It is crazy what’s happening around the world and we have no choice but to look at our past travel pictures, ogle at them and wonder when we will be able to set foot in these locations. But if that’s not possible, shows in Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and YouTube inspire us to dream a little longer and be knee-deep in narratives to remind us that is a world out there waiting to be explored.
For those who long for learning via documentaries series or prefer a travel show, Netflix has some of the best content to keep us going from food to travel and nature. Here are the 22 best and most underrated travel shows and documentaries on Netflix.
Best Travel Shows and Documentaries on Netflix
1. The Dawn Wall
I have read Tommy Caldwell’s The Push and for this reasons the Dawn Wall is such a gripping tale as they take on a staggering challenge of free-climbing Yosemite’s most formidable rock formation. The documentary even highlights Tommy’s story of being taken hostage by rebels in Kyrgyzstan. This film spoke to me in many ways as I spent one month in Kyrgyzstan and it was frightening to know what had happened to them in 2,000 and how they came out of it stronger.
The movie goes beyond pure climbing action, paints intimate portraits of Caldwell and Jorgeson, and celebrates the universal spirit of dreaming big, and never giving up.
2. Pedal The World
As someone who accidentally fell in love with bicycle touring (the idea of using your bicycle to travel the world), this documentary of a young millennial German, Felix Starck who pedaled across 22 countries and over 20,000 kms to find meaning in life really resonated with me.
Felix Starck’s new documentary film about his bicycle tour “around the world” is, in my opinion, a great attempt at trying to show an outsider what it’s like to pedal a bicycle thousands of kilometers through multiple countries in just a single year. He leverages on the power of social media and parental support to overcome obstacles.
When times get tough, and they most certainly will, you’ll be forced to ask yourself, “Why exactly am I doing this?” And then, this movie will show you what it takes to find the strength of jump back on your bike and keep going.
3. The Kindness Diaries
In The Kindness Diaries, Leon Logothetis hits the road again in search of more compassion from strangers. This is an uplifting social experiment that examines the nature of generosity and gives glimpses into the hearts of some truly selfless people. It gives one real hope in a world where too often greed is revered as a virtue and caring as a liability.
This also demonstrates why travelling puts you in a situation where you’re more likely to receive care and kindness compared to violence as you travel to the deep ends of the world.
4. Magical Andes
From Argentina to Colombia, this stunning documentary follows five characters who share their deep connection to South America's majestic mountains.
The series gives you a real overview of the people who live in these remote communities and under the shadow of the Peruvian mountains. If you have always been enamoured by the mountains in this part of the world, this a great introduction to nature and fragility of life.
5. Jack Whitehall: Travels With My Father
The show follows the Brit comedian as he finishes the gap year he began in 2009 and had to cut short. Only this time, his travel companion is his unadventurous father Michael. They travel to odd locations and events in an attempt to strengthen their bond.
The two set off on a journey across South East Asia to partake in a series of adventures, mishaps and escapades with two very different perspectives. This calls for a fun, non-serious take on travels with a parent especially who is flexible but moody at times. We probably can relate to every bit that Jack goes through as he criss-crosses traffic in some of the world’s most populated countries.
6. Expedition Happiness
A filmmaker and his musician girlfriend attempt an epic road trip with their dog, travelling across North America in a refurbished school bus. Together with her boyfriend filmmaker Felix Starck and their Bernese mountain dog, she crossed Canada, travelled through Alaska and drove down the Pacific Highway all the way to the southern tip of Mexico. The couple captured their whole trip on camera and shared their experience with their many followers along the way through YouTube and social media.
7. Tales By Light
Behind every powerful image is a powerful story. Uniting exploration, photography and the natural world, Tales By Light follows photographers from Australia and around the world as they push the limits of their craft.
Tales by Light is an insight into what it takes to capture images that tell powerful stories. I have always been moved by pictures and stories and if anything, this documentary inspires me to find that power to use my camera in a way to capture disappearing words.
