Sometimes, there is nothing better than settling down in front of the TV or cinema screen and getting lost in a movie. It can be captivating, transporting you from the comfort of your chair to a new world, offering you experiences you have never seen before, be it battles in space to journeys through fantasy worlds, full of wizards and hobbits. Not only is watching movies a great way to unwind and relax for two hours or so, it can provide inspiration, change your opinion and leave you reflecting on what you have seen for days or even weeks later. Travel documentaries and movies are no different, and have become one of the most popular way of discovering information about various destinations, be it some far flung country on the other side of the world or your neighbouring city. While documentaries are usually full of interesting and informative facts, well-researched and featuring interviews with experts and locals, travel movies are best for inspiring viewers and igniting a desire to get off the sofa and book a flight somewhere new.
As a result, we have put together a list featuring a selection of the seven most inspiring, captivating and informative travel documentaries and movies available. From food-orientated trips to cycling journeys over thousands of kilometres, our selection has all you need to get in the mood to get out your comfort zone, explore new territories and live a different experience. Each one was thoroughly assessed, with each review containing a brief summary of the service, its highlights, what makes it unique and its potential drawbacks, while the pros and cons of each one are listed in an easy-to-read set of bullet points below each review. There are millions of accounts posting photos and videos of destinations around the world, however we’ve chosen only the ones that most suitably fit our criteria by considering a number of factors outlined below.
One of the overriding aspects that was factored in to the review process of each documentary and movie was the personality of the presenter. As presenter, you have the power to influence and shape the opinion of the viewers, regardless of where the documentary is being filmed. Therefore, it is vital that the presenter is able to form a relationship with their viewers, as this will ultimately determine the success of any particular show, and make for a more enjoyable watch. Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown is one example of a travel series in which the presenter – the renowned chef Anthony Bourdain – forms an instant connection with his viewers by using his larger than life personality to engage and excite. He seems to instantly form a relationship with whomever he is meeting, getting right to the heart of the matter in a tactful and charming way. This differs to other presenters, who can often unintentionally put distance between themselves and the subjects they are speaking to, making for a less authentic experience. This is reflected in shows such as Dark Tourist, where Farrier fails to properly engage with the people in the various destinations he visits, while at times, seemingly holding an expressive disinterest and ignorance towards what’s going on around him. He lacks a certain degree of animation, meaning his style of presenting can come across as dull and indifferent. Hence, this was a primary aspect that was factored into the reviews.
Quality of production was another important characteristic that was considered across the seven documentaries and movies included in the list. While some destinations have the potential to look impressive enough by themselves, including a good soundtrack and professional editing can bring out the best features of a country, making it even more inspiring to viewers. Residente, for example, is a fascinating documentary following a rapper through his ancestral countries in a journey of rediscovery mixed with music and travel. However, the way the film is edited means that it constantly jumps around and feels confused, unlike the structure of a traditional travel documentary that is usually broken up into parts and plays out in some sort of arranged order. Pedal the World, meanwhile, documents the cycling adventure of a young German who rides 18,000 kilometres in 365 days, filming as he goes along, without doubt a fascinating story. However, with little experience of filming and editing, the movie has a low production feel to it, making it less enjoyable to watch than one that has had more money spent on it. For that reason, we looked at the production value of each documentary and movie to try to combine good content with professional standard editing and filming.
Another significant factor that was assessed was whether the documentary or movie included any bias in its outlook. While travel is considered separate from politics and ideology, a director with a particular bias can have a large impact on the perspective presented by a show, be it political, racial, or religious. While this can be interesting at times, it can also alienate certain demographics, giving the documentary or movie less reach and making it appear less accurate, as the facts become clouded by bias. Ugly Delicious follows American chef David Chang as he travels around exploring the cuisine of different regions. However, interesting as the content may be, the series is saturated with political overtones featured throughout each episode. Issues like immigration and race are brought into the series, displaying only one side of the argument and seemingly pushing an agenda that goes beyond travel and food, which, at times, can make the programme feel as though it is simply Chang using the backdrop of food to make a point over his disillusionment with American politics and its wider issues. Hence, it was important to consider whether the movie or documentary contained a bias or political undertones in order to help assess the overall quality of the content.
Overall, this list provides a selection of the seven top most inspiring and informative travel documentaries and movies, painstakingly assessed and chosen from thousands of quality productions. If you are lacking imagination or simply want to find inspiration for your own travels, sitting back and enjoying a great travel documentary or movie can be a fantastic way, not only to unwind after a long day but to gain insight into destinations you may never have considered possible to visit. While reading a blog or scanning through a guidebook can be a great way to get a general overview of a country, watching an hour long episode of a travel-related series can tell you far more about a place in much shorter time. Including food tasting, cycling, public transport and trips to dangerous destinations, this list features a varied array of the best documentaries and movies to get you in the mood for booking your own adventure, be it to the other side of the world or just round the corner from your house. By referring to the suggested movies and documentaries featured on this list, you will be able to discover a huge amount of information on countries in every continent. We have carefully considered the aforementioned factors – personality of the presenter, quality of production, and perspective – to provide you with only the top few programmes that are sure to get you off the sofa and down to the nearest travel agency to book your very own excursion.