Top Ten Travel Songs – The NomadRuss Selection

I’m currently traveling. While I’m not one of those people who is always listening to music, when I travel my earbuds are usually in. I remember riding a bus from Mendoza, Argentina all the way to the Salta in the north, and I’d count the journey by the number of songs that played as we traveled. So over the years I’ve accumulated a few favorite travel songs. This list is a bit eclectic, and it’s purposefully designed to introduce you to a couple of songs, and maybe an artist, that you haven’t listened to before. I’ll give a brief introduction to why I’ve included the songs.

Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright by Bob Dylan

This song was written around the time that Dylan’s girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, prolonged her stay in Italy. While I’ve never hit the road due to the end of a relationship, my wandering spirit has definitely contributed to the end of some. And it just seemed appropriate to start the list with one of the best story tellers of them all.

Boots of Spanish Leather – Nanci Griffith

While this was also a ballad written by Bob Dylan, I first heard it performed by Nanci Griffith. It’s a tale of two lovers, written as a dialogue, as one crosses the open sea and finally says they may never come back, saying, “It depends on how I’m feeling.”

Midnight Rider – Allman Brothers

After traveling through Laos by motorbike, visiting villages rife with opium, and attempting to cross into Burma through unorthodox means, I found myself on “a list.” While that story is outside the scope of this post, and I certainly broke no laws, it made me relate the role of the outlaw. And this song is a classic.

In God’s Country – U2

Whenever I travel through Utah, I end up putting U2 on the playlist. The landscape demands it. Joshua Tree just blends with the scenery and this song always seems to kick in around Moab.

Marrakech Express – CSN

It’s not my favorite song, but I listened to this over and over again while in Morocco, specifically on the train from Casablanca to Marrakech.

Mary’s in India – Dido

Poignant. You have to really listen to this story.

Midnight Train to Georgia

Gladys Knight and the Pips definitely should be any travel list. A song about a failed musician moving back to his home in Georgia after attempting to make it in LA. I imagine there’s a fair number of people on the road making such changes.

Four Strong Winds – Neil Young

The opening line of this song, “Think I’ll go out to Alberta, weather’s good there in the Fall,” speaks to me of those with wanderlust. Another travel song that deals in a probable failed relationship, there are traces of hope of reuniting in another place in the future, but the likely reality that it won’t happen. Something many with wanderlust can relate to.

If I Had A Boat – Lyle Lovett

A whimsical, light-hearted look at travel, particularly for those who are bound to one place currently and can only dream of travel. “If I had a boat, I’d go out on the ocean, and if I had a pony I’d ride him on my boat…”

Child of the Wind – Bruce Cockburn

I saved perhaps the best for last. You might not have ever heard of Bruce Cockburn, but he’s one of my all time favorite performers. And this song may capture the essence of the free-spirited as well as any I’ve ever heard.

What did I leave off the list? Personally, it was hard to leave off America’s Horse With No Name as I listen to it every time I cross the desert too. What song would you add?

The photo of the Blue Guitar is mine, and can be printed if you’d like a print for your home. Also, you can purchase any of the photos on my Instagram feed as an 8 x 8 or 12 x 12. You can follow me on Instagrm under the username “nomadruss”.


52 thoughts on “Top Ten Travel Songs – The NomadRuss Selection

  1. Fun post. Enjoying the music. Lately, I have this song that resonates. It wakes me up, makes me feel alive and seems to cause the speedometer to creep up too. It is “love runs out” by One Republic. Tj

  2. Many of these are on my list. But Cockburn lingers forever in my veins. I perform this song at folk fests and it still gives me the shivers. We must be about the same generation as these songs hark back and forth across my wanderings as well. Sat front and center… just a couple feet away at Flagstaff’s tiny Coconino Center for Arts last year for Cockburn concert. Last saw him over twenty years ago in Toronto when he’d just returned from Nepal. The guy gets what we do: how “dust and diesel” creep into oneself from being out there…on the road and why we have to be “on the road.” Great post Russ.

    • Thanks Renee, and we do seem to be around the same generation. I’ve seen Bruce Cockburn twice, once in Asheville, NC and once in southern California, both times in small venues. He definitely has a way of writing great lyrics and touching on things that the traveler can understand…

      • Thanks Russ. Thought of you as I’m prepping a trip to Turkey, Tibet and Nepal and upgraded my camera. While I love my gear and use it… I’m always skittish about brandishing it in certain situations. You’ve likely had much more experience that i in Asia – as my travels have focused on Central and South America and Europe. Any thoughts?

      • I’m hoping to get to Istanbul later this year myself. Tibet and Nepal are both easy places to photograph, generally. The people are used to cameras, sometimes a little too much, and they want money. I generally don’t give money, but on occasion the equivalent of a dollar is in order. We could talk about the ethics of that all day. Overall, I think you’ll love photographing both Nepal and Tibet, beautiful people, clothing, mountains. I look forward to seeing what you shoot.