8. Our Planet
Our Planet is an eight-part series that combines the spectacular photography of Planet Earth with an unprecedented look at the planet's remaining wilderness areas and their animal inhabitants. The show is beautiful but also uncomfortable to watch — it takes a look at what’s happening to wildlife and nature. It forces viewers to acknowledge their own complicity in the decline of nature.
You will see Borneo’s jungle transforming into oil-palm monocultures in a time-lapse shot that is almost painful to watch. We’re told that Louie and Eden’s generation could be the last for wild orangutans.
9. Chasing Coral
Coral reefs around the world are vanishing at an unprecedented rate. Divers, photographers and scientists set out on an ocean adventure to discover why the reefs are disappearing and to reveal the underwater mystery to the world in “Chasing Coral”
What was great about this show was that they showed how a jaded man who was formerly an advertising specialist and how he quit to become a diver and produce this documentary! Shows that if you have the wisdom to pursue meaningful adventures, anything can happen to ensure you’re putting your message out there.
10. Jago: A Life Underwater
In an award-winning documentary about Rohani, an 80-year-old hunter who dives on a single breath descending to great depths for several minutes. Set against the spectacular backdrop of the Togian Islands of Indonesia.
He is a Bajau hunter who lives in a stilted bamboo hut in Sulawesi. The events of his life are voiced entirely by the yoda-like Rohani and recreated with existing Bajau people from local communities
“When I sleep at sea,” he says, “I dream only of an underwater world.” It is a beautifully shot tale of a mans life struggle amongst adversity combined with stunning cinematography.
11. Untamed Romania
Untamed Romania is a feature-length film celebrating Romania's astounding natural beauty and sheer diversity of wild animals. Narrated by the charismatic Victor Rebengiuc, the film is the product of almost a year of travelling the country and observing its wildlife, from the peaks of Făgăraș mountains to the Danube Delta. It is basically a diary of a year and how the seasons, and the passing of seasons, affects the fauna of the respective area.
12. Dark Tourist
There is a subset of tourism, however, that involves visiting places that are historically associated with death and tragedy. Journalist David Farrier focuses on that area of travel, known as dark tourism, in this docuseries. In each episode, Farrier travels to a different locale to visit destinations and have experiences that wouldn't be on most vacationers' bucket lists.
He embeds himself in a death-worshipping cult in Mexico, sees tourists soaking up radiation left behind in Fukushima, meets vampires in New Orleans, and travels to the most-nuked place on Earth for atomic swimming and fishing.
With the rise of this documentary and number of museums that highlight the length and breadth of human suffering in different ways, Dark Tourism has become a popular term and a tourist attraction and for that reason it is worth a watch.
13. Seven Years In Tibet
Heinrich Harrer, an Austrian climber, breaks out of prison and travels to the holy city of Lhasa. He is employed as an instructor to the 14th Dalai Lama and soon becomes his close confidante.
If you are intrigued about many aspects of Tibetan culture or the Himalayas, this would be a good movie to binge on. There’s tales of adventure, the mountains and philosophy embedded throughout the movie. The movie gives a good feel of the tension in the area during this time period between the Chinese and Tibetans, and the chaos that broke out when the Chinese came to Tibet to gain power over the region.
14. The Trader
“One man’s french fry is another man’s treasure.” The film follows Gela, a traveling merchant, as he searches for potatoes in Georgia’s small towns. He trades clothes and household items for whatever potatoes he can get in return. He does this because he has to: Money is often useless in rural Georgia, but potatoes are life-sustaining currency.
Having travelled to Georgia and visiting parts of the rural life during Winter, I know how hard it is for Georgians to survive in the cold where all they have are a few items to trade and live-by. This film showcases the harsh reality of Georgians in a post-Soviet life.
