15 Travel Documentaries to Fuel your Wanderlust
If there are travel documentaries being broadcast on British TV, we can guarantee we’ll be ready with remote control in hand. When we’re back home in London, we spend hours on the sofa, fuelling our wanderlust by watching others travelling the world.
For us, watching travel documentaries helps fill those gaps between trips. For an hour or so we’re transported somewhere far away from the normality of home. We reminisce of faraway places we’ve been to if filming locations are in countries we’ve already visited. Or we get excited and inspired if filmed in countries we are yet to discover. Both are just as enjoyable.
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Along with cookery shows and reality TV, there are so many travel documentaries to choose from. Via terrestrial TV, Sky, Netflix, Amazon or other online sites, they’ll be a documentary to satisfy anyone’s wanderlust.
We’ve picked 15 of our favourite travel documentaries from the more thoughtful travel subjects to less serious and humorous ways of seeing the world. Viewing access to these shows changes regularly so we’d suggest entering the title into Google to find which viewing platforms are currently available at the time of reading this post.
Regular guys Scott Wilson and Justin Lukach are bored. So what do they do? Take a road trip, of course. Departures follows them and their cameraman, Andre Dupuis, as they journey to countries all over the world. We love the non-premium feel of this show. It’s just three nice Canadian guys filming themselves travelling the world. They make an effort to visit hard to get to places and interact with locals wherever they go. This brings experiences that not all travellers get to do. Departures make the top of our travel documentaries list.
Walking the Nile & Walking the Himalayas
Levison James Wood is a British Army officer and explorer. He’s best known for his extended walking expeditions in Africa and Asia. Over the course of nine months from 2013-2014, he undertook the first ever expedition to walk the entire length of the river Nile.
In 2015 he walked the length of the Himalayas. Both adventures were commissioned into four-part travel documentaries for Channel 4 in the UK. His journeys bring amazing landscapes, local interaction, massive highs and some disastrous lows.
Tropic of Capricorn and Tropic of Cancer with Simon Reeve
Simon Reeve makes two “round the world” trips following the tropic of Capricorn in the Southern hemisphere and the tropic of Cancer in the Northern hemisphere. These two travel documentaries include visits to one or more countries, in Asia, Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean, Arabia and Hawaii. Simon explores daily life for locals, tourists and wildlife, as well as the history, culture and politics which all prove quite varied.
Ben Fogle: New Lives in the Wild
New Lives in the Wild is a television series on UK’s Channel 5 hosted by adventurer Ben Fogle. The series is about meeting people who live in some of the most remote locations on earth. More often than not, these are western families or individuals who have had enough of the big city rat race. They’ve escaped to remote parts of the world to set up new lives in the wild.
Examples are the Alaskan wilderness, a Polynesian Island and the Arizonian desert. These are courageous and inspirational people who Ben stays with for a few days to learn how they live so remotely.
World’s Most Dangerous Roads
World’s Most Dangerous Roads is a British BBC TV series first aired in 2011. Two celebrities per episode are filmed as they journey by a 4×4 vehicle along roads considered among the world’s most dangerous. Episodes include the Death Road in Bolivia and the Ho Chi Minh trail in Vietnam. Many of the chosen celebrities are comedians so some humour is added to what otherwise is a fascinating and educational watch.
Long Way Round
In 2004, Ewan McGregor, Charley Boorman and cameraman Claudio von Planta, travelled from London to New York City on a motorbike. In the process, they created some awesome travel documentaries. The journey visited thirteen countries, starting in the UK, then passing through France, Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Canada, and the USA, ending in New York City for a cumulative distance of 18,887 miles (30,396 km).
They take the time to visit a variety of sights and landmarks while travelling, including the Church of Bones in the Czech Republic, the Mask of Sorrow monument in Magadan, Russia, and Mount Rushmore in the USA. They, of course, encounter many hurdles along the way. It wouldn’t be a great adventure without them.
Top Gear: Road Trip Specials
This one’s a bit of a wild card as Top Gear does not usually fall in the travel documentaries category. However, we love the Top Gear road trip specials. Why? Because they take place in some incredible world locations. Typical Top Gear antics include driving around Africa trying to find the source of the Nile, going off road from Bolivia to Chile and getting across the length of Vietnam on two wheels with a budget of just $1000. We know a lot of what happens is scripted but we still can’t help but enjoy these adventurous episodes.
An Idiot Abroad
An Idiot Abroad is a British travel documentary/road trip comedy television series broadcast on Sky 1. It’s created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant and starring Karl Pilkington. The ongoing theme is that Pilkington has no interest in global travel, so Merchant and Gervais make him travel to the Seven Wonders of the World while they stay in the UK and monitor his progress.
Most of each episode focuses on Pilkington’s humorous reactions to cultural differences and idiosyncrasies in the countries he visits. He also gets set hilarious tasks, often not related to why he believed he was there. The silliest of our travel documentaries but well worth a watch.
Comedian Romesh Ranganathan is sent by his mother on a ramshackle odyssey around his parents’ homeland of Sri Lanka in an attempt to connect him with his roots. Romesh is the kind of guy who likes his home comforts and finds friendliness uncomfortable so Sri Lanka is not his ideal place to visit. As he quotes, ‘I was a bumbling Englishman in a Sri Lankan disguise’, so you can imagine the funny situations he gets himself into.
Our Guy in India
Motorbike racer Guy Martin buys a Royal Enfield motorbike at a Delhi market, gets a traditional Hindu blessing and sets off on a 1000-mile motorbike trip. Guy explores a rarely-seen side of modern India as he heads to one of the world’s maddest bike races. He travels through various parts of the country coming across all kinds of interesting people and sights on the way. Does he win the race at the end? You’ll have to watch to find out.
The Mekong River with Sue Perkins
TV presenter Sue Perkins embarks on a life-changing, 3,000-mile journey up the Mekong, South East Asia’s greatest river, exploring lives and landscapes on the point of dramatic change. It’s a really interesting watch, learning how 1000s of people live on and around one of the world’s great rivers. There’s plenty of smiles and tears as Sue listens to the locals stories and changing way of lives.
The Secret Caribbean with Trevor McDonald
The newsreader and journalist, Sir Trevor McDonald embarks upon a stunning and epic journey across the Caribbean. From the Bahamas in the North to his birthplace Trinidad in the south, uncovering the sun-kissed islands along the way.
In this three part series, Sir Trevor visits The Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Barbados, Grenada and Trinidad. It’s an unforgettable expedition as he experiences the huge contrasts in cultures and lifestyles these islands have to offer.
Travel Man 48 hours
If you’re looking for more laughs with your travel documentaries then Travel Man is the British documentary series for you. It features presenter Richard Ayoade, travelling to a different location each episode with a celebrity guest. Ayoade takes a ruthless approach to getting the maximum from each city break. Cramming as much as he possibly can in 48 fast and funny hours. His unique presenting style has us laughing through every episode.
Charley Boorman by Any Means
By Any Means, also known as Ireland to Sydney by Any Means, is a television series following Long Way Round star Charley Boorman. Travelling from Wicklow, Ireland, to Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, it features him completing the journey using 112 modes of transport and only travelling by plane when absolutely necessary. A real epic adventure!
Joanna Lumley’s Trans-Siberian Adventure
Joanna Lumley embarks on the world’s greatest train journey for this three-part documentary series. Travelling from East to West, she departs from Hong Kong across 5,777 miles of both Asia and Europe. Joanna travels through seven time zones, taking in an immense panorama of vistas and cultures, people and places, before her final arrival in Moscow.