitting out on the wooden balcony with local wine and produce.
Somehow, through really good advertising, this song moved from incredibly creepy to slightly creepy but perfect with cheese.
10. Feist + Ben Gibbard – Train Song
Let’s kick this playlist off with something peaceful and relaxing.
Everyone, at some stage, has travelled by train. We use them in our daily lives, too and from work, just as we do for long distances. There are train enthusiasts and those who travel to countries specifically to ride them.
So this song about traveling towards a loved one seemed appropriate, and while it is about love, it is also about time and distance and journeying towards the unknown.
9. Great Lake Swimmers – Your Rocky Spine
When I think of songs for summer and enjoying the outdoors, these are the first guys that come to mind. While this song has nothing at all to do with travel and so much more to do with love, it has that wonderful feel that goes hand in hand with rolling hills, blue skies and endless lakes.
8. Bad Raiders – Way Back Home
Just like Hey Brother, featured further down the list, this song can be taken many ways. Is it sad? A person gone and out of reach? Or is it, in a way, uplifting? The idea of people always being so close that you can sense them by your side.
The original version certainly complicates the emotions while the Sam La Moore Remix pushes it into the more depressing range despite the heavier dubstep influences. It’s still a great song though, and awesome for long sessions of staring out the window when you’re making your way back home.
7. The Mowgli’s – See I’m Alive
It was hard to pick just one song by this amazing group, but after a good listen (or three) I decided that this one was the way to go. It makes me think of days by the beach, or driving with the windows down or sitting in fields with flowers in your hair. This is a musical representation of all those pastel coloured images that pop up on Pinterest and Instagram with Wanderlust captions.
The other biggest contender was Hi, There, Hey, Hello. A musical conversation of freedom, hope and living life to the fullest, it too is best enjoyed loud while out in the sun.
6. Halsey – Hurricane
I’d never forgive myself for not mentioning the song that was inspired by the book that I based my websites name off. Halsey herself has accredited Roman Payne’s The Wanderess to have had a great influence on her life and style and I think that we travellers (especially us girls) can really relate too.
It paints a slightly darker side to life than the other songs on the list, but the chorus rings true and can be seen as quite the anthem for us nomads.
5. Akanishi Jin – Sun Burns Down
You may love Jin for his ‘devil may care, F-you’ attitude and the seemingly never ending sea of (sex) scandals he left in the wake of his short lived manufactured popstar career, or you may hate him for all of the above. Or, like the majority of English speakers, you probably have no clue who the hell this guy is, missed his ‘big break’ into the American music market despite his English fluency and totally wondered who did his eyebrows missed when he co-stared in that Keanu Reeves movie, 47 Ronin. Either way, Akanishi Jin is a household name in Japan and if you spend more than a few weeks there then you’ll know of him too.
Love Jin, Blame Jin, or have no clue who Jin is, one thing is for sure; he knows how to write fun, upbeat, summery, party songs. And isn’t that a lot of what travel is about? Summers abroad, loves hard easily found and hard lost, being free every day and living life for the fullest?
A lot of his newer stuff would be easy picks for this list, but Sun Burns Down holds a really special place in my heart. (FYI, it also debuted as #1 on the American ITunes Dance Music chart when it came out forever ago…)
More of a romantic song than a travel song, it still has the needed feeling of just getting up and going. Just escaping. Taking someone’s hand, throwing caution to the wind and running wild. While upbeat and a mash of hip hop and dance music, it has long been a staple on my ‘Morning Dance Music’ playlists. It’s the sort of song that you can listen to hungover as all hell, or at 3am when you need to motive yourself to pack your suitcase and get to the airport, all without having access to coffee. It even found its way into my jogging playlist, especially when I lived in the Western Australian desert and had to get up at 4am to beat the scorching sun.
I am also 100% sure that Future Me will play this song while watching the sun set on Santorini, Greece and I just know that Future Me will completely lose her shit all over this track again.
