The Essential Travel Playlist: Songs for Your Next Adventure
February 13, 2017 | Mark Iandolo
"Hello world. It's nice to meet you." - The World is Ours by Aloe Blacc
When you're alone, thousands of miles from home, up before the crack of dawn, and set up with your stationary tripod for a couple hours photographing, it can be pretty quiet.
Sometimes that silence is golden. It lets you appreciate the views and any subtle sounds that come along. The birds chirping. The water flowing. The daring kayaker out in the early cold.
But other times, a nice soundtrack goes a long way. So to that end, I've compiled a list of my favorite travel songs to share with you. I hope you enjoy some of them!
Fair warning: this is an eclectic list! And I'll try and get out most of my Dave Matthews Band infatuation in the honorable mention section. Also, I'll throw in some of my favorite photos, because, well, I'm a photographer.
The Honorable Mention list includes classic songs that relate to travel (think Free Bird and Ramblin' Man) as well as other songs I've found over the years. I've included some of my favorite quotes where applicable.
– Africa by Toto: "As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti..."
– Baba O'Riley by The Who
– Born to Be Wild by Steppenwolf
– Don't Stop Believing by Journey
– Feelin' Good by Nina Simone
– Fool in the Rain by Led Zeppelin
– Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd
– Here I Go Again by Whitesnake: "I go again on my own. Goin' down the only road I've ever known."
– Jack & Diane by John Mellencamp
– Long As I Can See the Light by Creedence Clearwater Revival: "Guess I've got that old travelin' bone."
– Midnight Rider by The Allman Brothers Band
– Ramblin' Man by The Allman Brothers Band
– Take It Easy by The Eagles
– Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver
– Wherever I May Roam by Metallica: "Rover, wanderer, nomad, vagabond. Call me what you will."
The Dave Matthews Band Fix:
– #41 by Dave Matthews Band
– Ants Marching by Dave Matthews Band
– Tripping Billies by Dave Matthews Band: "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die."
– Two Step by Dave Matthews Band: "Celebrate we will. Because life is short but sweet for certain."
Additional Honorable Mentions:
– 500 Miles by The Proclaimers
– Beautiful Dawn by The Wailin' Jennys: "Take me where the ocean meets the sky and the land."
– Calling Baton Rouge by Garth Brooks
– Chicago by Sufjan Stevens
– Closer by Chainsmokers
– From Yesterday by 30 Seconds to Mars: "On his face is a map of the world."
– Get Out the Map by Indigo Girls: "Get out the map. Get out the map and lay your finger anywhere down."
– The Good Life by OneRepublic
– Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros: "I'll follow you into the park, through the jungle, through the dark. Girl, I've never loved one like you." "Moats and boats, and waterfalls. Alleyways, and payphone calls. I been everywhere with you."
– Live Like We're Dying by Kris Allen: "Yeah gotta start looking at the hands of the time we've been given here. This is all we got then we gotta start thinkin' it. Every second counts on a clock that's tickin'. Gotta live like we're dying."
– Live Like You Were Dying by Tim McGraw: "Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying."
– Long Way Home by Tom Waits
– Mykonos by Fleet Foxes
– Run Away With Me by Kerrigan-Lowdermilk: "Run away with me. Let me be your ride out of town."
– See You Again by Wiz Khalifa
– Some Nights by fun.
– Wake Me Up by Avicii: "Feeling my way through the darkness, guided by a beating heart. I can't tell where the journey will end... but I know where to start."
The Top 25 Travel Songs
Now, without further ado, my favorite 25 travel-related songs.
25. "You and Me" – Dave Matthews Band
When this song came out, my roommate at the time, who was also a big DMB fan, hated the song. He thought it was too simple and didn't have the depth, both lyrically and instrumentally, as other Dave classics. To that, I said, "Who cares?" Not every song has to be complicated. Sometimes, a simple, catchy, melodic tune about two people traveling the world is all you need.
"Wanna pack your bags, something small. Take what you need and we disappear. Without a trace we'll be gone, gone. The moon and the stars can follow the car and then when we get to the ocean, we gonna take a boat to the end of the world. All the way to the end of the world:"
24. "Into the Mystic" – Van Morrison
“Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic” – if that’s not the perfect metaphor for travel, then I don’t know what is. “Into the Mystic” is the song for those travel days when you don’t have an itinerary. No plans, no goals. Those travel days when you just walk out the door of your hotel room and go wherever feels right in the moment. Random side streets and low-key cafes. It’s the song for when you’ve came and saw and conquered and are now just lying on the beach enjoying the ambiance. Palm trees and coconuts, epic sunsets and the starry skies that follow. And it’s the song to listen to on the plane ride home so you’ll remember that feeling of escape and strive to do it again sometime.
