If you’re a digital nomad seeking new challenges and places to explore – or an aspiring nomad that’s looking to fuel their wanderlust and entrepreneurial spirit, these films about startups, van life, surfing, and epic adventuring might be just what you’re looking for. Curl up on the couch with your favourite snacks and enjoy this list of documentaries and movies about nomads.
“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less” – Socrates
If you’ve felt the relentless pull of long-term travel as a digital nomad, you’ll understand this sentiment all too well. There’s a strong conflict between living a stable, comfortable life and exploring a new life of minimalism and the more challenging life of the open road, foreign languages, strange foods, and new cultures.
One of the first uses of the phrase “digital nomad” was in 1997 in a book with the same name. Used to describe the possibility of humans returning to a more nomadic lifestyle due to the invention of technology like the world wide web, it is a term that many people use to describe themselves now.
In the present day, there are about 10 million people who live the digital nomad lifestyle. These people work remotely full-time while residing in a traveler’s van, campsites, friend’s homes, or hotels. People choose the digital nomad lifestyle because they value happiness, travel, and freedom most in life.
Movies About Nomads
The film world has gotten its fair share of digital nomad movies and documentaries since the term was first coined back in the 1990s. There is something mysterious, awe-inspiring, and whimsical about this lifestyle. These documentaries aim to show the realities of nomadic life and the personalities of the people who live it.
Before we share the top digital nomad movies and documentaries you need to see, let’s go over what a digital nomad is and what they do.
What Is a Digital Nomad?
Now you understand a bit more about what a digital nomad lifestyle entails, let’s go through more of the specifics.
Many people who adhere to digital nomadism are women. The average age of these people is 32 years old. They come from all over the world and represent many age groups, genders, and ethnicities.
Plenty of nomads are freelancers, but there are also a lot of them who are not. Some are CEOs, some work for one business or have their own business, and some are consultants. About half of the people living this way make just as much or more than they did in their traditional office jobs.
Their job satisfaction rate is almost double of those who work in a traditional job and about 20 percent of them work and travel simultaneously. Digital nomads can take a slower, more immersive approach to travel. Many of them view this as a positive thing and will spend a month in one place just to fully immerse themselves in that culture without missing a beat for work.
Why Are Digital Nomad Films and Documentaries Made?
With the rise of digital nomadism and the availability to make films, these two ideas almost go hand in hand. Digital nomads are often the subjects of documentaries because their life is untraditional, making it interesting to watch and learn about.
A lot of them have ideas that are non-mainstream, like extreme minimalism or veganism. They like to share the wonders of the world with others and a nomads’ documentary is a great way to do that. Some of them even provide helpful tips on transitioning into this lifestyle.
Keep reading for our top picks for the travel movies and digital nomad movies and documentaries you need to see.
Into the Wild is a dramatization based on the real-life events of Christopher McCandless. It follows a student who wants to be free in the wild after a life of pursuing higher learning and excellence in sports at Emory University.
After graduation, McCandless gives his entire savings of $24,000 to charity and begins his journey. He hitchhikes to Alaska and encounters many trials along the way – an adventure that ultimately ends in tragedy.
This film is a fictional dramatization of real events, based on the bestselling book of the same name. While hammering home the trials and hardships of living a nomadic lifestyle, this film also shows the main character finding beauty in the freedom of nature.
Watch the trailer here:
Veteran filmmaker Werner Herzog is behind the camera in Nomad, as he documents his long friendship with late author Bruce Chatwin. Being kindred spirits in their search for adventures and truth, this documentary is a deep, personal look at Chatwin’s life of travel and discovery. It’s spliced with archival footage, and film clips that span multiple countries and decades, ancient rituals, cultures, and the mysteries that bind us together as humans.
Another nomad movie based on real events is the 2020 cinema sensation Nomadland. Directed by Chloe Zhao, it follows one woman’s nomadic lifestyle after losing her job in a town she spent most of her life in.
Along the way, the main character Fern, played by Frances McDormand, meets others who embrace the nomadic lifestyle and work seasonal jobs to keep their nomad status. It is a beautiful story about human connection, the way we build relationships, and a look into the nomadic lifestyles that many people embrace.
It also won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2021 and McDormand won the Oscar for Best Actress in 2021. Zhao won the Oscar for Best Director in 2021.
Watch the trailer here:
Perhaps the most prolific and popular documentary about nomads, One Way Ticket is a short documentary that explores digital nomadism, who the digital nomads are, and what they believe. It explores the question, “is digital nomadism the future of work or neo-colonialism?” in an eye-opening way.
Through numerous interviews with academics, advocates of the lifestyle, and authorities, the film shows the highs and lows of the digital nomad lifestyle. Anyone looking into beginning a life of digital nomad tendencies should watch this to learn more about the movement.