4. Avicii – Hey Brother
I think this is almost everyone’s travel song, especially if you were jetting around back in 2013/2014 when it came out.
Even to this day I get chills whenever I listen to it. I can so clearly remember sitting cross-legged on a seat in Incheon Airport on a nine hour flight changeover and just blasting this through my headphones. It had been a crazy and amazing trip, but for me it was time to come home.
Mix that feeling with the lyrics and you have this truly epic song of distance, travel and the bond we share with friends and family, no matter where in the world they are.
3. Broods – Heartlines
You’re forgiven for not knowing of this amazing Electro Pop duo from New Zealand but consider this your friendly heads up. Not only is this song the most epic long distance friendship/relationship anthem, but it was also co-written by other Kiwi superstar Lordie.
It gives hope in time when you’re down, paints vivid pictures of seeing loved ones again soon and speaks to the idealist that resides in all travellers; all without seeming depressing and woeful about the distance.
This is the sort of song that can pick you up when you’re down, if you let it, or help you wallow in your feels.
2. Parov Stelar – The Sun
Having this song not make the top of the list was a hard choice. It’s the very epitome of life on the road, of travel and experiences just waiting to happen. It gives an instant glow to your trip, is suitable for early mornings (when we’re all a little delicate and not after lots of bass) and, despite coming in as number two here, is generally the first song that I blast when setting out on the road. It has seen me through the start of many a horrifically long bus trip and also just makes for an amazing afternoon chill session.
1. Lands – Bandage
I initially hesitated to put this song into the list for the sole reason of it not being in English. After a little while I came to the realization that foreign, unknown language is part of travel and while a Japanese ballad may not be to everyone’s taste and that a lot of you are probably thinking that I’m insane, the very feeling of the song and the meaning behind it fully solidifies its spot here.
Once I decided that I would put it in and played the playlist to death, I was slightly shocked that this song – the one that I had so strongly hesitated about – was in fact the clear number one long distance travel song. Ever.
So allow me to put in a little history to my selection and, in the process, set you a challenge.
Lands was a temporary band back in 2010 which was made by a group of actors (who also happened to be musicians as is the way with a lot of Japanese celebrities) who were in a movie called Bandage which was, unsurprisingly, about a semi-self-destructive band. A band called Lands. Basically it was life imitating art wherein the actors ended up releasing an album and went on tour together using all the songs that they’d “written as a band” in the movie. I hope I’m making sense here.
Anyway. Fronted by Akanishi Jin who I have already mentioned in this list, they achieved incredible success by dominating the music charts for weeks and selling out concerts in seconds. This single and the album Olympus debuted at #1. Considering they’re not even a real band… that’s pretty huge.
Now, six years later, you’d be hard pressed to find someone in Japan who doesn’t remember this particular song. If you’re ever game enough then play it in a Karaoke room and marvel as your Japanese friends sing along with you or gape in shock that you know of this random track.
You can read really good translation of the lyrics here but I strongly suggest that you do something first.
Get the song, put it on your phone and grab your headphones. No matter where you are, take those things and go for a walk. Find somewhere to sit that’s calm and as away from whatever hustle and bustle and real life stress as can be. Somewhere where you can be alone and see an endless blue sky (hint: the first line of the song is all about a clear blue sky and planes drawing white lines across it) and then play this song. Play it loud. Hell, play it REALLY loud. Do that inexplicable Asian thing where you cover your headphones with your hands and just look happy. Look up, breathe out, feel and move to the beat… pick out the English words (beat, melody) and maybe the few common Japanese words that you’ve heard before (Hint: kudasai is please, sora is sky)
Doesn’t it encompass travel and the feeling of the freedom in the unknown? Doesn’t the idea of listening to a song whose lyrics you can’t understand make the moment more poignant?
Isn’t that what travel is all about? Finding understanding through feeling and experiences?
So what do you think? Did you like these songs, or feel that I’ve unfairly skipped a track that deserves a place here? Let me know below.