15. Julie & Julia
In this heartwarming tale, Julie Powell decides to spice up her uneventful life by cooking all 524 recipes outlined in Julia’s classic cookbooks. Julie is a young blogger who is determined to emulate Julia Child's cooking techniques. Though separated by time, the two women share a common passion for food that intertwines their lives.
If you love France and all things French cooking, this is a sweet story of the two who lead different lives and their passion for food and cooking.
16. Street Food
From the creators of Chef's Table, comes a new mouth-watering documentary series that celebrates the local heroes of street food in Thailand, India, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam.
It will make you hungry for more as you imagine yourself travelling through all these countries savouring the best Asian delights.
17. Ugly Delicious
James Beard Award-winning chef David Chang stars in this travelogue that sends him on a journey to culinary hot spots around the world. He is joined by writers, activists, artists and other chefs who use food as a vehicle to break down cultural barriers and tackle misconceptions.
Chang and his guests -- a list that includes the likes of TV host Jimmy Kimmel, comic Nick Kroll and writer Peter Meehan -- venture out of polished kitchens into the wider world to explore locales including Houston, Tokyo and Copenhagen.
18. Salt Fat Acid Heat
Based on Samin Nosrat’s best-selling book, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is the essential guide to the basic elements of good cooking.
Across the four part experience, the spirited guide Samin travels to home kitchens of Italy, the southern islands of Japan, the heat of the Yucatán and back to Berkeley's Chez Panisse—where she started her culinary career—to demystify and explore the central principles of what makes food delicious and how each of us can easily incorporate those elements into every dish.
“At some point, I realized food was a tool for bringing people together, for telling stories about people, for telling stories about culture,” she said. “And that’s what I really care about. So it’s only natural that they would go together.”
19. My Octopus Teacher
I just watched a documentary on My Octopus Teacher and it is the kind of story that each one of us will be longing for it now. It is about a South African filmmaker who’s adrift in life and looking for a way to reconnect with nature. He grew up spending a lot of time in the ocean, so he decides to start swimming in the cold waters off the coast of South Africa.
It’s a feel good movie about our connection with nature, about the ecosystem of the kelp forest, the intelligence of the octopus, and a man’s deeply meaningful relationship with a wild creature that we know so little about.
20. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet
You got to wonder why David is making these documentaries at 94 years old, maybe as a fair warning about saving humanity and the ecosystems around us. This is a great travel and eye-opening documentary banked on Sir David Attenborough's memories of 94 years on this planet, with profound reflections on the wilderness and the absolute urgency to save humankind from an impending climate-change disaster.
Tracing some of the most important moments of his career - from making contact with a remote New Guinea tribe living in a completely sustainable fashion to his famous encounter with Silverback gorillas - the film carefully threads between the themes of despair and hope.
21. Joanna Lumley Silk Road Adventure
Silk road adventures have always enthralled me and its great Netflix has decided to showcase Joanna’s Lumley 7,000 mile journey. This epic four-part series is Joanna Lumley's grandest and most challenging journey yet, a breath-taking odyssey from Venice to the Chinese border along the veins of the ancient Silk Road. She covers Venice, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Central Asia.
A perilous network of paths, the Silk Road shaped the modern world, bringing silk, printing, spices, gunpowder, and many other things, to the West. Joanna's adventure will see her travel through a breath-taking array of fabulous landscapes as she crosses continents, deserts, mountains and steppe, boldly following in the footsteps of the merchants, conquerors, kings and pilgrims who once lived and died along this route.
22. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara
Slightly unconventional from the list of travel shows, but this is one Hindi/Bollywood film that has a universal storyline that may be catered to an international audience. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is a perfect salute to friendship. It is a journey of three friends who go on a road trip through Spain instead of throwing a traditional bachelor party and the lifelong lessons they learn about work, life and love.
If you miss the scenes of Spain and want to watch a feel-good show that reminds you of the time you took a road trip with your friends then this is probably the film for you!
Have you watched any of these Netflix travel documentary or show? I would love to hear from you in the comments below on which ones you’re skipping or streaming.
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