Whether you get to travel as part of your job, you prioritise saving for holidays in your budget, or you can only dream of leaving the UK at the moment, there’s nothing quite like a good travel documentary to inspire you to spread your wings. Here are our favourites:
This is a series of half hour episodes which explore the culinary culture of street food in various countries around the world.
It encapsulates the usual tropes of travel-food shows: mouthwatering closeups, an emphasis on simple food in humble surroundings which highlights how incredible it is… But crucially, street food also shows us the narratives and circumstances that have collided to produce the world-class meals featured in the programme.
Stephen Fry in America
Obviously, you can’t really go wrong with a Stephen Fry-fronted programme. In this one, Stephen Fry travels through all 50 states in America in a kind of mega road trip, describing the idiosyncrasies and individual identities for the states.
He visits goodfellas in New York, Morgan Freeman in his blues club in Mississippi and Jimmy Wales in Washington. The series is really a whistle stop tour and could do with more detail and time; but it is a novel idea and gives us an interesting over view of a fascinating country.
This docu-series is breath-taking in its cinematic achievement. Each episode follows a separate theme: oceans, deserts, arctic and so on. In each themed episode we see how diverse communities live and thrive in these polemic landscapes. The series shows our planet in an incredible light, demonstrating the ways that human kind can learn to adapt to various environments. The series has recently been pulled from Netflix and other streaming services pending investigation into some of the information in the series, but this shouldn’t detract from the value of the documentary: it is fascinating.
The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan
This is maybe a bit of a divisive choice, because Romesh can come across as a little bit rude I think, but hear me out. He visits and investigates cultures and communities that are a little bit off the beaten track. In one episode he visits Mongolia and is invited to see a traditional Mongolian eagle hunter, and he witnesses a shamanic ritual. The thing I like about Romesh’s show is that he maintains the same deadpan, sarcasm that is his trademark with everyone. He doesn’t change his demeanour for anyone he meets which is refreshing.
Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown
Another show that brings two of my great loves together: travel and food. Parts Unknown ran over 12 series and each episode tackled a different location. If your primary motivator for exploring new places is cuisine related then this is the docu-series for you; Tony is so warm and friendly, he’s so respectful of all food cultures and he’s very personable. One particular highlight for me was him taking the eating of a chip butty in London seriously but he explores much more unusual and compelling meals than that in other episodes. Sadly, Anthony Boudain died in 2018 whilst filming for Parts Unknown in France. A tragic loss for the travel and food communities.
Jack Whitehall, Travels With My Father
The contrast between posh, bumbling Jack Whitehall and his conservative and supposedly disapproving father is a classic employment of the odd couple trope, and it works perfectly. Travels With My Father is extremely funny and Jack and Michael are very likeable.
In the first series, the pair travel a traditional ‘gap yah’ route through East Asia, and in the second they embark on a traditional grand tour of Europe. Needless to say, hilarity ensues. Season three has very recently been released to Netflix.
Puerto Rican rapper and social justice warrior, Residente created and and starred in the film named after himself. In it, he travels to the various countries that come up as places of his heritage when he takes a DNA test; these are the places he plans to record his new album.
At each location, Residente investigates the history, particularly the difficulties faced, in each country. Residente’s commitment to unveiling international connections and demonstrating how we are all linked is moving and compelling and the very deliberate and thoughtful way he moves through the world is inspirational.
Are you as inexplicably drawn to morbid and macabre stories and events as I am? Then this is the series for you. Dark Tourist follows David Farrier as he visits various ‘dark’ destinations such a nuclear disaster sites and serial killer tours. The series is truly fascinating if you can move past Farrier’s irritating performance of shock and disgust at every location he visits, as if he wasn’t expecting the programme about dark Tourism to be somewhat disturbing…
Around The World in 80 Days (Michael Palin)
The OG TV travel doc presenter, Michael Palin, follows in the footsteps of Phineas Fogg, He begins his journey on the Orient express from Victoria and ends after 79 days and 7 hours when he returns to London via a container ship that disembarked at Felixtowe, having completed his journey without flying.
If you have any interest in British comedy then you know how much of a big deal Michael Palin is; he is warm, bright and enthusiastic. Seeing the world though his eyes is a real pleasure.
Under An Arctic Sky
Under an Arctic Sky is a very short and compelling documentary about surfers who journey to a remote part of Iceland to surf the stormy seas beneath the Northern Lights. For the images alone, this short film is worth a watch; frosty waves rolling through gun metal seas and icy cliffs tower over the surfers; the cinematography is breathtaking.
Leah is Culture Editor @ No Majesty. Leah is a literature graduate from Bristol, likes include: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, My So Called Life, Goodfellas, and Ally McBeal.