“The impulse to travel is one of the hopeful symptoms of life.” – Agnes Repplier
How true. For a die-hard traveler, every bend in the road is a new opportunity vying to be explored. The visceral feeling to flee to a new spot and finding the divine sense of joy in ticking a new destination on the map on your bedroom wall, can only be felt by the hopeless traveler.
Unadulterated and unhampered, travel documentaries showcase the chronicles of travelers and focus on their share of perilous and euphoric moments. Whether it is a planned excursion to a beach or an instinctive venture to a remote location, if you are seeking inspiration for your next travel, travel films can act as the fodder for your famished nomadic soul.
Here I bring you a list of best travel documentaries that will push you out of your boring couch (read; routine) and compel you to move out and travel the world.
Top 15 Travel Documentaries From Around The World
Here is a list of the best travel documentaries from around the world, read on what these contain and add these to your list of must watch films & documentaries.
- Around The World In 80 Days (1989)- Excitement Of Venturing
- Baraka (1992)- A Kaleidoscopic Retreat
- Sahara With Michael Palin (2002)- Explore The Hidden Gems
- A Map For Saturday (2007)- A Solo Traveler’s Love
- Antarctica- A Year On Ice (2013)
- K2- Siren Of The Himalayas (2012)
- Sacred Planet (2004)- Know The Mesmerizing Places
- 180 Degree South (2010)- An Epic Tour
- Encounters At The End Of The World (2007)- All About Fascination
- The Maidentrip (2013)- A Great Watch
- Hit The Road- India (2013)
- The Edge Of Never (2013)- About A Group Of Skiers
- Austin To Boston (2014)- A Musical Documentary
- Life In A Day (2011)- An Insight To Amazing Things
- Frozen Planet (2011)- Fall For The Ice
1. Around the World in 80 Days (1989)- Excitement Of Venturing
Runtime: 7 episodes of 52 minutes each
IMDb Rating: 8.8
Filming Locations: 17 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia
Synopsis: Around the World in 80 Days is a 7 part BBC travel series written and presented by actor-comedian, Michael Palin, based on the famous adventure novel by Jules Verne with the same name. Similar to the novel, Palin accepts the challenge to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days and closely follows the road and sea route, as taken by the protagonist in the novel.
The 80 days adventurous voyage showcases the excitement of venturing into new lands and filming exotic locations through numerous gridlocks. Considered as one of the best travel documentaries ever, the series broadcasted in 7 episodes follows Michael Palin’s travel and exploration across 17 countries. He takes you across Europe, Africa, Asia and North America through nearly every possible means of transport, except for the aircraft. This is no doubt one of the must watch best travel documentary.
What makes it an interesting read for travel lovers: The novel was published in 1873 when there was no air travel and Michael Palin and his crew replicate the same sea and land route. From crossing the English Channel, passing through the Alps, traversing through the arid regions of the Middle East, entering Bombay on a dhow to voyaging through the South China Sea and finally arriving in the United States, Michael Palin shares his adventures of traveling the world in eighty days.
Do you really need more reasons?
2. Baraka (1992)- A Kaleidoscopic Retreat
Runtime: 1 hour 36 minutes
IMDb Rating: 8.6
Genre: Nature and philosophy
Filming Locations: 150 locations in 23 countries
Synopsis: Baraka, also known as among some of the best travel documentaries ever is non-narrative documentary is a kaleidoscopic retreat into the different hymns of nature and its impact on various cultures. From the cacophonic chants of hundreds of monks huddled together for a cosmic yajna to the frenzied thumping of the whole village, the documentary highlights the phenomena of nature and how it forms the core of various cultures.
Baraka ventures its viewers into the hidden realms of the nature while focusing on the man’s prowess to destroy his countless blessings.
What makes it an interesting read for travel lovers: Baraka is a satirical take on the unabashed human nature with cinematic brilliance featuring the most spectacular pictures, on one hand, would enrich your love for nature and the perils of industrialization and destruction of nature, on the other, move you deeply. Should definitely add this to the best travel documentary series.
3. Sahara with Michael Palin (2002)- Explore The Hidden Gems
Runtime: 4 episodes of 50 minutes each
IMDb Rating: 8.1
Filming Locations: 10 countries in Northern and Western Africa
Synopsis: The travel documentary is a colorful account of the various cultures and regions dotting the beautiful Sahara desert. From the arid beaches in Morocco, refugee camps in Algeria, to the mysterious deserts of Timbuktu and spectacular starlit nights in Nigeria, this 4 episode feature also considered as one of the best travel documentaries of all time dwells deep into the seductive African odyssey.
Apart from exploring the various hidden gems of the great desert, the feature also includes Palin’s rendezvous with numerous Muslim scholars, tribes and refugees to highlight the various religious and cultural beliefs which the people of the desert abide by.
What makes it an interesting read for travel lovers: The documentary not only highlights the vastness of the isolated desert locations but also beautifully highlights the various prevalent cultural influences in Africa and practices such as polygamy and female genital mutilation.
