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Top Travel Songs

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Top Travel Songs by Wade Shepard, 2011

Songs have the power to deliver the underlaying essence of life within a tightly compressed package like no other form of human communication. The influence of a song can get you off your feet, into trouble, in bed, or on the road.

Songs also teach many of the vital lessons of culture — they are an enjoyable way to learn how to perceive and interact with your world. Many sub-cultures are often based in music, and there is a reason for this: the song can show you how to live. A song can also be felt — and where there are words, ideologies, and suggestions to refine a spark of human emotion there will be a pure sense of power in it.

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A properly worded song with a good beat can have the effect of sparking change in a person’s life, sometimes even getting them on the road. This entry is a list of my top travel songs.

The Pogues, great music for the traveler

These are some of the songs that have influenced me over the past 11 years of travel as I’ve bounced from continent to continent. These songs have been the soundtrack to this journey.

The Pogues — Sunny Side of the Street

This is a song about viewing the world from street level, about beggars and whores, carnivals, getting drunk, becoming disgusted with a place and getting out. This is truly a top travel song in every respect.

This song always reminded me that I possess the power of the traveler: I can always leave.

Seen the carnival at rome
Had the women I had the booze
All I can remember now
Is little kids without no shoes
So I saw that train
And I got on it
With a heartful of hate
And a lust for vomit
Now I’m walking on the sunnyside of the street

Stepped over bodies in bombay
Tried to make it to the u.s.a.
Ended up in nepal
Up on the roof with nothing at all
And I knew that day
I was going to stay
Right where I am, on the sunnyside of the street

The Pogues are my favorite band, for sure. There were times when I would listen to them nothing else — there was nothing more in terms of music that I needed. Although now I must admit that my music palate has been widened a few clicks, I still aways return to this band when I am in need of a good song.

Whitesnake — Here I go again

This is probably the song responsible for me becoming a traveler. Long ago as a little kid, my father would play this song, and it would have an incredibly great effect on me: it made me want to runaway from home.

While listening to this song I felt the Wanderlust for the first time. I perhaps owe the initial inertia behind becoming a traveler to this song — the impact of a song that hits you in the right spot cannot be underestimated.

Old Crow Medicine Show — Wagon Wheel

This song is just good. It is about realizing that when life turns to shit, when you loose all your money and it is cold outside, you can always just hit the road and see what happens. It is the story of a hitchhiking trip across the USA where the main character realizes that although he may die en route the journey was more than worth it.

It truly is.

Headed down south to the land of the pines
I’m thumbin’ my way into North Caroline
Starin’ up the road
And pray to God I see headlights
I made it down the coast in seventeen hours
Pickin’ me a bouquet of dogwood flowers
And I’m a hopin’ for Raleigh
I can see my baby tonight

Runnin’ from the cold up in New England
I was born to be a fiddler in an old-time string band
My baby plays the guitar
I pick a banjo now
Oh, the North country winters keep a gettin’ me now
Lost my money playin’ poker so I had to up and leave
But I ain’t a turnin’ back
To livin’ that old life no more

Walkin’ to the south out of Roanoke
I caught a trucker out of Philly
Had a nice long toke
But he’s a headed west from the Cumberland Gap
To Johnson City, Tennessee
And I gotta get a move on fit for the sun
I hear my baby callin’ my name
And I know that she’s the only one
And if I die in Raleigh
At least I will die free

Bob Dylan — Tangled up in Blue

This song is truly a classic. It really hits at the inner elements of excitement and serendipity that travel easily gives life to.

We drove that car as far as we could
Abandoned it out West
Split it up on a dark sad night
Both agreeing it was best
She turned around to look at me
As I was walking away
I heard her say over my shoulder
“We’ll meet again someday on the avenue”
Tangled up in blue.

I had a job in the great north woods
Working as a cook for a spell
But I never did like it all that much
And one day the ax just fell
So I drifted down to New Orleans
Where I happened to be employed
Working for a while on a fishing boat
Right outside of Delacroix

But me I’m still on the road
Heading for another joint
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point of view
Tangled up in Blue.

Dire Straights — Walk of Life

I remember a decade ago I hopped a taxi cab out to some truly middle of the nowhere village in the Peruvian Andes. I truly have no idea what I was doing going there, but I do remember that this song was playing in the cab. It was a surreal moment of sorts, but it made me realize how much I missed good music, and how essential music is to life, to travel.

And after all the violence and double talk
There’s just a song in the trouble and the strife
You do the walk, you do the walk of life

The Band — The Weight

A good song about arriving, about missing a lover while on the road and returning.

Catch a Cannonball, now, t’take me down the line
My bag is sinkin’ low and I do believe it’s time.
To get back to Miss Annie, you know she’s the only one.
Who sent me here with her regards for everyone.

Woody Guthrie

This train is bound for glory, this train.
This train is bound for glory, this train.
This train is bound for glory,
Don’t carry nothing but the righteous and the holy.
This train is bound for glory, this train.

What more can I add to this?

Johnny Cash — City of New Orleans

I wanted to both include this song and Johnny Cash in this list, good thing I found them combined in this song by Steve Goodman.

Dealin’ card games with the old men in the club car.
Penny a point ain’t no one keepin’ score.
Pass the paper bag that holds the bottle
Feel the wheels rumblin’ ‘neath the floor.
And the sons of pullman porters
And the sons of engineers
Ride their father’s magic carpets made of steel.
Mothers with their babes asleep,
Are rockin’ to the gentle beat
And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel.

Good night, America, how are you?
Don’t you know me I’m your native son,
I’m the train they call The City of New Orleans,
I’ll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.

Allman Brothers — Rambling Man

The archaeologist’s anthem.

Led Zepplin — Ramble on

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As of the beginning of 2011, these are my top travel songs. There is a beat to traveling, and, like most things in the natural world, us humans have found a way to put it to music.

Other top travel song lists

Emery from Reader Travels Vagabond Edition’s favorite travel songs

Reuben by Patrick Sky, top travel song on Sararoseup

Andy the Hobotraveler’s top travel songs in 2010

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Top travel songs was this week’s Vagabond Journey travel community’s blogging topic. To join this community, sign up for a free blog on Vagabond Journey Travel.

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Filed under: Art and Music, Culture and Society, Traveler Culture

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3053 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Cincinnati, Ohio, USAMap