Another favorite line:
"I want to rock your gypsy soul, just like way back in the days of old. And together we will float into the mystic."
23. "Fast Car" – Tracy Chapman
"You got a fast car. I want a ticket to anywhere. Maybe we make a deal, maybe together we can get somewhere."
Tracy Chapman once said that she liked songs that tell a story. And I couldn't agree more. My favorite songs all tell a good story. "Fast Car" is one of those songs. It’s a story about a couple trying to make a life together, and the trials and tribulations they face along the way.
22. "The Nights" – Avicii
"When you get older, your wild life will live for younger days."
"One day you'll leave this world behind. So live a life you will remember."
I think the songwriters were channeling their inner Braveheart when they wrote this song.
21. "I Woke Up In a Car" – Something Corporate
"I met a girl who kept tattoos for homes that she had loved. If I were her, I'd paint my body until all my skin was gone."
That is one of the most poetic lines I've ever heard. And a perfect metaphor for travel.
20. "Pig" – Dave Matthews Band
"I'm saying open up and let the rain come pouring in. Wash out this tired notion that the best is yet to come. But while you're dancing on the ground, don't think of when you're gone. Love! love!? what more is there? We need the light of love in here. Don't beat your head. Dry your eyes. Let the love in there. There are bad times, but that's ok, just look for love in it. Don't throw the day away."
Dave repeats the poignant but simple line “don’t throw the day away,” throughout this classic jam. There are many DMB songs that urge us to live for the moment, but this one does it most poetically. Without ever being corny or trite.
The song is about living. It’s about dreaming and dancing and hoping and loving. With reckless abandon. It’s about finding the good in the bad. About spending days pursuing passion and spending nights looking up at the stars. It’s about positivity and optimism. And I’ll always love it for that.
19. "Are You With Me" – Easton Corbin/Lost Frequencies
I listen to the Easton Corbin version of this song and immediately want to be lost in some faraway place, away from cellphones and internet, sitting on some rocky perch, overlooking some beautiful valley, and just taking it all in.
I listen to the Lost Frequencies remix and that faraway place turns into a dive bar on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, with a cerveza in my hand, with all of my closest friends, listening to the Mariachi and the sounds of the ocean.
"I want to dance by the water 'neath the Mexican sky. Drink some margaritas by a string of blue lights. Listen to the mariachi play at midnight. Are you with me?"
"I wanna walk a little too far out on that limb. Take you every place I've been and never been. Are you with me? We can chase the wild dreams, live like crazy."
"I wanna fly so high that I'll never come down. I wanna get so lost that I'll never be found."
18. "What a Wonderful World" – Louis Armstrong
“What a wonderful world” is what goes through my mind whenever I’ve traveled to a new location for the first time and am blown away by the majesty of it all. When I watch the sun set behind the monolithic rocks of Meteora. When I notice its last rays glistening on the beautiful autumn foliage in the valley. When I see the lights come on in the town resting below the mammoth slabs.
But it’s also what goes through my head during the smaller moments in life. When I’m walking down a Florida trail and see a bald eagle on the shores of a lake. When I stop everything I’m doing to stare in awe as that bird of prey takes a drink, pauses, and takes flight. When I watch it fly away into ether.
17. "Proud Mary" – Tina Turner
1. Tina Turner's voice slays me.
2. At the 2:33 mark, the song jumps in tempo. And it never, never fails to make me want to get up and start dancing around whatever room I am in. Anybody else feel that way?
16. "Colder Weather" – Zac Brown Band
"Cause I'm a ramblin' man, I ain't ever gonna change. I got a gypsy soul to blame and I was born for leavin'."
I told you this would be an eclectic list. From dancing around the house with Proud Mary to the gloomy “Colder Weather.”
In an interview with the Boot, Wyatt Durrette – a songwriter for many of Zac Brown Band’s hits – said that “Colder Weather” grew out of a failed relationship. He was seeing a woman long-distance, and the woman grew frustrated that he was always on the road. She wanted him to stop traveling so much, but he wasn’t willing to do that because he felt the band was just getting started, and he was chasing his dreams.
I think it’s a relatable song: the idea of chasing your dreams, but also craving human connection.
“In the end, [the song’s main character] is just remembering his memory of her. It's a haunting song,” Durrette once told Rolling Stone.
I think the main character in the song just needs to find himself a ramblin’ woman, and they can go off ramblin’ together, or separately, as they please.
