While we may binge a few dozen episodes of Game of Thrones or Stranger Things every now and again, our biggest weakness with tv is Netflix travel documentaries. Whether it’s one of Anthony Bourdain’s many series centered around “insert catchy premise” and food or a 2 hour long nature documentary with no words and just animals walking around being animals, we’re usually hooked the second we hit play. So we thought we’d share some of our best recommendations on things that you can catch on Netflix right now.
One of our favorite documentaries by far. It features a group of new and old friends, led by Jeff Johnson, recreating the 1968 trip of a Yvon Chouinard (founder of Patagonia) and Doug Tompkins (founder of North Face). The soundtrack is an all time great and features a ton of great music that will get you in the mood for a trip. One of our heroes, Keith Malloy (The Plight of the Torpedo People, Come Hell or High Water) even pops in to make random surfing cameos. You get sailboats on the open ocean, vans packed with gear, a group stranded in the harbor of Easter Island, snow capped peaks of the Patagonia in Argentina, and more. All in about an hour and a half. One of the best.
I never would have thought I’d enjoy this series by watching the promo or reading the synopsis but it turned out to be one of the better travel documentaries we’ve seen. We are constantly recommending this show to people who like to travel but hate travel documentaries with all their cliches and flowery setups and reviews. Departures is different because it’s basically just two friends from high school, Scott and Justin, and a camera as they head out to travel the world with very little experience and not much planning. They show up somewhere and sort of just figure it out and the show reflects seeing that spirit of seeing new places from those eyes and that perspective. It’s how a travel show would look if you went on a trip and made a travel show instead of salaried television hosts.
This is the story of a traveling family with a young son and another child on the way. The story is told from the perspective of the 6 year old boy as he discusses his family’s nomadic life and their adventures in 15 countries. We found this one to be one of the most interesting and creative ways to tell a story and found ourselves completely caught up in it the magic of it for the entire film.
One of the great small scale documentarians out there is Keith Malloy (mentioned above). His films are usually short, sparse on narration, and heavy on video of nature without a lot of commentary. In Fish People, he tells the story of 6 people via 6 vignettes about their love of the ocean and what it means to them. If this film doesn’t have you wanting to bodysurf or get out in the water in some way we’d be surprised.
Films about climbing are a hard thing for some people to get into. Because it’s so technical and something most people will never get to experience, it can often be hard to relate to. But Meru is different in a lot of ways because it blends the hyper technical side of climbing with all the human things that we all experience like failure, pain, falling short, tenacity, etcetera. Yes it’s the story of climbers. But it’s the story of us which is why it’s one of the more highly rated and critical documentaries on Netflix.
Under An Arctic Sky
This one is short. Only 40 minutes. But it is one of our favorites. Although we aren’t surfers, we absolutely adore the photography of Chris Burkard. He is hands down the best adventurer photographer out there if we get a vote and in this short documentary, he chronicles the story of his team surfing waves in Northern Iceland. Did we mention they do it under the Northern lights?
One of the highest rated Netflix travel documentaries out there, Valley Uprising is the story of the Yosemite valley over the last 50 years as seen through the eyes of the rock climbing community. It dives deep into the counter culture that often classed with park rangers before going into how rock climbing culture has evolved into the present. If you want to know the history of climbing from it’s inception to it’s current iteration, this documentary provides you the through line.