4. A Map for Saturday (2007)- A Solo Traveler’s Love
Runtime: 1 hour 30 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.9
Genre: Backpacking and Solo Travel
Filming Locations: Australia, Thailand, India, London, Brazil and Nepal
Synopsis: Every day is like a Saturday when you are on a long travel around the world. Solo traveling is not only about meandering through unknown lanes of a forbidden place. But it is also a great way to delve deep inside one’s own existence. The story brings out the chronicles of trekkers on four different continents. The documentary also includes interviews from other backpackers and highlights how the road can form unbreakable bonds.
What makes it an interesting read for travel lovers: A Map for Saturday is a beautiful insight into the life of a backpacker. A must watch for people who believe that there is more to life than the confined walls of their office or workstation. It also highlights that if the intent to travel is immense, nothing can deter you in your quest. Looking for best online travel documentaries? Try watching A Map for Saturday! It is one of the best travel documentary that you should definitely add to your list.
5. Antarctica: A Year on Ice (2013)
Runtime: 1 hour 32 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.6
Filming Locations: Antarctica
Synopsis: How is it like living on the coldest place on earth for a year? The harsh climatic conditions make Antarctica almost inhabitable and an enigma for the world. This visual masterpiece highlights the inhabitable features of the continent and traverses the viewers through the lives of technicians and scientists living in isolation on the continent, braving the unforgiving winters. If you are a nature lover, you will appreciate its opulence even in its bitter hardness.
What makes it an interesting read for travel lovers: Traveling is not just about pristine beaches, romantic lanes, and verdant valleys. Living in a place where the sun doesn’t shine for months and when it does, it forgets to set, is something that you ought to experience. Ever heard of Survival of the Fittest? You ought to witness one of the best travel documentaries of all time. Get up, close and personal with it here!
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6. K2: Siren of the Himalayas (2012)
Runtime: 1 hour 15 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.3
Filming Locations: Mount K2
Synopsis: K2: Siren of the Himalayas is a multilingual travel film shot in English, German, and Nepalese. The travel documentary forays into the dangerous world of high altitude mountaineering and follow a group of mountaineering experts as they venture on this epic journey to mark Duke of Abruzzi’s 1909 expedition. This best travel documentary is a peep into the mountaineering group as they try to scale the perilous Mount K2 and meander their way through its deathly cliffs, braving the hideous climate.
The spectacularly captured snow-covered mountains pitted against the vast expanse of the blue sky and the exclusive footage from the world’s second highest, yet most challenging peak will leave you out of breath.
What makes it an interesting read for travel lovers: If you want to know why mountaineering is considered as a rewarding activity, then you must watch it.
7. Sacred Planet (2004)- Know The Mesmerizing Places
Runtime: 40 minutes
IMDb Rating: 6.3
Filming Locations: Malaysia, Sarawak, Mulu
Synopsis: The earth is a queer place and this documentary encapsulates the beauty of the most mesmerizing places, people and wildlife on the planet in straight 40 minutes. Narrated by Robert Redford Jr., this Walt Disney production will take you up on an enchanting roller coaster ride starting from the ancient ruins of Thailand, canyons of Arizona, deserted lands of Namibia to underwater mysteries of Borneo, white sand beaches of New Zealand and many such exceptional places that our good old earth houses. Sacred Planet is one of the best travel documentary films you have seen in awhile.
What makes it an interesting read for travel lovers: The awe-inspiring odyssey not only takes you deep into the magical realms of the earth but also makes you take a stand for preserving our beautiful planet and its biodiversity.
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8. 180 Degree South (2010)- An Epic Tour
Runtime: 1 hour 25 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.7
Genre: Drama, Sport
Filming Locations: Chile, Mexico, California, Columbia, Equador, Peru, Pacific, California
Synopsis: 180 Degree South is an assimilation of the memorable journey undertaken by Jeff while recreating the epic tour pulled off by Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins during their road trip in 1968. Jeff’s journey was more adventurous as he chose to surf, sail, and climb before finally making it to Chile.
What makes it an interesting read for travel lovers: Watch it for exciting adventures, gritty traveling, and the proper technique devised before pulling off such endeavors.
9. Encounters at the End of the World (2007)- All About Fascination
Runtime: 1 hour 39 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.8
Filming Locations: Antarctica
Synopsis: Encounters at the End of the World is a further investigation of McMurdo Station in Antarctica. In the documentary, the filmmaker travels all the way to explore the hidden riches and beauty of the pole, and take a peep into the lifestyle of everyone surviving there. While people at the research station had exciting tales to narrate, the plight of living beings there left the director moved.
A powerful travel film, Encounters at the End of the World features some amazing shots taken by the filmmaker.
What makes it an interesting read for travel lovers: The extreme conditions at the poles, lovely escapades, and exciting tale of survivors make this travel documentary a must-watch.