15. "Jubel" – Klingande
I met someone from New Zealand while in Lake Bled, Slovenia. He told me about listening to this song on a beach one day with best friends. And how he'll hold that as a favorite memory till the end of his days.
Since then, the song's always stuck with me.
14. "There Will Be Time" – Mumford and Sons feat. Baaba Maal
Mumford and Sons teamed up with Senegalese star Baaba Maal for this powerful, ecstatic piece of world music. The worldly aspect – that’s what I love about it. The song brings together people of two different backgrounds, from two different countries, through a language that’s common to everyone: music. I’ve always liked Mumford and Sons, but it’s Maal who steals the show in this song. He sings in Pulaar for most of the song, so I don’t understand the words, but it doesn’t matter – his vocals mesmerize me. And make me dream of a world where we respect each other’s differences while loving each other’s unique cultures and passions.
"There is a time, a time to love. A time to sing, a time to shine. A time to stay, a time to go. There is a time, a time to cry. A time to love, a time to live. There is a time, a time to sing. A time to love."
13. "Simple Man" – Lynyrd Skynyrd
"Forget your lust for the rich man's gold. All that you need is in your soul."
What’s in my soul? The desire to see, with my own two eyes, the most beautiful and exotic places in the world. And to try and capture them with my camera to share with others.
What don’t I need when doing that? 5-star hotels and 5-star restaurants. What can I put up with? Overnight bumpy bus rides that cost $8 and a peanut butter and jelly-based diet.
If you’re able to live a simpler life, and forgo the finer things, the luxurious wants… Well, you can travel pretty darn cheaply.
What’s in your soul?
12. "Born to Run" – Bruce Springsteen
“Everybody's out on the run tonight
But there's no place left to hide
Together Wendy we can live with the sadness
I'll love you with all the madness in my soul
H-Oh, Someday girl I don't know when
We're gonna get to that place
Where we really wanna go
And we'll walk in the sun
But till then tramps like us
Baby we were born to run.”
“Born to Run” tells the story of two young lovers yearning to break free from their small town and “walk in the sun.” The song runs on full throttle, dripping with Springsteenian drama, oozing with the theme of ambition. And what I particularly love is how the song is a microcosm for the story behind it. At the time he recorded it, Springsteen was a cult artist known for his live performances but without a classic hit and in danger of losing his record deal.
"I had these enormous ambitions for it," Bruce Springsteen said of “Born to Run” in an interview. "I wanted to make the greatest rock record that I'd ever heard. I wanted it to sound enormous, to grab you by your throat and insist that you take that ride, insist that you pay attention – not just to the music, but to life, to being alive."
Springsteen threw his heart and soul into crafting this masterpiece; he spent three and a half months in the studio with the E Street Band on it. There were struggles; Springsteen allegedly had trouble recreating the sound and ideas he had in his mind (a feeling I can relate to, every single day of my life). He apparently almost gave up and put out a live album; instead, he doubled down. The fanatical devotion, the tinkering, the endless experimentation – it all paid off.
I just think that story is terrific, and a testament to the power of dreaming big and then going after that dream with the fire of a thousand suns. And the fact that the song itself is about the same thing, well that’s an Inception-style dream within a dream.
11. "Free" – Zac Brown Band
"No we don't have a lot of money. No we don't have a lot of money. No we don't have a lot of money. All we need is love!"
Sometimes you just want to drive and not stop driving. Until the city lights disappear and you’ve left civilization behind. Sometimes you just want to escape and travel all across this land. Until the night falls and you can lie underneath the harvest moon. And you want to do so while listening to a laid-back jam that’s pace accelerates as you do. It starts slow and builds momentum throughout, like your trip, and ends in a crescendo worthy of that magical destination at which you’ve finally arrived.
10. "Cups (Pitch Perfect’s “When I’m Gone”)" – Anna Kendrick
"I’ve got my ticket for the long way ‘round. The one with the prettiest of views. It’s got mountains, it’s got rivers, it’s got sights to give you shivers. But it sure would be prettier with you."
This is the newest addition to the playlist. I heard this recently for the first time and have listened to it ten times a day since. When she sings about mountains and rivers and sights that give shivers, I always think of vintage travel posters of US National Parks:
9. "One Day We'll Be Old" – Asaf Avidon
Do you ever equate a song with a certain time in your life? Or a certain moment? This Asaf Avidon song brings me back to a night I spent photographing Vernazza:
As I stood there at an overlook on the hillside, Avidon’s catchy lyrics played through my headphones. “One day baby we'll be old, oh baby we'll be old and think of all the stories that we could have told.”