The documentary features interviews with:
- Matt Mullenweg – Founder and CEO of Automattic and WordPress
- Peter Wall – Co-founder of Hubud in Bali
- Jon Yongfook – Founder of Bannerbear
- Tim Ferriss – Entrepreneur and author of The 4 Hour Work Week
- Pieter Levels – Founder of Nomad List
Watch the trailer here:
The Startup Kids
If you’re interested in the world of startup culture, this documentary is for you. Focusing on web entrepreneurs in the Europe and the USA, it includes interviews with the founders of Soundcloud, Kiip, Dropbox, Vimeo and a ton of other companies about how they got started, and how they now live their lives as independent entrepreneurs.
The aim of this film is to educate and inspire more young people to step outside their comfort zone and explore their own potential as entrepreneurs.
This documentary is directed by Dan Harris, an author on minimalism and happiness. YouTuber turned documentarian Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists shoots the film. Minimalism is defined as “living with less” and some people take it as far as becoming digital nomads so they can live with less.
It is an interesting documentary filled with talking heads that are authorities on the matter and people who have transitioned from a life of retail excess to minimalism. For a digital nomad, this is a good documentary to watch. You can see how other people like you live and perhaps how others got started in their search for freedom from the world’s boundaries.
Watch the trailer here:
Pedal the World is another story that follows one man’s quest for freedom from the world, similar to Christopher McCandless. This time, the subject is a German man named Felix Starck. He leaves his traditional lifestyle to bike in search of freedom and what it means to exist in the world.
The documentary follows him on a 365 day, 11,185-mile journey. It lets the viewer in on the ups and downs of a journey like this. The film is indicative of the nomadic lifestyle as it shows what you can learn by being present in the world and learning from different people you encounter.
Watch the trailer here:
Witherspoon portrays the real-life woman Cheryl Strayed who wrote the autobiographical book about her time hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
Strayed embarks on this journey with little hiking experience, but is looking for a journey of self-exploration after her divorce and other life struggles that put her on a path of self-destruction.
This film shows the peace and self-fulfillment one can get from living a nomadic lifestyle.
It serves as an inspiration to those who want to embark on a journey of redemption and self-actualization all while exploring the beautiful outdoors.
Watch the trailer here:
Another well-known documentary in the digital nomad space is The Wireless Generation.
It follows eighteen people across five continents who have taken their lives to the open road while working remotely.
Professions examined include a psychology professor teaching online, a financial analyst for American Express, a family of four whose parents build websites, and more!
This is an excellent look at the digitally nomadic and how they navigate their newfound independent living situations. It serves as an inspiration for anyone who also wants to pick up this lifestyle. In the age of the Internet, anything is possible.
Watch the trailer here:
Van life is a growing trend, with its own subculture and hundreds of beautiful Instagram #vanlife accounts. The Reality of Van Life throws light on what it’s actually like to permanently live in a van.
Van life is a great way to explore the country (or countries), live cheaply, and meet new people – and filmmaker Forrest Stevens attempts to bring to life the joys of this mobile lifestyle to light. Instead, he’s left more than a little disillusioned. Along the way, he interviews other van lifers to get different perspectives on what being in a van permanently is really like.
Behind the Instagram photos, there’s a noticeable lack of comfort. Van lifers often have no showers, food problems, feelings of isolation, breakdowns in the middle of nowhere, and extreme temperatures to deal with inside and outside their vans – and these are all common problems.
This documentary gives an entertaining and realistic snapshot of the growing, global van life movement.
Watch the full documentary here:
We The Tiny House People
Minimalism, self-sufficiency, budget, and happiness are driving more and more people into tiny homes. And there’s a ton of ingenuity behind their ambitions! This documentary features people living in converted caves, garages, sheds, garages, boats, and even…pigeon coops?
The filmmaker lives in a spacious apartment, but is fascinated by the tiny home concept – and the people who build and live in them. If you’re a fan of tiny homes and minimalism, this is a great watch.
180 Degrees South
180° South recreates the trip to Patagonia made in 1968 by Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins. Filmmaker Jeff Johnson travels from Mexico by sea, and journeys south down the coast of Chile. Enjoy amazing surfing, sailing, and climbing footage as you follow Jeff on his somewhat disastrous journey which includes getting shipwrecked off Easter Island.
He meets with Chouinard and Tompkins at the end of his journey, and the film wraps with an aborted climb of the stunning Corcovado volcano
This documentary captures the experiences of getting out there in the raw of nature – and the importance of protecting our most valuable and beautiful parts of the world.
I remember watching Shackleton at my Airbnb in Ruka in Finland. It was snowing too heavily to go outside, and was -25C, so we heated up a pizza and watched this mini series about one of the greatest original nomad journeys.
This documents the gritty, true story of Shackleton’s disastrous 1914 voyage on the ship Endurance to reach the South Pole. The struggle becomes life and death as the ship is crushed in the pack ice, and he has to summon all his wits, inspiration, and strength to try and get his crew of 27 men to safety across the deadly polar plains. It’s utterly harrowing.
The original ad Shackleton posted for crew members read “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success“.
At least he was honest about how it might turn out..!
