15 Best Songs About Travel
Is there anything better than cranking up the radio when you’re on the road? There’s something perfectly transporting about letting music fill your car, or just your head if you’re traveling publicly and need to use headphones. It’s almost as if the music gets you to your destination sooner, so it’s no coincidence that many of our most popular songs are about places to escape to when life has gotten to be too much.
We’ve put together the ultimate playlist of 15 classic songs about popular travel destinations. From the sunny shores of California to the gritty streets of New York and across the ocean, the list has something for every traveler. Or, if you’re just daydreaming about your next trip, let our list inspire you. What will it be? Aruba? Jamaica? Bermuda? Bahama?
1. 'Kokomo' by The Beach Boys
Well, we gave it away above, but of course this classic from the Beach Boys leads off our list! It’s the most recent hit in a long string of them for this band. Most Beach Boys songs celebrated the joys of California, but this one heads south to a place “off the Florida Keys” where you can “get away from it all" — Kokomo.
Sadly, Kokomo isn’t a real place, but the relaxed vibe of this song perfectly captures the feeling many of us want when we travel.
2. 'Carolina in My Mind' by James Taylor
James Taylor grew up in North Carolina, and his classic song about escaping back there when life is too tough perfectly captures the allure of his home state. The bridge of the song, “Dark and silent, late last night, I think I might have heard the highway call…” is a familiar feeling to any born traveler.
Listen to this song for long and you’ll be pulling up your favorite travel app to see how much a direct flight to the Outer Banks is. Gone, you're gone…
3. 'Midnight Train to Georgia' by Gladys Knight and the Pips
Continuing our journey through the American South, we’d be remiss if we didn’t reference this iconic song by Ms. Knight and her back-up singers, which manages to refer to both a glorious destination (Georgia, of course) and the means to get there (that midnight train).
It’s probably not possible to take a midnight train to Georgia or much of anywhere else these days, but oh, the harmonies on this song!
4. 'Take Me Home, Country Roads' by John Denver
When we took a poll for favorite songs about specific destinations, this one was mentioned over and over again. And while it’s such an evocative celebration of West Virginia’s natural beauty that it became the state’s official song in 2014, that longing captured in Denver’s voice is really what makes the song universal.
Who of us hasn’t longed to go back “to the place I belong”? By the way, Denver had never even been to West Virginia when he wrote it!
5. 'Sweet Home Alabama' by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Here’s another absolute classic that’s about traveling home, which we defy you not to sing whenever anyone mentions traveling to Alabama.
Not only has this song made iconic appearances in several movies (like Nicole Kidman’s unforgettable dance to it in "To Die For"), it manages to diss to Neil Young, as well. But, oh, that guitar riff! Roll down the windows and turn up the volume…
6. 'California Dreaming' by the Mamas and the Papas
The four-part harmony of the Mamas and the Papas evocatively captures the longing many of us have felt on a dreary day at home, when we’ve dreamt of our packing our bags and heady to more sunny climates immediately.
“If I didn’t tell her,” they sing, “I could leave today.” It’s so tempting.
7. 'I Left My Heart in San Francisco' by Tony Bennett
Bennett is just one of many artists to record this classic, but his version is iconic. The song namechecks quite a few places we wouldn’t mind going – Paris, Rome – but then returns the singer to the best place of all, San Francisco, where the “golden sun will shine for me.”
San Francisco can be pretty grey, actually, but the song still hits the spot. Who of us wouldn’t take a trip to see the Golden Gate Bridge right this very moment?
8. 'I’ve Been to Memphis' by Lyle Lovett
While this song isn’t as well-known as others on the list, it deserves to be. Lyle Lovett released in 1992, but it has the sound of a much older song, the kind Ray Charles might have sung.
Lovett mentions a long list of places he’s been, such as Memphis, El Paso, San Antonio, only to return to his central problem: he loves a woman “what I don't know.”
Anyone who’s spent too much time on the road trying not to think about someone at home will understand.
9. 'April in Paris' by Ella Fitzgerald
Can you put together a road trip playlist and not include some Ella? We certainly can’t. This swinging song evokes springtime in Paris so beautifully, with the lyrics about “chestnuts in blossom” that it takes all of our will power not to buy a ticket for de Gaulle for next spring.
“What have you done to my heart?” Ella asks the city. We totally understand.
10. 'Atlantic City' by Bruce Springsteen
At the opposite end of the music spectrum is this classic rock number. Springsteen makes Atlantic City seem as gritty as can be, between the mobsters, the sketchy boardwalk and the cross-city bus. But still, the song is alluring.
Maybe it’s the promise that if we put “your make up on, put your hair up pretty” we can meet the Boss tonight in Atlantic City? It’s not an offer we’d pass up.
11. 'I Happen to Like New York' by Judy Garland
Look, there are dozens of great songs about New York, from “New York, New York” to “Empire State of Mind,” so we decided to go with a less obvious classic.
Garland’s version of Cole Porter’s song is swell. It manages to mention Hackensack, New Jersey (which is rejected) and a pastrami on rye at the Carnegie Deli (which is celebrated).
As the lyrics inform us, “The more I see New York, the more I think of it.” It’s a sentiment that many of us can agree with wholeheartedly.
12. 'Margaritaville' by Jimmy Buffet
But when the churning energy of cities gets to be too much, you’ll want to head south again, this time to a yet another place in that’s more a state of mind than a geographic location: Margaritaville.
Sometimes trips are really an excuse to waste away, and Buffet’s beloved song perfectly captures that mood. Grab a salt shaker and a bottle, and stay for a while. It’s not like Jimmy’s going to urge you to be more productive.
13. 'Africa' by Toto
We know, it’s already in your head: "dodo dodo dodo dooo." How much this song really has to do with the continent is anyone’s guess, but for many people, this is the song that comes to mind when Africa is mentioned as a travel destination.
The sense of longing and wonder that suffuses it is probably not a bad mindset for a traveler to any destination, but especially to Africa. Bless those rains.
14. 'Back in the U.S.S.R.' by The Beatles
Sure, you technically can’t travel to the U.S.S.R. anymore, but this song is still perfect for a trip to Russia!
The song parodies the Beach Boys’ “California Girls” a bit, with the lyrics like “The Ukraine girls really knock me out,” and the song is just a lot of fun: try to resist singing along to the line: “Georgia on my my my my mind”!
We could only hope a trip to Russia would be this fun!
15. 'America' by Neil Diamond
There are plenty of songs with “America” in the title, too, but we decided that this song by Neil Diamond, which manages somehow to be both a little campy and a little touching, perfectly captured the desire many of us, or our ancestors, felt: to get to the U.S.A. “on the boats and on the planes.”
Sure, the synthesizer is cheesy, but when you think of the amazing travel destinations the States offers, it’s hard not to agree that we’ve all “got a dream to take them there.”