Most travel TV kinda sucks. Perhaps it is due to all our travel experience but most travel TV is really boring. It is just too varnished. A smiling host appears to sail effortlessly from one picaresque location to the next, presumably going to great lengths to direct the viewer's attention away from the grittier realities. No 5am flights, no taxis that can't find your accommodation, no beggars, no filthy bus station toilets, no sweating through your shirt, no illness. Nothing but sunshine and smiles.
That is not real life. That is not interesting.
While it is of course preferable to be out having adventures yourself, for anyone who is either working up to their first big trip or temporarily between adventures here are some great inspirational movies and TV shows.
Big Crazy Family Adventure
A family of four travel from Canada to India without flying. Along the way there are tears, joy and the sort of child management that will be immediately recognizable to anyone who has traveled long term with children.
Although it is at times a little rushed the family are charismatic, interesting and the show does a great job of balancing depicting the family and the places they pass through.
The father of the family has written one of the better descriptions of the joy that can come from traveling with your children. Click here to read an awesome post by Bruce Kirkby.Big Crazy Family Adventure is available to view at Amazon.
Also available to view via iTunes and on the Travel Channel on TV.
Long Way Round/Long Way Down
Ewan Macgregor, the guy from Train Spotting, Charley Boorman and Claudio the cameraman ride motorcycles from the UK to New York. Instead of going shorter distance by heading west they go east ie the long way around the world. It is an epic motorcycle journey that takes them through mainland Europe, Kazahkstan, Mongolia, remote eastern Russia and more.
It is a really fun trip with plenty of ups and downs. There is plenty of spectacular scenery, humor and adversity. The camaraderie, particularly between Ewan and Charley, really lifts this series to a whole new level.
If you like Long Way Round also check out Long Way Down. This time they ride from Scotland to South Africa. I didn't enjoy it as much as the original. They were under more time pressure so it felt quite rushed. Also by this time they kind of knew what they were doing and their experience traveling long distances makes this trip less interesting to watch.
By Any Means: Ireland To Sydney
There are two seasons of By Any Means. These feature Charley Boorman and some of the others from Long Way Round/Down. In fact season one looks like most of the Long Way Round crew minus Ewan Macgregor.
Both seasons are only six episodes long and they spend half of the first episode providing back story and talking about Charley's family. As season one covers traveling from Ireland to Sydney through a sizable portion of the entire world it is extremely rushed.
Not only did they visibly rush through country after country while filming, they had to try and cut the whole journey down into six one hour episodes. Actually, make that five and half episodes as half of the first episode is just back story.
It is an entertaining watch but if you are actually interested in the places they are passing through it is heart-breakingly fast moving. Oh, I have been looking forward to them reaching... what, is that it?! Season two is MUCH better.
By Any Means: Sydney To Tokyo
Season two of By Any Means is so different to season one that I count it as a different program. For season two they go from Australia through Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Japan.
You will notice that this time they are only visiting six countries. Six countries, six episodes, perfect. They also skip all of the intro stuff as it is assumed you have seen season one.
Having a full hour for each country makes this much less rushed and much more pleasurable to watch. They actually have time to hang out, chat to people and even go off on the occasional spontaneous side trip.
A Map For Saturday
A young American guy backpacks around the world for eleven months while recording his experiences.
He takes a quintessential backpacking trip visiting Australia, Asia, Europe and South America. Along the way he gets to know a handful of fellow travelers and attempts to uncover their motivations and how their travels have changed their outlook.
After watching the main film make sure to watch the cast updates. He reinterviews his core characters a year or two after their trips have ended and their comments looking back with some emotional distance are interesting.
Into The Wild
Into The Wild is rather famous. It is based on a book which is based on a real person, Christopher McCandless. It follows him as he leaves home, abandons mainstream society and has a series of dramatic adventures that take him all over the USA.
Many find it inspirational. Others see it as a cautionary tale.
If you do watch this movie and enjoy it, you should really read the book to get a more balanced view of the main character. The movie presents him very positively and glosses over his stubborn refusal to communicate his well being to his family, leaving them to wonder whether he is dead or alive even though they were never anything but kind to him.
Christopher is interesting, he is polarizing, he is NOT someone to take wilderness survival advice from.
Alone In The Wilderness
This is an interesting film to watch after Into The Wild. It is made up of footage shot by Dick Proenneke as he builds a cabin for himself, by hand, and establishes a life for himself in the remote wilderness of Alaska. It is essentially "Into The Wild" but with useful skills and thoughtful preparation.
Dick, who had recently retired after many years spent working as a carpenter, diesel mechanic and fisherman, built his own cabin. He then lived there, alone, for nearly thirty years. He is a masterful outdoorsman and watching him work is both entertaining and educational.
180 Degrees South
This wasn't really my cup of tea as I'm not really into surfing, long distance sailing or mountain climbing. It is however well made and very beautiful. It follows a sea voyage from north America to Chile via Easter Island. Upon arrival in Chile there is much mountain climbing to be done with some surfing thrown in here and there for good measure.
The vast cold emptiness of the places they pass through does not fill me with any particular desire to visit them myself.
The star commits to living for a month with no money, no contact with friends or family, only surviving through the kindness of people he meets through craigslist.com. During the month he travels from California to New York and back.
It is an interesting journey which involves a lot of unusual characters, some of whom are inspirational, some are tragic.
Craigslist Joe shows how much you can do with very little, or nothing, as the case may be.
House Hunters International
Every episode someone moves to a new country. They are shown three accommodation options, they pick one and then we get to see how they are settling in a few months later.
House Hunters International is great for getting a brief window into a different country. They do not show tourist hot spots. Instead they show you where you would be living if you moved there.
Tales From The Bush Larder
A Kenyan chef explores Africa. Along the way he creates new dishes from local ingredients. Although it is as much a cooking show as it is a travel show Tales From The Bush Larder covers a region that rarely gets positive coverage. The scenery is as beautiful as the food.
Hopefully that will keep you going until you can get out there yourself.