      • Thanks for the insights on the photo customs. I so prefer the unposed candid of folks going about every day life… and am willing to hang around until folks relax a bit — so knowing what is customary is important. Been practicing as I moved fromD30 to D70 and it’s a leap… but has those low light opportunities I’ve been longing for for so many years. I appreciate the follow and the interest from a pro like you.Will likely start posting end of October. Thanks!

      • Russ- I’m back stateside. Can’t keep Nepal and Tibet out of my head. Day and night. What a feast for the senses… the pilgrims, the gash in the side of a mountain thousands of feet up from the Sunkoshi River that served as a detour around the Sindhupalchowk landslide. The people, landscape, views, smells, the colors, the warmth and depth of the Nepalese and the bruised spirits of the Tibetans. I can’t wait to post some photos. But how do I keep them from being jacked from my blog? Watermarks are a pain and I hate how small photos look… Any thoughts?

      • Welcome home! What beautifully poetic descriptions. I understand. Look at the watermark that I’m using. It’s subtle, understated, and difficult to remove. And otherwise, I can only spend so much time worrying about it. I can’t wait to see what you shot!

      • Thanks Russ. Is that WM easy to apply? Fact is yours is so subtle, I never noticed it… also – any thoughts as I consider migration away from Aperture to Light Room? I have Photo Shop. Maybe just stick with Apple’s Photo when it comes out and just use Photo Shop? Right now I have my photos temporarily archived in individual iPhoto albums – as this month alone I took 170 gig–after culling.

      • I make my watermark using Lightroom, its very basic. I back up everything on backup harddrives, and only import to Lightroom those i want to look at further. So its part of my editing process. Cant wait to see your work!

      • Thanks Russ. Looks like I have work to do 🙂 I’ve thrown together some very basically edited slide shows for my dad to show around town, but there are definitely some high quality photos I want to shop up more. How often you make it out to AZ? (I saw your Route 66 / desert thread here).

      • I tend to work seasonally, and that allows me to get out west every year or two. Id like to spend more time on old 66, its almost gone, but still has a few jewels scattered here and there.

      • My dad “resurrects” vintage trucks from Arizona to take back to NY to sell. Through the years he’s traveled old 66. One year he was laid up and couldn’t transport his own truck back to NY… so I got to take my girls on a road trip in Gpas cowboy cadillac. He mapped out some of those hidden gems you talk about for my girls (then about 7 and 10 yrs old) to see… including some treasure hunts to find i.e. barns with certain paintings etc… Of all the exotic places my girls have been in Central and South America and Europe… that simple all-American out of the way road trip with mom (and emailing gpa photos of their found treasures he’d mapped out) remains their all time favorite. Old 66 played a memorable roll in their memory.

      • He’d love that! The reason I did the Himalaya with him this year is he’s quickly losing the ability to walk. We took a portable wheel chair, and I was his “sherpa.” It took some patience for us to learn these new rolls, but we did it without any major fall out…(i think..) other than about killing the teenage Mahindra driver who took us on a wild detour on one of the world’s top ten most dangerous roads around that Nepali landslide that buried a village of 150… Certainly unforgettable. My dad’s an old photographer… has a collection of Kennedy and other NY political photos he’s done on the fly through the years. He’d love to ride along with you for sure!

  3. I love this post Russ. As much as you travel, your insight with the occasional “behind the scenes” like this is great. Your list has some of my favorites already (ahem, Allman Brothers), but is missing The Byrds “Tulsa County”, just about anything Jimi Hendrix, Willie Nelson, RL Burnside or Motorhead, depending on the mood of the trip.

      • Great song. Still out in the desert? The mood definitely affects music choices. Last week’s trip down 66 for shooting was all about mournful old country songs I remember from being a kid, but the trip before was all about Gram Parsons. Same route, different days. The sights and day itself totally change the soundtrack for any trip.

      • Your Route 66 project is a great one, it’s all changing so rapidly still. I’m back from the desert, but there’s always a bit of blog lag so it will appear for a little while yet. So true about the mood and the day, if I wrote a top 10 list from scratch right now it might even look different…

      • Thank you, I really appreciate that, although seeing the amount of abandonment on 66 is taking its toll at this point and I have to step back from it for a while. I love your desert photos. The lighting in the desert is like no where else. The mood thing could make for a fun experiment, maybe start documenting the day’s soundtrack each trip?

      • On the Route 66, it’s really quite sad. I’ve seen a few small stretches where people have kept it going, but otherwise there’s not too much yo document. Americas small towns are going the same way. It’s a sign of the times…

      • Steely Dan? Nice. Now I’ll have Dirty Work stuck in my head all day.
        I would rather buck against the signs of the time. 🙂 Although my once simple project of documenting declining small towns has turned into documenting everything left of 66. There’s more than you would think, just mostly abandoned. My hope is that more people will get interested and start saving her before much more of her disappears.

  4. I love this list! And I would add three. Eva Cassidy’s version of “Wayfaring Stranger,” because I adore her and because that’s how I feel about life in general. Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good,” because that’s exactly how I feel when I get to go somewhere myself. And Nickel Creek’s “When You Come Back Down.” Because most of the time adventures come to me vicariously…

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