I love travelling and I love watching documentaries so put the two together and it’s a match made in heaven. Given that I haven’t had a travel fix this year due to the pandemic, I can be transported away from the comfort of my living room and see places that I hope I will be able to travel to one day! Below are 9 travel documentaries I have watched that I would recommend (and if there’s any that you’d suggest I watch next, please let me know in the comments!).
Dark Tourist – Netflix
I had to include a Dark Tourist review as I love that this series is a new take on travel – it explores the premise of dark tourism, visiting places that are associated with death and/or tragedy (although strangely the theme tune is quite upbeat!). My favourite episode is the one in Japan, where David Ferrier visits areas with high radiation following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, as well as Aokigahara Forest which is a well-documented suicide spot, and the abandoned Hashima Island (pictured above). The whole episode is intriguing and eerie, and the rest of the series is very interesting too. I really enjoyed it and David Ferrier is very likeable, so I can only hope for a Dark Tourist season 2.
Travel Man – Channel 4
What I like about this series is that it focuses on spending 48 hours in a city, so it’s quite fast paced and gives you an oversight of the best things to do if you have a limited amount of time in a location. Richard Ayoade is rather quirky and a bit awkward, and it’s funny watching him interact with a different celebrity guest on each episode. There are 9 series so far and there’s lots of episodes I am yet to see, however all of the episodes I have seen have been based in European cities. I think that is why I enjoy it as I find it quite relatable, I’ve been on several short breaks away in Europe and I like to do my research and get inspiration of places to go in advance, and this gives some great ideas.
Cruising with Jane McDonald – Channel 5
My parents and I love to watch Jane McDonald – she has such a fun and warm personality and some of her reactions to things make us all laugh. In fact we love watching her so much that my Dad will regularly text me to tell me when an episode is about to start! She has made a lot of different programmes, but my favourite is Cruising with Jane McDonald. Not only do you get to see all the amazing destinations she goes to, but you get to tour around the different cruise ships as well. I have only been on a cruise ship once, but it was an experience I will never forget. She goes on cruises all over the world, so there’s destinations to suit every viewer’s interests. I recently read that she had left the series but that lockdown has made her re-evaluate and that she will now be making them again – hoping that’s true!
Joanna Lumley’s Japan – ITV / Amazon Prime
Joanna has done a range of different travel series, however I enjoyed Japan the most as it has always been somewhere that has interested me (probably why I loved the Dark Tourist episode on Japan so much too) and she shows rural Japan, not just the well-known places like Tokyo. For me the main draw with her programmes is how she comes across – her soft spoken manner, the way she can romantisise anything – she just seems like a delight to meet and I find her quite mesmorising! Sadly I don’t think this is available on the ITV Hub (some of her other series definitely are though), it is on Amazon now but that does involve paying for it if you’re not a Prime subscriber.
Travels with my Father – Netflix
One of my favourite Netflix series, this sees comedian Jack Whitehall and his dad Michael travel to various places around the world. I was a fan of Jack anyway but I love watching the father and son dynamic between them, and there are lots of laugh out loud moments. There was one episode in Las Vegas which will always stay with me though, where Jack and his dad have a heart to heart and he says to his dad “home is wherever you are” – cue emotional crying from me. Series 4 got released a few weeks ago and has gone straight on my must-watch list (I would have started it sooner but I’m halfway through about four different programmes right now!). Travels with my Father is the perfect mixture of travel with comedy and heartfelt family moments thrown in.
Gordon, Gino, and Fred: Road Trip – ITV
For anyone who hasn’t heard of this previously, there are two series so far where chefs Gordon Ramsay and Gino D’Acampo, and French maître d’hôtel, Fred Sirieix, go on road trips together. They all have such different personalities yet somehow make the best of friends and have lots of funny moments. In the first series they go to their home countries of Italy, France and Scotland, and in the second series they go to Mexico and the US. A third series was due this year but has been postponed due to Covid. As they all have jobs related to cooking and hospitality, there is a big focus on them trying out food and drink as well as cooking themselves, so it is a great choice for foodies who like to explore the local cuisines of the places they travel to.
An Idiot Abroad – Sky One / Amazon Prime
These series are quite old now (2010-2012) but are still some of the funniest things I’ve ever watched so I had to include them. I think at some points I even cried from laughter as I just adore Karl Pilkington and his dry sense of humour so much! They originally aired on Sky, but I think are only available on Amazon now. Series 1 focuses on the seven wonders of the world, Series 2 is about bucket list activities, and Series 3 ‘The Short Way Round’ sees him travelling with Warwick Davis. You get to see lots of well-known destinations, but the uniqueness of An Idiot Abroad is him sharing his blunt opinions, often with a deadpan expression. He has some hilarious catch-ups with Ricky Gervais on the phone too, and all in all, I would just recommend watching anything that features Karl Pilkington!
The Kindness Diaries – Netflix
I have only seen Season 2 of this which starts with Leon Logothetis in Alaska, who has no money and no food, only a VW Beetle. He wants to prove kindness can change the world, by travelling all the way to Argentina with only help from strangers along the way. He also picks someone in each episode who has touched his heart, and rewards them in some way. It is heartwarming to see evidence that there are still nice people in the world, when there is so much negativity. There is definitely more of a focus on human interaction in this, than the actual travel destinations themselves, but it is a good pick-me-up for days when you feel like the human race is doomed.
Down to Earth – Netflix
This series follows Zac Efron and his friend Darin Olien around the world to check out various sustainability initiatives, as well as sustainable restaurants. When I first started watching the series I thought it was a general travel show, but I loved that it had a big focus on sustainability and it opened my eyes to a lot of initiatives around the world that I didn’t know about. I was so interested by it I wrote a blog post about it which gives you more of an idea of what the series covers, if it sounds like it would be of interest!