5 Best (and worst) Travel Shows

When you’re not actually traveling, the second best thing is to watch a show about other people traveling. While alot of cheesy Samantha Brown episodes come to mind, there are tons of great shows about travel that are entertaining and informative. Here are my top 5 favorite and (just for fun) least favorite travel shows:

1. Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations/Parts Unknown. The snark, the adventures, the interesting places he gets to visit (and did I mention the snark?), make this a thoroughly entertaining option if you’re confined to a couch after having burned through all of your vacation days when going to work became unbearable.

One of my favorite episodes of No Reservations was when Bourdain visited Uzbekistan. He toured Tashkent and Samarkand, mingled with locals, and even attended an Uzebki wedding. It was quite entertaining, especially the hamam/massage scene.

I always enjoy his commentary and his unique experiences. I try to have the same go-with-the-tide mentality when traveling, though I draw the line when it comes to eating roadkill and getting tied into a human knot.

2. The Layover (Anthony Bourdain). Explores places to go and eat in a city within 24 to 48 hours. I was watching the Atlanta episode recently, while battling insomnia. As I’m gorging on tasteless vegetable chips, he’s downing crawfish and “the best burger in America” at a gastropub. Not fair!

3. Locked Up Abroad. So it explores the dark side of a city: It’s justice system and prisons. But the re-enactments (right before they get busted for smuggling a kilo of coke out of Peru) are actually very well done and give an idyllic picture of what a city looks like before it turns on you. It’s the only show where you’re rooting for the drug smugglers to make it through airport security without getting caught just this once; you tear up when they talk about how their friends got them into this mess while their families fought to get them out of it; you rejoice when they are released. It will test your capacity for compassion, if nothing else.

What’s blatantly apparent is that most of the people featured on this show end up in bad situations because of their lack of travel experience and knowledge. They all tell the same story: “Well they were offering me $5,000 to smuggle coke in exchange for a weekend in Bogota, and jeez I’ve always wanted to travel, so I said yes.” And when that gut feelings kicks in and they no longer want to play George Jung? “I’d never been outside the country, so I had no idea how to use a phone abroad to call for help…I didn’t know I could go to the embassy!” Lesson learned: Don’t smuggle hash out of Bangkok for $5,000 – not when the price of getting caught means the death penalty. Try travel hacking – you can still travel for next to nothing and you won’t risk your freedom to do so.

4. Globe Trekker. Everyone from Padma Lakshmi to Tyler Florence and even Bradley Cooper have had their run on this show. The show features too many sunset scenes for my taste, but it strikes a perfect balance between giving its hosts a fun tourist experience and educating viewers about the place of focus.

Megan McCormick was my favorite hostess, because her coverage of the Arab Gulf States opened up my eyes to a side of the Middle East I was oblivious to. You can catch clips of Globe Trekker episodes on Youtube.

5. Piers Morgan On…. I know what you’re thinking – Piers Morgan is a poor excuse for a journalist, a sub-par interviewer at best, and a super obnoxious a**hat. I agree. But his 9-episode profile of countries like Dubai and Monaco were surprisingly in-depth and provided a glimpse of not only the tourist perspective, but that of locals and expatriates as well. Just mute the television when he’s speaking and enjoy the aerial helicopter views of Monaco’s coast.

Worst

1. House Hunters International. These people already have their homes picked out and are just putting on a show (literally). My questions is, why? It’s not that interesting of a premise. A better premise would be to feature the lives of these expatriates. Have them show you the city from the perspective of a foreigner living abroad. I don’t care what staged process these people go through before they conveniently pick one out of three houses they visit. Does anyone else?

2. Samantha Brown Shows. Whether she’s going wine tasting by herself during a “weekend getaway” to Napa, taking a cruise to the mediterranean, or touring ancient cities of Europe – she inexplicably makes these spectacular experiences seem like a snoozefest. It might be her overly giddy personality. Maybe there’s something wrong with me because I can’t find excitement in a show about a disingenuous host exploring the world in such a structured, manufactured way while pretending to enjoy it.

3. $40 a day. I can’t help but think if Rachel Ray discovered the wonders of elite status, she’d work that into the show and knock the price down to $20. After all, for a woman who thinks soup  constitutes a “light dinner,” making a meal out of appetizers at the lounge shouldn’t be too difficult.

As pessimistic as I may seem, I couldn’t round off the worst list to 5. Are there any travel shows you enjoy or despise? Please share in the comment section.

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8 thoughts on “5 Best (and worst) Travel Shows

  1. I’ve never looked at House Hunters International as a “travel” show. But I agree with you….someone is buying a house/apt in a foreign country and they only look at 3 homes? That is crazy.

  2. A couple of my favorite travel shows:

    Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? — Yes, it’s a cartoon, but it was pure fun and quite educational as well. A great way to escape the drudgery of school and see and learn about other parts of the world. This was the show that made me want to travel.

    Wild On! (E! network) – Not the deepest show, it’s about traveling and partying around the world. I remember thinking that co-host Art Mann had the best job ever. He didn’t have to do any of the extreme sports stuff the main host did. He just got paired up with hot women, went to clubs and bars and got to be on TV (while being paid for this).

    Food Paradise – I wouldn’t clear my schedule for this, but it’s a fun show when nothing else good is on. Each episode focuses on one cuisine or dish, and they go the best restaurants in America that fit the theme. Unabashedly fanatic about junk food; just watching it makes you feel your arteries clogging up. Ha ha.

    Other notable shows:

    The Vice Guide to Travel – This one I have mixed feelings about. They go to the most dangerous places they can and cover shocking stuff. Think a cross between CNN’s Anderson Cooper and “Fight Club” novelist Chuck Palahniuk.

    • Loved Carmen San Diego as a kid! I have to check out Vice Guide some time. Sounds like an interesting concept.

  3. I love Locked Up Abroad (called Banged Up Abroad in Australia)! I have no sympathy for the drug smugglers who knew what they were doing and were in it for the money but I do feel sorry for the dummies who get conned or blackmailed into it and get caught. But the ones I really feel sorry for are the adventure/eco-tourists who get caught up in some political or guerrilla movement and are just in the wrong place at the wrong time like the Sipadan dive resort, Bwindi goriila trekking, the orchid hunters in Panama.

    The kind of show I hate are the overly glamorized ones where they have some supermodel in a bikini blathering on about a fancy resort and you know that in real life she wouldn’t even know how to get her bags off the carousel!

  4. “It’s the only show where you’re rooting for the drug smugglers …. It will test your capacity for compassion, if nothing else.”

    No, no it won’t. I have no compassion for idiots who think, “yeah sure, *I* can successfully smuggle drugs into / out of a foreign country where I know nothing.” It is NOT possible for anyone old enough to be traveling to NOT know it’s a stupid choice. And if you make a stupid choice, you SHOULD pay the price. And if that price is the death penalty… tough. Cleans the gene pool!

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