Ridiculously Bad '80s Movies and How They Inspired Me to Travel

Our contributor shares the unexpected films that inspired her wanderlust

As a kid I was addicted to television — I’m talking like that cowboy kid on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I know I wore out at least one VCR and four VHS tapes during the whole of the '80s. My obsession was compounded with my father’s purchase of a satellite dish. I watched the same movies over and over so much so that I could rattle off every line. The films I saw as a kid were highly inappropriate and taught me about things I had no business knowing, but they also ignited my curiosity for places outside of my West Texas bubble. No matter how silly it sounds, I have Burt Reynolds, Chevy Chase, and Harrison Ford to thank for helping transition my obsession for television into one of travel.

The Cannonball Run
Back in 1981, I was 7-years old, Burt Reynolds was the hottest thing around, Farrah Fawcett never wore a bra, and I watched The Cannon Ball Run every chance I got. Like most '80s movies, the plot is simple: an eccentric group of characters race from New York to LA trying to avoid arrest in an attempt to win $1 million. With actors like Dom DeLuise, Sammy Davis Jr., Jackie Chan, Roger Moore (yes, James Bond is in this movie), and Dean Martin, The Cannonball Run is gloriously cheesy. I blame this movie for my fixation on fast driving and road trips, as well as the countless wasted hours trying to get Farrah’s hair.

National Lampoon's European Vacation
Before there was Eurotrip there was European Vacation. All right, so it isn’t the best movie of the National Lampoon’s franchise. Hell, it’s not even the second best. I’d rank them as follows: Christmas Vacation, Vacation, Vegas Vacation, and European Vacation. But in 1985 when the movie came out, it was the first exposure I had to Europe. I was hooked. At the time it seemed like such a far-off land, one that I’d never visit. Keep in mind, this was a time where a travel agent was needed instead of European travel deals delivered directly to your inbox. I dreamed of winning a game show like the Griswolds. I simply couldn’t imagine my piggy bank ever being full enough.

Rewatching this movie after having been to Europe makes me love it more. Every single cultural stereotype is there. French, German, English, and even American — they’re all there. And just like all the movies from the National Lampoon’s franchise, there are a million quotes worth repeating. I can’t count how many times in my life I’ve uttered the words, "Hey, look kids! There’s Big Ben and there’s Parliament!"

Raider's of the Lost Ark
In 1981 when I wasn’t watching The Cannonball Run, I was glued to the non-stop action in Raiders of the Lost Ark. OK, perhaps the hot Harrison Ford in that brown floppy hat might have had something to do with my fixation. Nonetheless, Steven Spielberg’s movie follows archeologist Dr. Indiana Jones (hello, Harrison) in his attempt to find the Ark of the Covenant before Hitler’s agents. From Nepal to Cairo, Indy escapes from various close calls in his quest for the Ark.

I’d heard of Egypt from church, but I seriously doubt I made the connection that Cairo is actually in Egypt. I’m pretty sure I’d never heard of Nepal, so those places might as well have been made-up lands from Spielberg’s imagination. Make believe or not, I wanted to go where Indy went. I imagined non-stop adventure, lots of khaki clothes, sand, and people that looked nothing like me. If I were told in 1981 that in 2013 I’d visit Petra just like Indiana Jones, I’d think them crazy.

Even now after all the places I’ve seen and things I’ve done, I am bewildered. So, thank you, Burt Reynolds, Chevy Chase, and Harrison Ford. Had I not spent the better half of the '80s enamored with your cheesy movies, I might not have the passport stamps and memories I have today, but most importantly, I wouldn’t have the awesome quotes.


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