In 1966, Bruce Brown took two surfers, Mike Hynson and Robert August, on a trip around the world in search of the perfect wave. As legend has it, the concept for the resulting film — follow summer around the world to make for “The Endless Summer” — was suggested to Brown by a travel agent friend. Rather unexpectedly, the amateur-ish film not only grossed a stunning $20 million ($136 million in 2011 dollars), but also nearly single-handedly created the entire industry of surf travel, which now moves billions of dollars annually. Surfers from amateurs to pros took to the air, to dirt roads, to boats, and these days to sea planes and helicopters ostensibly in pursuit of waves, but just as much to roam the world with a sense of purpose and intent.
Thanks in part to his own casual narration (and helped by the soundtrack by the Sandals), Brown’s travel-agent inspired film became what might be considered one of the first “viral” travelogues. Now, sites like YouTube and Vimeo offer easy platforms for everyday globetrotters to deliver their own inspired travelogues to the world — and we’ve certainly seen some good ones. Here are a few of our all-time favorite travel videos.
Where the Hell is Matt?
While Brown and his surfing stars were laser-focused on catching waves, some of the most inspiring travel videos tap into the utter randomness of choosing a travel destination — and the fantastic notion that you can try to see it all.
A few years back, I did a column on the YouTube phenomenon “Where the Hell is Matt?”, and it proved to be one of my most popular columns ever — even the owner of our company wrote to say it was one of her favorites, and she has seen a lot of travel writing. Since then, the world has certainly seen plenty of YouTube stars — but you will find that among travel videos, folks who compress a true heap of travel into a few minutes take top billing.
The Trip: Matt travels around the world, does some really silly dancing and posts videos of it.
The Traveler’s Take: Matt keeps it simple in his FAQ:
What’s the message of your videos?
Up to you. I’m just dancing.
Why We Love It: Find 1,200 words on the topic here: Lessons from a Dance Seen Round the World.
A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the 21st Century: I Love People
Witness one of the most recent videos to go viral in the genre, made while using a mode of travel very few use these days: hitchhiking. It was made by Benjamin Jenks.
The Trip: Nine months hitchhiking across the United States, from Venice Beach, CA, to Portland, ME.
The Traveler’s Take: “I had declared I would hitchhike across the U.S.A. for one year, and I was eight months in. Everything had gone pretty great. People were so kind and I was having once-in-a-lifetime experiences, so I wanted to share that feeling and reach as many people as I could.”
Inspired by: “Dancing Matt’s video as he badly danced around the world was inspiring. Plus, a recent video, Move, was a beautiful way of showing a round-the-world trip. I love videos that pack a lot of punch in a short bit of time. Traditional travel videos bore me.”
Why We Love It: There are tons of in-jokes and random synchronicities. Jenks’s video starts off with him wearing a T-shirt that reads I Love People, and while the video would seem to be about a trip, it is really about the people he encounters on that trip — a worthwhile thing for anyone to remember when traveling.
Additionally, the fact that it is about a near-dead American tradition like hitchhiking makes it doubly interesting. This was not lost on Jenks while he was traveling: “Yeah, it is a very vintage way of travel. I definitely stood out and it helped. Many people would say, ‘I’ve never picked up hitchhikers before’ or exclaim ‘I never see anyone hitchhiking, except…’ I went for the clean look and would even have my big, expensive camera around my neck a lot of times.”
Move, Learn and Eat
Mentioned above by Benjamin Jenks, Move was one of three shorts made by the same filmmaker, Rick Mereki, along with Learn and Eat (which some folks prefer to the Move video for the more forgiving and perhaps persuasive pacing). The vids were in fact created for an advertising campaign for STA Travel, but have become viral phenoms on their own merits. We’ve embedded Eat below; click on the related videos at the end to check out the other two.
The Trip: “3 guys, 44 days, 11 countries, 18 flights, 38 thousand miles, an exploding volcano, 2 cameras and almost a terabyte of footage … all to turn 3 ambitious linear concepts based on movement, learning and food … into 3 beautiful and hopefully compelling short films….. = a trip of a lifetime.”
The Traveler’s Take: “Even though it was essentially a television advertisement, I think it had a real humanity about it so it really related to a lot of people around the world.”
Why We Love It: The videos are extremely well done (admittedly a professional effort, using the best available 21st-century technology), and like other vids we like, has nice moments of subtle humor; check out the guy eating something unsavory at 0:44 in Eat, or the quick handclap at 0:29 in Move.
The Afghanistan You Don’t See on the News
Lukas and Salome Augustin’s “Afghanistan — touch down in flight” is a bit slower-paced than some of the others in our list, offering a respite that also reflects the nature of the trip, a return visit after living in the country for several years. The contemplative beauty of the film stands in stark contrast to the current public perception of Afghanistan as driven by world events and cable news coverage.
The Trip: Lukas Augustin lived in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2008, and in 2011 returned with his fiancee to show her the country as he had come to know it — “to show her the place I love and to capture the beauty of this country with our cameras.”
The Traveler’s Take: “As each of us has his own impression of Afghanistan that is predominantly marked with pictures of foreign forces, explosions and terror, we were privileged to have access to capture daily life and [portray] some people of Afghanistan. We hope the pictures you know will merge with the pictures you see and will enrich your view on the country in the Hindu Kush.”
Why We Like It: It’s absolutely gorgeous, and it really speaks to the everyday humanity of people all over the world, no matter the place or culture.
The Endless Summer
The Endless Summer is a full-length film, but its handmade feel, simple structure and casual style keep me from feeling as though we’re cheating by including it. And it went viral on its own merits, to boot; Bruce Brown chose to premiere the film in Wichita, Kansas, where people lined up around the block to see it, before going out to find a distributor. Wichita, YouTube … different times, but probably about the same, longshot odds of success.
The Trip: Two surfers and a small film crew chase waves (and summer) around the world, driven by the concept that it is always summer somewhere on Earth.
The Traveler’s Take: “Surfing influenced me!! I got some cheap still camera to take pics of me and my buddy surfing. Back then, we were the only surfers. Then I got an 8 mm movie camera to show other people, and to recruit someone to go surfing with. I took it with me everywhere. I was on a submarine in Pearl Harbor back in ’56 or ’57 and I took bunch of 8 mm movies on the North Shore and other places.”
Why We Love It: Despite the fact that movie critics describe it as “a perfect film”, for me The Endless Summer feels like a trip — not like a film. Similar in some ways to the videos listed above, it makes you want to do the same trip, or something like it — not to watch more videos of travel. For me, it is the granddaddy of travel vids, and definitely inspired many of my own travels.