What makes a great travel song? I’ve been reading and reviewing blog posts and articles on the Top 10 to Top 100 best travel songs ever. One thing for certain is that there are different definitions for the best travel songs. Most of the featured songs on these lists, in my humble opinion, are a bit of a stretch and fall way short of even being in the category. So, I’ve compiled my own list of the Top Five Best Travel Songs Ever.
As a TV producer, I choose music to underscore the tape pieces that I produce and I’m very particular about selecting the ideal composition. Music sets the complete tone of your TV segment or show. The musical score should never really be noticed (for most instrumental scoring), but it should add a dimension of energy to the visual and overall viewing experience that will evoke emotion or engage the viewer at a deeper level. When it comes to songs on a soundtrack, you want the lyrics to complement the imagery.
As a TV travel show producer, here are the criteria that I used to determine which songs made my list of the Top Five Best Travel Songs Ever:
1. Does the song conjure up images of travel when I listen to it?
2. Are the lyrics really about travel or do they have aspects of travel?
3. Would this song make a great soundtrack for a montage sequence of a movie or TV show (reality or scripted)?
You may not know this since it’s not on my bio page, but I have a degree from the Jordan College of Fine Arts at Butler University with a major in music. About the only thing I’ve actually ever done with my music degree is use my training to help select the right scores for my productions and I once wrote cue cards for Neil Diamond.
Here’s how that came down: when I was a producer at ABC-TVs Home Show hosted by Gary Collins and Sarah Purcell, Neil was a guest on one of our Christmas Specials. He was scheduled to sing, “The Christmas Song.” On the morning of the taping of the show, the Supervising Producer was running around frantically asking if anyone knew the words to “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” and could they write up cue cards for Neil Diamond? This was way before the days of Google and the internet, mind you. Well, I was the only one on staff who knew all the words by heart, so I wrote the cue cards and saved the day…or at least that year’s Christmas special. By the way, the Neil Diamond song, “America,” did not make my list of travel songs because that’s really a song about immigration and the American dream.
Now, after that short detour down the Neil Diamond rabbit hole, here are my picks for the Top Five Best Travel Songs Ever and why they made my list. As you will discover, I have a very middle of road style preference when it comes to music. I like mellow melodies and upbeat pop tunes. In most cases, I’ve scoured YouTube to locate the best videotaped recording by the original artist performing the song although it may not be the best performance of the material.
1. Sailing – Christopher Cross
Sailing is probably one of the most true and quintessential travel songs ever written as it’s all about sailing and travel (unless I’m oblivious to an undercurrent message and this song is really about something else). I think the lyrics really capture what a vacation of rest and relaxation should be about, “It's not far down to paradise, at least it's not for me, and if the wind is right you can sail away, and find tranquility.” The music itself calms me and brings peace to frenzied day. It says slow down and soak up the sun which is why it tops my list of the best travel songs ever.
[Video: Christopher Cross, Sailing]
2. Soak Up the Sun - Sheryl Crow
Soak Up the Sun epitomizes a summer vacation day in the sun. “I’m gonna soak up the sun, got my 45 on so I can rock on.” I love this upbeat, happy travel tune that always puts a smile on my face. Most people dream of a getaway day to play hookie at the beach and put the worries of your job out of your mind. This music video is beautifully shot on location in Hawaii and speaks for itself as a travel song soundtrack pick. Until I saw the video, I generally think of the Hamptons when I hear this song.
I vividly remember purchasing this CD at a Starbucks in Napa Valley. I had a video shoot in Sacramento and decided to take an extra couple of days to drive over to Napa and do some wine tasting since I was already in Northern California. I had heard the song on the radio and loved it and wanted to listen to this music in my rental car for the Napa Valley road trip. I can play a song over and over and never get sick of it although anyone riding with me might go crazy. It’s a good thing this was a solo trip. This song is at the top on my list of best travel songs ever.
[Video: Sheryl Crow, Soak Up The Sun]
3. Kokomo – The Beach Boys
Kokomo was the movie theme song for Cocktail starring Tom Cruise. I’ve never seen the movie which is probably why I love this song. I hear the movie was not so great and I know people who hate this song because they associate it with the movie. I love the imagery that it conjures up of great beach locations and a feel good tropical getaway. Every time I hear this tune it always makes me want to go to the Florida Keys or Aruba, Jamaica, Bermuda, Bahamas…well, you get the picture. This link has the best performance by the Beach Boys along with the best video (with scenes from Cocktail edited in) but you can’t embed it, so I have another version below.
[Video: Beach Boys, Kokomo]
4. Vacation – The GoGo’s
For me, Vacation is one of those songs where I don’t listen much to the verse, I just love the chorus. “Vacation, all I ever wanted. Vacation, had to get away.” I can easily see this over a montage sequence in a movie where a couple breaks up and the gal takes off for a Thelma & Louise sort of adventure. The chorus or hook of the song is the general take away since the actual verses aren’t really about travel. Don’t Stop Believing is similar to me too since the chorus is joyful, says “Never Give Up” and I love the song although when you listen to the verses (except for the last verse of the song) it’s really about some low life people living sad lives who just want to get the heck out of Dodge with no clear direction of where they’re really going.
[Video: The GoGo’s Vacation]
5. You’re My Home – Billy Joel
Although You’re My Home is a very romantic tune, it’s also a real traveler's song written by one of the best singer/songwriters of all time, Billy Joel. He is the ultimate storyteller through his lyrics and music. This song is about someone who travels a lot, "When you look into my eyes and see the crazy gypsy in my soul," but their home is wherever their love is (including if they’re traveling together) even if that place is on the road.
I just love the lyric, “Home could be the Pennsylvania turnpike, Indiana's early morning dew, high up in the hills of California, home is just another word for you.” The traveler in the song feels, “If I travel all my life and I never get stop and settle down, long as I have you by my side there's a roof above and good walls all around. You're my castle, you're my cabin….You’re my home,” which is why You're My Home completes my Top Five Best Travel Songs Ever.
[Video: Billy Joel, You’re My Home]
Bonus- Holiday Travel Song: Tennessee Christmas – Amy Grant
Tennessee Christmas is one of my favorite holiday travel songs (next to the ancient, “Over the River and Through the Woods, naturally). You may not agree with me that it’s a travel song, but to me, it’s about a decision on where to spend the holidays and weighing the pros and cons of two travel options. Since I’ve lived away from my home state of Indiana from the time I graduated college, this was a decision I pondered many times. When my Dad was still here, I’d go home to Indiana for every Christmas, but then I started avoiding holiday travel choosing to go home to Indy at other times during the year. Now I usually spend my holidays in L.A. but I’m always open to a vacation during this season with my family.
I found this historic clip of a young Amy Grant performing this song.
[Video: Amy Grant Tennessee Christmas]
So there you have it: My Top Five Best Travel Songs Ever. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
What Are Your Favorite Travel Songs?
Now I’m sure you have your picks too for your favorite travel songs. I’d love for you to tell me about them! Don’t just list the title(s) though, tell me why it’s your favorite song(s), if it brings back memories of a great vacation, and attach a photo of the vacation too. Share it!
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About Marianne Schwab
TV Travel Show Producer
For over twenty years, TV Travel Show Producer, Marianne Schwab, has been collecting money saving travel tips as a travel producer for high profile television programs. She has flown all over the world and produced live television productions on location from Caesar's Palace on the Vegas Strip to the beautiful island of Oahu. Read more