The Best Travel Shows & Documentaries to Add to Your Watchlist
When it comes to travel, the past year has been like none other. The global coronavirus pandemic has kept most of us close to home, and much longer than any of us would have guessed. Luckily, there have never been more movies, documentaries, shows, and shorts to keep us inspired until we can get back out there again. Check out a river guide’s guide to the best adventure and travel shows to stream right now. Whether you use Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Disney+, or Amazon Prime, there’s something for everyone.
For the Adrenaline Junkie
Free Solo – Disney+, Amazon (Rent)
When my partner and I watched this in a movie theater (remember those?!) the audience was acting like we were in a horror film – lots of gasping and covering of eyes. There are no zombies or chainsaws in the epic rock climbing documentary Free Solo (maybe they are saving that for the sequel). There are, however, incredible views of Yosemite Valley and the sweat-inducing story of Alex Honnold’s quest to be the first person to climb El Capitan sans rope. If you’re missing the adrenaline and endorphin rush of outdoor adventure sports, this is the film for you.
For the Dog Lover
The Pack – Amazon Prime
In our family, the only winner of the pandemic has been my rescue dog Hank. Between a home office and no air travel, he is spending a lot more one-on-one time with his humans. If, like me, you also consider your dog one of your favorite adventure partners, don’t miss The Pack. Hosted by Olympic skier Lindsay Vonn, this reality show sends twelve dogs and their owners across the globe to compete in various adventure challenges. With veterinarians and a dog safety team advising, the show does require you to suspend some disbelief about the, uh, competition part of it all (they rightly play it pretty safe). The adventure starts slow in Los Angeles but picks up by Costa Rica, where the lucky pups even get to do some whitewater rafting and SUP boarding.
For the Survivalist
World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji – Amazon Prime
We all have that family member who treats even the most inclusive outdoor vacations like a survival epic. Keep them on the edge of the couch cushion with the Bear Grylls-hosted show, World’s Toughest Race. Fiji’s dynamic landscape creates a beautiful backdrop to the less beautiful aspects of a multi-day adventure race – teams succumb to exhaustion, trench foot, hypothermia, and more as they race for the $100,000 prize. Keep an eye out for the rafting section of the race, where you can catch a few OARS’ Rivers Fiji guides helping launch rafts into the Navua River Gorge.
For Future River Guides
Moana – Disney+, Amazon (Rent)
It was a fellow river guide’s four year old who first introduced me to Moana. And let me tell you, they don’t make Disney princess movies like they used to! Set in Ancient Polynesia, Moana, the only daughter of a chief, breaks tradition and ventures out to sea to help save her island. As a river guide who deeply respects the power of water, I loved the way the ocean was personified as both friend and foe. Demigod Maui’s hijinks were the perfect levity to a story about family, overcoming fear, and stepping into your own power.
For the Naturalist
Our Planet (Netflix), National Parks Adventure (Rent) & Night on Earth (Netflix)
While I’ve been fortunate to live in a rural river town with lots of outdoor opportunities during the pandemic, I sure miss long hikes, drives, and immersing myself in the landscape of a new place. Ambient nature shows help remind me that even as we stay close to home, the natural world continues to thrive and need our protection.
Our Planet ventures from coastal seas to frozen mountainscapes investigating some of the world’s most dramatic landscapes and the creatures that call them home.
Watching National Parks Adventure is the perfect way to decide where to head for your next outdoor vacation when you’re ready to travel again. Told through a recreation lens, you might even find inspiration to try a new sport (ice climbing, anyone?).
Night on Earth won’t help you sleep better on your next camping trip, but it will illuminate a whole different side of our outdoor landscapes and the critters that call them home.
For the Foodie
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat (Netflix), Taste the Nation & Parts Unknown (Hulu)
Whether I’m hosting 20 river guests on a Salmon River sandbar or in the urban jungle of a new country, I’m usually thinking at least 50% of the time about what my next meal will be. So when it comes to which travel shows to stream, I always go straight to food-centered series.
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat features chef, cookbook author Samin Nosrat. I’m convinced Samin, with her straightforward approach and appreciation for quality ingredients, would also be a great guest chef on the river (Samin, call me!). Her infectious enthusiasm makes for the ultimate relaxing watch as she travels from Italy to the Yucatan in search of her four core elements of cooking.
In Taste the Nation, Padma Lakshmi, cookbook author and host, brings her audience closer to home, traveling the U.S. to explore the immigrant contribution to the American food palate. I loved her reminder that travel and new experiences often exist right in our own backyards.
And of course, there’s always Anthony Bourdain, whom someone would certainly yell about in the comments section if I skipped (fair enough – he’s an icon). Nothing beats No Reservations and experiencing a new country through the late-Bourdain’s eyes and palate.
For the Family Photographer
Tales by Light – Netflix
Tales by Light travels the globe through the eyes of a photographer. Whether it’s dad who loves carting his DSLR around or your Tik-Tok obsessed teenager, there is inspiration for everyone as the show follows a number of photographers around the world in pursuit of the perfect shots.
For the Short Attention Span
Some of the best video shorts are coming from our favorite outdoor brands. From NRS to Patagonia to YETI, innovative filmmakers are flexing their creative muscles in an almost endless stream of five-minute to feature-length films. Check out a few of my favorites below.
- NRS – River of Return, a beautifully-shot film about Shoshone-Bannock tribal members Sammy and Jessica Matsaw and their work to connect tribal youth with Idaho’s Middle Fork Salmon River.
- YETI – Ingrained, which takes you from rural Wyoming to Chile via snowboard.
- Patagonia – Becoming Ruby, because I’ve never been a very confident mountain biker, and Ruby (and her creator Brooklyn Bell) inspire me to dig a little deeper!
Which travel shows and documentaries are you watching right now to get you through these long months? Chime in below.
Top photo: Mollie Sivaram/Unsplash