Travel

Travel documentaries to feed your wanderlust

by Rebecca Saunders

Contributing Writer

The time has come for travel lovers and adventurers to put down passports, unpack suitcases and stay very much indoors for the foreseeable future. But as we come together collectively to stay at home, there are ways to escape your current reality, leave your four walls behind and discover the world.

From the Lumiere brothers who traveled the globe capturing culture with their portable camera to globe-trotting YouTubers with iPhones, since the late 19th-century travel documentaries have been sparking imaginations and igniting travel passions the world over. Taking on-screen journeys means safely savoring landscapes, customs and food from the comfort of your sofa.

‘Around the World in 80 Days’ (1989)

Filmed over 30 years ago, Micheal Palin’s much-loved “Around the World in 80 Days” is a memoir of travel before the age of the internet. Palin is challenged with circumnavigating the Earth in 80 days, beginning in London and following in the footsteps of Phileas Fogg from Jules Verne’s classic novel of the same name.

Along the way, Palin and his five-person crew encounter an array of difficulties (plane travel is banned) and numerous amiable characters. “Ancient Mariners,” sees the gang boarding a dhow in Dubai and embarking on a seven-day voyage to then Bombay; during the trip, Palin builds a special bond with the welcoming Gujarati crew.

The series’ success led to several similar travel programs — “Full Circle” (1997) brings Palin to Tokyo. His confusion on arriving at a spotless Tokyo Station is amusingly documented: “Perhaps I’m doomed to wander these well-polished halls forever,” he laments, “living proof of the awful fate that awaits those that can not organize their life the way the Japanese do.”

“Around the World in 80 Days” (1989) and “Full Circle” can be purchased digitally from both Amazon and Apple.

‘Departures’ (2008-10)

“Departures” is a deliciously low-key adventure travel series based on the concept of dropping everything and traveling the world for a year. The show follows the antics of high school friends Scott Wilson and Justin Lukach, accompanied by cameraman Andre Dupuis.

Spread across three seasons, each of the 42 episodes feels like traveling with friends; as the show develops, so do Wilson and Lukach. In season one, the guys leave behind remote Ascension Island to find themselves blinded by the lights of Tokyo, then embark on a roadtrip to the Kii Peninsula, where they attempt to dig a riverside onsen (hot spring). Later they discover the beauty of Okinawa.

Watch Departures online for free at bit.ly/departuresYT.

‘Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations’ (2005-12)

It is Anthony Bourdain’s unpretentious attitude that makes the late chef’s travel documentaries so addictive. Led to destinations by his taste buds, Bourdain charms with his eloquent insight and kind-hearted nature.

Earlier episodes see Bourdain drinking and smoking his way through Malaysia’s jungles in his own reimagining of “Heart of Darkness,” but over time his musings become increasingly poignant. In Laos (season four, episode 11), after sharing a meal with a victim of an unexploded American bomb, he deftly concludes, “This is something I have seen a fair amount of over time: acts of kindness and generosity from strangers who have no reason at all to be nice to me.”

Japan features heavily in Bourdain’s numerous travel series (there are four). In season two, episode one of “No Reservations,” he experiences kuidaore (eating yourself to ruin) in Osaka. Later in the series, he searches for the perfect sushi in Tokyo; in another episode, just weeks before the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, he meets Ainu people in Hokkaido.

Stream “No Reservations” online via Amazon Prime.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.
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