Notable points in the movie:
- Shackleton makes a tough decision about the ship’s cat
- Shackleton makes a tough decision about the sled dogs
- Everybody discovers the sled dogs to be quite tasty
- Nobody knows if the ship’s cat was tasty
- Grisly toe amputations
- Nowhere near enough alcohol consumption in the film for this level of frozen wasteland horror
- The word “f*ck” is only used once, but it seemed necessary at least every 10 seconds
If you love tense, real-life dramas – Kenneth Branagh gives a fantastic performance as one of history’s most flawed and ambitious adventurers, and a a constant nomad of the seas.
Out of this whole list of digital nomad movies and documentaries – Everest is closest to my heart. As a New Zealander, I clearly remember this story hitting the TV news, the papers, and the magazines back in 1996.
It was hard to escape the stories, the sadness, the accusations, and the general mourning of the nation at losing one of their most fearless adventurers in such tragic circumstances.
Everest has a great cast – featuring Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Jason Clarke, and Keira Knightley in the starring roles. The scenes of the Everest climbs and the surrounding landscape are breathtaking. We all know this is one of the world’s most difficult and deadly mountains, so some of the scenes get pretty tense.
After the movie, you’ll be left with a lot of questions. Could this whole disaster have been avoided? Should there be better regulations around who is able to climb Everest? Should there be steeper fees to deter people who aren’t fit or experienced enough to climb? Have things got better or worse on the mountain since 1996?
If you want to learn more about this story, you can also check out the book Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (author of Into The Wild) who was on Everest at the time and wrote about his personal account of the disaster.
Another New Zealand film that I highly recommend is Whale Rider. Set in the small coastal town of Whangara (a 6-hour drive from where I used to live in Auckland) – this film tells the story of one of our real Maori communities. They’re desperately waiting for a new chief to appear to lead them away from tough times and into prosperity again.
“In the old days, the land felt a great emptiness that was waiting, waiting to be filled up, waiting for someone to love her, waiting for a leader. And he came on the back of a whale, a man to lead a new people, our ancestor, Paikea… But now we were waiting for the firstborn of the new generation, for the descendant of the whale rider, for the boy who would be chief”
In the Maori tradition, whales helped guide the canoes of the nomadic people of Aotearoa that first brought them on their great journey to New Zealand. The whales also protected canoes by calming stormy seas and providing a wall of protection against the waves. Legen has it that many Maori rode through the seas on whales.
Based on the classic novel by one of New Zealand’s most loved authors, Witi Ihimaera, the film features Keisha Castle-Hughes as a 12-year-old Maori girl whose driving ambition is to become chief of her tribe. This is a role reserved for males only, and the core theme of this movie is around female empowerment and determination.
It also features incredible scenery and footage of wild New Zealand – so it’s a must see if you have plans to travel there.
A Walk In The Woods
In 1996, the world’s funniest travel writer, Bill Bryson, attempted to hike the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail. He failed at the trail, but succeeded with his book about his disastrous adventures in “A Walk in the Woods,” which quickly became a hit and inspired more people to get out and explore this challenging hike.
After living in Europe for many years, Bill assumed that USA hikes would be the same as overseas – where everyone strolls through countryside, sleeps at a village inn, and repeats everything until their hike ends. After learning this wasn’t the case, Bill buys a crap ton of camping gear, and reads some terrifying facts and true stories about bears vs. hikers on the Appalachian Trail.
Not wanting to walk alone after learning bears can sniff out a lone Snickers bars for miles, Bill recruits an old friend to join him – who shows up severely overweight and unfit – and with enough junk food to summon all the bears who are anywhere near their hiking trail.
A Walk In The Woods (while it’s nowhere near as good as the original book) is a humorous, feel-good film with veteran actors Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, and Emma Thompson pulling everything together.
Last but DEFINITELY not least, I need to include Anthony Bourdain on this list. He has inspired so many people I know to travel more, to explore cultures and food more, and to pack everything they own up into a bag and head off into the world. Not just for adventure, for a deeper understanding of people, cultures, the world, and themselves.
Bourdain’s love of finding out about new foods and countries is contagious, and he always keeps it real (or as real as TV will allow).
Everywhere I go in the world, I always check to see if Bourdain visited before me, and I watch those episodes as refreshers before I land in the country. I’ve spent countless hours trying to find restaurants he visited, food stalls he sat at, and notable places in the city that he featured in his shows.
It’s a bit of an obssession I guess – but the sad thing is that because his shows are now getting older, the places I try to visit are slowly disappearing with each passing year.
If you haven’t seen any of Bourdain’s documentaries, they’re a must for travellers. Check out:
Conclusion – Awesome Documentaries And Movies About Nomads
Watch some or all of these movies about nomads to prepare for your digital nomad adventure? It’s a great way to research and become familiar with the concepts of the movement without immersing yourself in it. And all of these digital movies and documentaries will get you longing for travel.
Through watching these documentaries, you may find that the nomad lifestyle isn’t quite what you imagined or expected. Perhaps you romanticized the idea of not being tied down to a mortgage or job in your head, but in practice, it seems much more strenuous.
Or it may have the opposite effect on you. You could get wildly motivated and decide to try out the lifestyle yourself. Either way, we hope you find inspiration and hope in these films. Check them out!