What stories did this centuries-old gem of the Ligurian coastline have to tell? What stories did its generations of fishermen and winemakers have to tell? Or the thousands of wanderlust-stricken souls who have visited?
These were the thoughts on my mind that night. Every time I hear the song, I’m transported back to that evening.
8. "Come Fly With Me" – Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra could sing about paint drying and it would somehow be romantic. But “Come Fly With Me” is Sinatra at his most romantic, in my humble opinion. I can’t listen to this song and NOT pretend I’m on a Pan Am Clipper during the golden age of travel, flying to some faraway, exotic location.
Favorite Lyrics – really, the entire song, but, if I had to choose just a couple quotes:
"Come fly with me, let's fly, let's fly away. If you can use some exotic booze, there's a bar in far Bombay."
"Once I get you up there, where the air is rarefied, we'll just glide starry-eyed."
7. "Real World" – Matchbox Twenty
"I wish the real world would just stop hassling me."
My music choices are eclectic. Sometimes I'm in the mood for a laid back "into the Mystic" type tune. Sometimes I'm in the mood for Metallica-driven headbanging. And sometimes, sometimes I just want an upbeat song that never fails to put me in a good mood. "Real World" is that song. Aside from its 90s-nostalgia-inducing vibe, the song is a favorite because of its fit for travel. Turn this on while hiking through a nature trail on the other side of the world and you'll never want the real world to hassle you again.
6. "Hello World (The World Is Ours)" – Aloe Blacc
"I had an epiphany one night, looking at the endless star filled sky: the world is ours!"
That line, coming from a singer as as talented as Aloe Blacc.... It gets me every time. It fills me with wonder. And that's what the best songs, and the best stories do: invoke a sense of wonder.
5. "Lie In Our Graves" – Dave Matthews Band
"I can't believe that we would lie in our graves wondering if we had spent our living days well. I can't believe that we would lie in graves wondering what we might of been."
The lyrics above represent one of my favorite quotes from all of music, and they mirror the words of one of my favorite quotes from the motivational speaking world:
"The wealthiest place on the planet is the graveyard, because in the graveyard we will find find inventions that we were never exposed to, ideas, dreams that never became a reality, hopes and aspirations that were never acted upon."
And of course, there's the other classic "Lie In Our Graves" line for travel:
"Would you not like to be sitting on top of the world with your legs hanging free?"
Oh, and this song includes the best rock violin jam solo of all time (starts around the 3:30 mark of the YouTube video to the right). I dare you to listen to that jam and not think you can fly.
4. "City On Down" – O.A.R.
To many, this song is about the afterlife, but to me it's just an upbeat ode to the idea that we'll see each other again. A time will come when we'll all be reunited with the people closest to us.
Favorite Lyrics: "Well, in the end my friend, we will all be together again."
3. "My Way" – Frank Sinatra
I once read an interview of J.K. Rowling where she was asked what Muggle song she would use to describe Albus Dumbledore. Rowling said "My Way" by Sinatra. I immediately found the song and listened to it. A decade later, it's still one of my top ten favorite songs of all time.
"Regrets, I've had a few. But then again, too few to mention."
"Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew, when I bit off more than I could chew. But through it all, when there was doubt. I ate it up and spit it out. I faced it all and I stood tall. And did it my way."
"For what is a man, what has he got? If not himself, then he has naught. To say the things he truly feels, and not the words of one who kneels. The record shows, I took the blows. And did it my way."
2. "Grey Street" – Dave Matthews Band
In Grey Street, the main character is stuck in life and can’t seem to make a change. “I dream myself a million times around the world, but I can’t get out of this place.” Stuck in a rut - I can understand that. But there’s another great quote from that song. “There’s a stranger speaks outside the door, says take what you can from your dreams. Make them as real as anything.” There’s a metaphorical voice, telling the song’s main character, telling all of us, to follow our dreams, make our dream our “reality.”
I have listened to Grey Street at least ten times a day for probably the last six years. It's a cautionary tale and one that always provides me with fuel. Fuel to never be like that song's main character.
The most memorable time I listed to Grey Street came when the song popped up on iTunes shuffle while I watched the sun set over Prague in December, 2015:
1. "I Lived" – OneRepublic
My mom introduced me to this song in the autumn of 2015, just a couple weeks before I set off to Europe for three months. It has since become the anthem of my travels. It’s the song I play when arriving at a new destination. The song for reaching the top of any hill I climb. The song for any and all train rides, bus rides, plane rides or car rides. And it’s full of quotable lines, but here are my two favorites:
"I owned every second that this world could give. I saw so many places, the things that I did. Yeah, with every broken bone, I swear I lived."
"I Hope that you spend your days, but they all add up."