In Defense of Going to the Movies While On Vacation

Next time you’re traveling, skip the tourist traps and head for the theater.
Frances Ha
IFC Films
By  · Published on August 20th, 2018

Midway through Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, our eponymous heroine (Greta Gerwig) finds herself on a spur of the moment solo trip to Paris. While there, she receives a call from her best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner), who tells Frances that she’s going to be moving to Tokyo. Feeling dejected and aimless, Frances goes to a movie theater and inquires about a showing of Puss In Boots. I was recently listening to an episode of the podcast We Really Like Her discussing Frances Ha and the hosts, Emily Gagne and Danita Steinberg, highlighted how disspiriting and yet relatable it is for Frances to be in one of the most beautiful cities in the world and to turn to the comforting darkness of a movie theater.

This got me thinking about my penchant for seeing movies while on vacation, something I tend to do regardless of mood, circumstances, or the city I’m visiting. I also realized that for some people, this might sound odd, or at least different. After all, traveling usually isn’t cheap, and most people want to make the most of their vacation. That probably means seeing sights and experiencing things that you can’t get at home, not going to watch a movie that you can just as easily see at your local cinema when you return.

Well, I’m here to tell you that might want to rethink that mentality. No matter where you are and who you’re with, chances are if you love movies you’ll be receptive to the benefits of going to the movies while on vacation. If you’re familiar with this practice, then you probably know about these benefits, but a refresher won’t hurt.

If you found yourself relating to Frances as a solo traveler, you’re not alone. Traveling by yourself can be a challenging and rewarding experience; it encourages independence, but it can also get lonely. As Film School Rejects’s own Matthew Monagle has established, going to the movies by yourself, even if you have reservations about doing so, is a great way to watch a film. This still rings true even if you’re on vacation.

If you’re traveling solo and feeling a little alone or overwhelmed in an unfamiliar place, movie theaters can give you a sense of comfort. You get to be by yourself and also around people. You can share an experience with others, but you don’t have to talk to them. Warm popcorn and your favorite movie snacks can give you a taste of home. A good movie (or at least a moderately enjoyable one) can take your mind off everything else. Vacations are fun, but they can also be stressful and busy. Sometimes it’s nice to take a breather and spend two hours on the simple and familiar act of just watching a movie.

But going to the movies on vacation doesn’t have only to be a solo venture; it’s also a great way to spend time and make memories with friends, partners, and family. When I pitched this essay, FSR’s own Rob Hunter shared his experience of seeing Inception opening night in Maui with his girlfriend. As Rob told me, “We walked up to the theater five minutes before it started thinking we would be too late and it’d be sold out, so I asked the guy where the line was and he said in the most jovial Hawaiian accent imaginable “There are never any lines in Kihei man!” (Kihei being the town on Maui.)”

I, on the other hand, remember that I saw Inception in my local multiplex, but as for who I saw it with or whether it was opening night or any other information about that specific screening, those details have been lost in the sands of time. There was nothing unique enough about my viewing circumstances for me to remember that night all these years later. Seeing a movie in a new place gives you an experience you don’t get at home and this can turn an ordinary night at the movies into something incredibly memorable (especially if this experience comes with a friendly Hawaiian theater employee).

Earlier this year, I saw Lady Bird at the Somerville Theater while visiting one of my best friends in Boston. This was my third viewing, and it was still the same movie that I watched the first two times around, but when I think of Lady Bird, it’s always my third screening that I think of first and that I have the most positive memories of. Because I was with a friend who I don’t see that often it was especially nice to be able to bond over this movie that we both love deeply and to share that experience. Between visiting a friend I only see a couple of times a year and patronizing a new theater, there were enough unique aspects to that experience that even though it was my third time seeing the movie, it was the most memorable viewing. I can even tell you what snacks I bought for the screening (Pretzel M&M’s — delicious!).

Additionally, ticket stubs can make excellent souvenirs. There’s a specificity to them that, even years from now, can jog your memory and take you back to an exact movie at an exact time in an exact place. If you like keepsakes from your travels to remind you of your experiences, what could be better than that?

Traveling also gives you the opportunity to visit places you’d never get to see otherwise. This includes movie theaters. Theaters — especially small, local ones — can create a sense of community and be a respite from the troubles of the outside world. That still applies if you’re on vacation. Traveling is an excellent opportunity to seek out indie theaters.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with seeing movies at multiplexes (at home or on vacation), but there is something especially nice about patronizing an independently run venue. These places are usually the ones that have worthwhile repertory screenings and employees and fellow patrons that genuinely (and rightly so) care about preserving the cinematic experience. I can tell you that after seeing Lady Bird there, I’m looking forward to visiting the Somerville Theater again next time I’m in Boston.

Whether you’re alone or with a huge group, feeling down and in search of comfort or having the time of your life on vacation, a visit to the theater can give you priceless memories, specific souvenirs, and a one of a kind cinematic experience. If you don’t go to the movies while on vacation, that’s probably something you should rethink next time you travel. And if you can, try to plan your theater visit, so you have options aside from walking into Puss In Boots after it’s already started.

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Anna Swanson is a Senior Contributor who hails from Toronto. She can usually be found at the nearest rep screening of a Brian De Palma film.