Travel Documentary TV | 5 of the Best Travel Documentaries

Looking for a travel documentary to watch? Here's some of our favourite ones ever

If you live for travel, adventure, and getting outdoors but currently find yourself stuck at home then you might just want to get some much needed escapism in your life by watching a travel documentary of some sorts. More specifically than that, you might want to get the escapism in your life by watching a good travel documentary (trust us when we say there’s a lot, and we mean a lot, of rubbish out there).

These, right here, are some of the best travel documentaries around. They’re not as good as going on an adventure in real life obviously but as alternatives go they’re not a bad shout. Have a look.

Dark Tourist

Hosted by New Zealand’s version of Louis Theroux, David Farrier, ‘Dark Tourist’ is a documentary series on Netflix that looks at a form of travel known as dark tourism. In short, dark tourism is like regular tourism except instead of people heading to Paris and doing selfies in front of the Eiffel Tower they’re actually spending their money on making visits to sites known for death, destruction, and generally pretty grim stuff.

Each episode of ‘Dark Tourist’ sees Farrier visiting a different country or region on earth. In one episode, for example he goes to Japan and pays a visit to the haunting and now very much evacuated area around the Fukushima Nuclear Power. While in Japan, he also explores the abandoned Hashima Island and goes for a wander round Aokigahara; an infamous forest on the northwestern flank of Mount Fuji that’s known for being a suicide hotspot.

“Aokigahara; an infamous forest… that’s known for being a suicide hotspot”

Other episodes of ‘Dark Tourist’ see Farrier travel to a Soviet testing site for nuclear weaponry in Kazakhstan, the site of JFK’s assassination in Dallas, and Benin to experience voodoo ritual.

Despite the bleakness of some of the stuff he encounters, Farrier’s extremely Kiwi sense of humour makes this series a surprisingly enjoyable one to watch.

Well worth a look this, whether you’re into the macabre side of life or not.

You can watch Dark Tourist on Netflix

An Idiot Abroad

‘An Idiot Abroad’, if you’ve never seen it before, is a comedy travel documentary series which essentially boils down to Karl “head like a f*cking orange” Pilkington, a man who hates travel, travelling the world and getting well outside of his comfort zone. He’s guided remotely throughout his adventures by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.

Series one of the globe-trotting show sees Pilkington visiting the ‘Seven Wonders of the World’, making observations along the way like “It’s not a Great Wall. It’s an alright wall. It’s the Alright Wall of China.”

“It’s not a Great Wall. It’s an alright wall. It’s the Alright Wall of China”

Series two of ‘An Idiot Abroad’ sees Pilkington reluctantly tick off various things from a classic “things to do before you die” bucket list (not his). Series three follows Pilkington and Warwick Davies as they loosely follow in the footsteps of Marco Polo’s journey to China.

A travel documentary that’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face, this.

You can watch An Idiot Abroad on Amazon Prime Video.

Around The World In 80 Days (1989)

For many people, ‘Around The World In 80 Days with Michael Palin’ is the travel documentary. First broadcast in 1989, the seven episode BBC series sees actor and writer Palin take up the challenge of emulating the adventures of fictional character Phileas Fogg; the protagonist in Jules Verne’s classic 1872 novel ‘Around The World In Eighty Days’.

Travelling the world without modern aircraft, because planes make travelling the world in 80 days far too easy, Palin faces a race against the clock as he attempts to circumnavigate the globe on foot, train, ship, balloon and husky dog sled.  Starting in London, he follows Fogg’s route as closely as possible.

As he makes his way, Palin overcomes various obstacles and comments on the various sights and cultures he encounters along the way. As proof of his journey, he collects souvenirs that have been requested by his ‘referees’ back in the UK.

“Make no mistake, it’s a bona fide classic”

Deemed a critical and commercial success upon release, ‘Around The World in 80 Days’ sparked sequels of sorts in the shape of ‘Pole To Pole with Michael Palin’ (first broadcast in 1992) and ‘Full Circle with Michael Palin’ (first broadcast in 1997). Following his 80 days trip, Palin also went on to write a book about the experience.

Palin has since presented a number of other popular travel documentaries including ‘Hemingway Adventure’, where he follows in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway, ‘Sahara’, where he travels through the Sahara Desert, and ‘Himalaya’, where he – you guessed it – travels around the Himalayas. He’s also presented travel documentaries about Eastern Europe, Brazil, and North Korea.

Before you get stuck into all those though, start with ‘Around The World In 80 Days’ – it’s truly iconic stuff, and the foundation upon which numerous shows since have been built. Make no mistake, it’s a bona fide classic.

You can watch Around The World In 80 Days on BBC iPlayer

The Vice Guide To Travel

The Vice Guide To Travel is what would happen if Nathan Barley and the Sugar Ape gang took the reigns on the no-longer-with-us holiday guide programme ‘Wish You Were Here’. Think gun markets in Pakistan, fist fighting in the Andes, cannibal warlords in Liberia and camel beauty contests in the desert.

“Think gun markets in Pakistan, fist fighting in the Andes, cannibal warlords in Liberia”

The standout episode in my opinion, and the one worth seeking out before all others, is an hour long look behind the DMZ called ‘Inside North Korea’. It’s presented by Shane Smith, the co-founder of Vice Media, and is a fascinating look at the culture, ideology, and general layout of a country that, even to this day, we still know very little about. Go check it out (you can watch part one of three above).

You can watch Inside North Korea on Vice Video.

You can watch The Vice Guide To Travel on Vice Video and YouTube

Long Way Round

‘Long Way Round’, first broadcast in 2004, is the kind of travel documentary that fires up imaginations and, like the best of its genre, makes people want to go out there and do something similar themselves.

Featuring Ewan McGregor, he of ‘Trainspotting’, ‘Moulin Rouge’, and ‘Salmon Fishing In The Yemen’ fame, and his actor mate Charley Boorman – the series sees the pair travel 19,000 miles (31,000km) on their motorbikes from London to New York City via Europe and Asia.

“The Scotsman also suffered mosquito bites on his arse, and penis”

Passing through the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Canada and the US en-route, McGregor and Boorman’s journey was a hit with viewers and was also used to promote the humanitarian efforts of UNICEF.

Over the course of the series, the boys visit an orphanage in Ukraine for those affected by the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, a climbing wall at a youth centre in Kazakhstan, and an outreach project working with street children in the capital city of Mongolia (Ulaanbaatar).

From a health point of view, the ‘Long Way Round’ journey was anything but plain sailing. McGregor got petrol accidentally sprayed in his eyes twice during the adventure. On one occasion, this resulted in McGregor having to visit an optometrist in Ukraine. McGregor’s forehead also required treatment after becoming badly swollen after a mosquito bite on the Kazakhstan leg. The Scotsman also suffered mosquito bites on his arse, and penis. Boorman, on the other hand, badly strained his left shoulder during the Siberian leg of the journey and was unable to ride for several days.

If you’re all about big road trips, or have ever thought about doing a massive driving challenge like The Mongol Rally, you’ll relish immersing yourself in ‘Long Way Rond’. Once you’re done with it, you might want to search out the follow up series ‘Long Way Down’ which follows McGregor and Boorman as they ride from the UK’s northernmost point John o’ Groats to Cape Agulhas (Africa’s southernmost point).

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