Since it looks like it’s going to be awhile before we can travel again, we are going to need to find other ways to get our travel fix. How about some great travel TV? I have long been a lover of travel TV shows. For me, I travel so I can learn more about new places up close and personal. That’s why I use the term experiential travel a lot. Consequently, I am drawn to travel TV shows that aren’t simply travelogues, but also teach me about new cultures, cuisines, and people. Also, and very importantly, I need to actually like the host of the show. You don’t want to travel with someone who annoys you, right? Here are my personal top 3 favorite travel TV shows of all time.
As I mention in my About page, Anthony Bourdain has been my biggest travel influence, and I’ve always tried to model my travel approach on his. He doesn’t just sightsee. On his shows, he really tries to understand each destination, and we learn a lot about the soul of each place in the process. Plus there is always food, and one of the joys of traveling is trying different food. And his shows are beautifully filmed – his cinematographers won Emmys for their work on his shows.
Tony’s irreverence was a great part of his appeal, but he was also incredibly sincere. He was a great writer and that is reflected in the voice-over narration he personally wrote for each episode.
He was the best virtual travel partner. I have travelled the world with him and I thank him for everything he showed me. He is sorely missed.
Tony hosted 4 different travel shows over his 16 years of great TV. Out of all of them, I prefer his Travel Channel series No Reservations (2005-2012). His CNN series Parts Unknown was great too, but sometimes was a little more talky than I wanted in a travel show, almost as though CNN asked him to spend more time in face-to-face interviews.
You can stream a few seasons of No Reservations on Hulu, and several other seasons are available for purchase and viewing through Amazon Video.
Long Way Round and Long Way Down
In this two part series, actors Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman travel the world on motorcycles. For Long Way Round (2004) they start in London and ride to New York (which required a flight from Siberia to Alaska). For Long Way Down (2007) they start in Scotland and ride to Cape Town South Africa (which required a ferry ride across the Mediterranean).
The show itself is fascinating on many levels. First of all, you watch them go through the pre-trip planning for each adventure: how they chose their motorcycles; how they decide upon what support they will need on their journey; how they figure out and then ultimately negotiate all their border crossings. Then you follow along on both journeys – each an epic feat – round and down the world. You see parts of this world not usually covered on your standard travel programs – Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Siberian Russia, Tunisia, Sudan, Malawi – just to name a few. Plus they make several stops along the way at local UNICEF facilities, helping to promote the work done by this organization throughout the world.
As our hosts-travelers-adventurers, Ewan McGregor is charming and incredibly patient. Charley Boorman is the perfect foil – impatient and reactive, but entertaining.
And good news! I just discovered this today as I was researching how to spell Ewan McGregor 🙂 They have filmed and completed a third journey just recently. It’s called Long Way Up and they ride electric motorcycles from Patagonia in Argentina to California.
(October 2020 Update – Long Way Up is now available on Apple TV+ along with the full seasons of Long Way Round and Long Way Down. This third adventure is just as great as the other two. Attempting this journey on electric motorcycles adds a whole additional layer of difficulty and adventure.)
Dark Tourist is the most recent addition to my list of favorite travel TV shows. It started airing on Netflix in 2018 where it is still available for viewing. This show focuses on “dark tourism”. Examples are voodoo rituals in Benin Africa or a tour of Pablo Escobar’s Columbian estate with his former hitman. He also visits Turkmenistan just because it’s such an usual country, and he shows us why….
I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this show when it first popped up on my Netflix screen, since I’m personally not drawn to dark tourism. But, I’m not personally drawn to riding motorcycles around the world either 🙂 Upon watching it, I immediately recognized it as another great experiential travel show that shows us parts of the world not commonly seen on travel TV, while highlighting local experiences that are integral to the places visited.
The host is David Farrier – a New Zealand journalist. You would maybe expect a personality like Chriss Angel to host a show like this. Instead David Farrier is mild-mannered, slightly awkward, and has a dry sense of humor – all qualities I find endearing in a virtual travel partner. I hope another season is on its way.
So there are my favorites. Comment below if you want to share yours.