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10. The Maidentrip (2013)- A Great Watch
Runtime: 1 hour 22 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.6
Genre: Adventure, Biography
Filming Locations: Netherlands, South Africa, Australia, Ecuador, Panama, French Polynesia
Synopsis: One of the best travel documentary series ever, The Trip is a remarkable journey of a 14-year-old who sets to sail around the world and is a great watch. Laura Dekker’s a year and a half journey takes her to St. Martins, Panama, the Galapagos Islands, Australia, and the Cape of Good Hope before getting back to St. Martins. The youngest person ever to sail around the world, Dekker is a true inspiration for all the aspiring travelers.
What makes it an interesting read for travel lovers: Dekker captured the world in her lens, presenting the beautiful places along with all her experiences thus making it an incredible story.
11. Hit the Road: India (2013)
Runtime: 1 hour 20 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.8
Genre: Documentary, Sport
Filming Locations: India, Armenia
Synopsis: Recognised by Lonely Planet as one of the best travel documentaries of 2012, this film is a story of two friends participating in rickshaw rally from Chennai to Mumbai spanning for 12 days covering over 2000 km.
The uniqueness of the movie lies in the way both the guys pull off this trip, battling adverse climatic conditions in the difficult terrains. Rickshaw being one of the lightest motor driven vehicles in India turns out to be cost effective and an easy drive. Yes, they had to suffer plenty of breakdowns along the way.
What makes it an interesting read for travel lovers: 2 guys racing through the coast and ghats in southern India driving one of the lightest vehicles make it a rally worth a watch.
12. The Edge of Never (2009)- About A Group Of Skiers
Runtime: 1 hour 41 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.3
Filming Locations: USA, Canada, France
Synopsis: Shot in the snow clad mountains in the North America region, this travel documentary is about a group of skiers who scale treacherous mountains in the pursuit of accomplishing what was left incomplete by the mentor’s father, who died skiing in Chamonix, France. Full of adventure, thrill, and surreal landscapes, this documentary is for extreme travelers.
What makes it an interesting read for travel lovers: Skiers challenging the biggest and extreme mountains in the world.
13. Austin to Boston (2014)- A Musical Documentary
Runtime: 1 hour 12 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.2
Genre: Documentary, Music
Filming Locations: USA
Synopsis: The film is a musical documentary, that narrates an exciting tale of a group of bands on the move. They travel thousands of miles from Austin to Boston, and en route live memorable moments. The journey has everything from traveling places, to pulling off adventures, to making memories, and also surviving through the hardships.
What makes it an interesting read for travel lovers: The journey of musical bands spanning over 2 weeks and covering 3000 miles, performing at places, looks like a dream journey. Highly recommended for all the music lovers who travel!
14. Life in a Day (2011)- An Insight To Amazing Things
Runtime: 1 hour 35 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.7
Filming Locations: Multiple locations across Earth
Synopsis: This travel film is a jukebox of thousand of hours from the lives of as many people on July 24th, 2010. The submitted videos containing beautiful and personal moments that people lead every day gives an insight into amazing things happening around us and how we choose not to acknowledge and celebrate them. This best travel documentary inspires everyone to be more thankful for things around and cherish beautiful moments.
What makes it an interesting read for travel lovers: The assimilation of thousands of video clips containing precious moments from the lives of people make you realize what a beautiful life you have been leading all this while.
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15. Frozen Planet (2011)- Fall For The Ice
Runtime: 1 hour
IMDb Rating: 9
Filming Locations: Arctic, Antarctica, Greenland, Russia, Norway, USA, Canada
Synopsis: Primarily focussed on the life and environment in the Arctic and Antarctica, Frozen Planet highlights how the climatic change is affecting the earth and its inhabitants. The winner of 4 Emmy award winner TV show has critically put forward the challenges faced by the polar animals like bears and wolves for their survival. Striking the right chord with a grave environmental issue, this mini-series is a must – watch.
What makes it an interesting read for travel lovers: The engrossing narrative, spectacular locales, and enchanting music are all that it takes to charm a discerning traveler. A perfect set-up for travel-lovers!
For those with an insatiable hunger for exploration and action, documentaries are a way to discover what explorers around the world are living and experiencing. The thrill of venturing into the unknown – exclusively shot, felt, and expressed by real people – has an impact on the mind of the viewers that cannot be measured.
With list of best travel documentaries live the adventures of world’s finest explorers and yes, don’t forget to share your favorites from (or outside of) the list!
Frequently Asked Questions About Travel Documentaries
Is it feasible to travel during Covid-19?
As the travel industry is opening up slowly, yes traveling is feasible abroad and across India during Covid-19. But make sure you follow the given guidelines and precautionary measures for Covid. Also, remember to read the latest updates for Covid before making any travel plans.
What are the top 5 best travel films?
Other than the above-mentioned list of 15 best travel documentaries and films, here are 5 best travel films that you should definitely watch: The Way, Lion, On The Road, Captain Fantastic, Into The Wild.
Where can you watch the travel films?
You can watch the travel films on various OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sony Liv, Hotstar, Airtel Tv, and many others. Apart from these platforms you can simply search the films online and find the links on google.
Which are the top locations for film shooting?
Although there are many locations for film shooting, here are the top 8 places for film shooting: Monument Valley, London, Prague, New Zealand, Cape Town, Greystone Mansion, Morocco
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