Dreams of travel and 9 to 5 jobs often go hand in hand. For most of us, the average work day leaves us with just enough energy to crash onto the couch and turn on Netflix.
If you’re waiting to travel, or even wanting to travel, you need some inspiration break out of your 9 to 5 rut to get started planning your journey. And what better way to get inspired to travel vicariously (besides this blog) than by indulging in travel television programming?
With about four years of waiting to travel while working under our belts, we’ve watched an embarrassing amount of television, especially of the travel variety. Here are 5 of the best travel TV shows that inspired us to keep pushing for our dreams of travel.
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown
No travel TV show list is complete without some mention of Anthony Bourdain. Parts Unknown takes a look at the culture and food of some of the less traveled places in the world, due to remoteness or proximity to danger. The series doesn’t shy away from the gritty aspects of life in these places, instead augmenting it with skillful, visually striking camera work.
Bourdain’s persona is a key selling point of the show; a mix of cavalier executive chef with hard-boiled bad boy. With his critically acclaimed culinary and media career, I would say he’s mostly entitled to the pretentious attitude, but sometimes it can be a little hard to swallow. Especially in the Quebec episode, where Bourdain and his hosts dine lavishly inside a tiny fishing shack on the middle of a frozen lake, indulging in the fanciest food possible and heaping portions of self-satisfied, bourgeois irony.
What makes it great?
Anthony Bourdain consistently delivers high quality travel programming, and Parts Unknown capitalizes on his talents by giving him material that no other mainstream travel program has yet to touch.
Best episodes: S1E1: Myanmar; S1E8: Congo
If you’ve ever seen Man vs. Wild, you can GTFO. Kidding! But really, Bear Grylls’ Man Vs. Wild is terribly sensationalist and staged, while encouraging a harmful, antagonistic attitude towards nature purely to entertain the dumbest common viewing denominator. This fact has not been lost on Les Stroud, survival expert, and star, cameraman, writer, director and producer, of Survivorman, the unofficial answer to Man vs. Wild.
In Survivorman, Stroud attempts survival in some of the most difficult and harrowing situations, all the while filming himself with multiple free-standing and handheld cameras. The show’s premise is the same each episode: Stroud, completely alone, with no shelter and barely any food or water, must survive for seven days until he can find a way back to civilization, or be rescued.
What makes it great?
Survivorman seems like it would be downright boring compared to Man vs. Wild, and the fact that it isn’t is all the more compelling. The unpredictability of each survival situation makes for a very wild ride. You become totally invested in Stroud’s survival as you experience each situation first hand, relishing his highs, feeling the pain of his lows, and being amazed at his grit and resourcefulness.
The series strives for complete authenticity. Each episode is based off a situation in which real people have had to survive, or have died trying, such as: lost in the wilds while mountain biking, stranded by plane crash or even ship wrecked on a deserted island.
If you enjoy outdoor activities like backpacking, bushwhacking or adventure travel, Survivorman is a must.
Best episodes: S1E9: Lost at Sea; S2E6: South Pacific
An Idiot Abroad
We all know someone who has no interest in the world outside their own sphere of existence, maybe even someone who finds a desire to travel incomprehensible and asks, “Why would you want to go there?” These types rarely venture far from home, so watching them experience world travel is, “one of the funniest, most expensive practical jokes… ever done.”
The original The Office series writers, directors and stars, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant apply their pointed sense of humor to this unlikely premise with An Idiot Abroad. The show features Gervais’s long time friend, Karl Pilkington, as the eponymous “Idiot,” who travels on itineraries of Gervais and Merchant’s choice.
What makes it great?
An Idiot Abroad is all the hilarity of a tourist out of their comfort zone, being forced to continuously experience “adventure.”
Though Karl never really grows to appreciate his adventures, his stubbornly unimpressed, first-world mindset produces quite a few observations that will make you question tourism and the experience of travel. An Idiot Abroad appeals to both travelers and comedy fans alike, but travelers especially will appreciate the realistic portrayal of world travel.
Best episodes: Liked them all. We recommend starting from the beginning to get a better sense of Karl’s journey (or lack thereof).
Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern
Where food takes a backseat to Anthony Bourdain’s character in Parts Unknown, it is the starring role in Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, a show that gets closer to letting the viewer experience the food than any travel show I’ve ever seen.
The show’s premise is simple: Zimmern travels to a- usually exotic- location and samples varieties of food, from street eats to high-end. Like Bourdain, Zimmern has a strong culinary background, but you wouldn’t know it because he’s so effortlessly likeable and entertaining to watch. No matter the dish, Zimmern tastes without hesitation and gives the viewer his personal, but honest opinion.
Andrew Zimmern gets a lot of flack for supposedly playing to the stereotype of bumbling Western tourist, and playing up the Fear Factor vibe by presenting foreign cuisines as “bizarre.” In my opinion, neither are fair assessments of what I consider to be a consistently great travel food show.
What makes it great?
Besides the truly stunning amount of food and cuisine it features, Bizarre Foods also stays true to the theme of travel as exploration. So often our perceptions of foreign places are simplified and represented by tiny slices of the whole culture. In each episode of Bizarre Foods, the featured dishes are so varied that any preconceived ideas you had about what a certain place or cuisine was like quickly go out the window.
Best episodes: S5E1: Thailand; S6E7: Kalahari
Especially for us, travel isn’t just about food and harrowing experiences, but seeing the beauty of the natural world and its inhabitants. I’ve seen my fair share of nature and wildlife programming, and the BBC Two’s Wild mini-series are some of the best nature productions I’ve ever watched.
The series makes its case for Indonesia being one of the most incredible natural environments on the planet. Evolution and the natural history of Indonesia’s 17,000 islands feature prominently throughout the series, as you watch ever stranger wildlife morph from Southeast Asia to Australia, right before your eyes.
If you want to get your mind blown by what the forces of nature and evolution are capable of, you need to stop reading this blog and watch Wild Indonesia now.
Best episodes: E2: The Mystery of Sulawesi
No other place comes close to the grandeur of Africa’s natural world. With almost all the major natural environments represented, and on a huge scale, Africa provides more than enough fantastically rich footage to fill six episodes. Amazing wildlife footage is shown against the backdrop of Africa’s natural history, providing an under explored perspective.
Best episodes: E6: Lakes and Rivers
What makes it great?
The Wild series were filmed about 15 years ago, and while the cinematography is by no means lacking, there’s a noticeable difference between Wild and some of the newer series like Life and even Planet Earth. Wild makes up for this with detailed and intimate footage that turns the survival and behavior of wildlife into a story you become invested in.
The Wild series captivates viewers by featuring wildlife so outlandish and unbelievable, I was upset I was just now finding out about them. It’s hard to believe that you could learn something about African wildlife since programming is so common it’s almost redundant, but Wild Africa manages to make its “Savannah” episode new and exciting.
That’s all for now! You should have enough travel programming to tie you over until it’s time to leave 🙂
Have you seen any of these series? What are your favorites? Let us know in the comments!