I love both travel and good television. Put them together and it’s a feast for those afflicted with the wanderlust gene. Last year I wrote about my 15 favourite travel movies, which sparked some good discussion and debate. Hopefully this list of my top travel television shows will do the same.
So let’s get right to it! Here my top 10 travel shows (in no particular order):
I think this one makes almost every Top 10 list out there – Scott, Justin, and Andre have grown a cult following for their exceptionally well made travel doc. Over three seasons the guys explored the globe while struggling with personal and professional issues. They hit many locations you might expect (Bangkok, Tokyo, Rio) as well as many you might not (Ascension Island, Antarctica, Papua New Guinea). Andre is the genius behind the camera – his stunning visuals inspired me to become a better photographer (and take up videography). The chemistry between Scott and Justin is perfect. All this, and it’s a Canadian show, so that wins them 5 imaginary bonus points.
I had the pleasure of doing a podcast with Scott a couple of years ago – great guy, and I have no doubt that whatever these guys do in the future will be epic.
2/ Somebody Feed Phil
Oh, man – is there anyone out there with more enthusiasm than Phil Rosenthal? This guy obviously loves life, food and travel. His positivity and dry sense of humour work beautifully in this six episode series that currently airs on Netflix. He explores the food scene in Bangkok, Tel Aviv, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Lisbon, New Orleans, and Mexico City. The locations are only a part of the charm, though – Phil really makes this show what it is, and my only complaint is that there aren’t more episodes to enjoy. Can’t wait for season two!
3/ Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown
People either love Anthony Bourdain or they don’t. He has strong opinions, a bit of a swagger some people find arrogant, and he can be a bit too cool for school on occasion. Having said that I love almost everything he does. Parts Unknown in particular, is an excellent travel and food show. Gorgeous visuals, great food, interesting human interest stories, good historical background on the locations he visits – this show ticks all the boxes.
And for his flaws, I really like Tony. I think he’s open, he loves the food he covers, he’s not at all pretentious, and he makes no excuses. He can wax poetic about French cuisine in a 5-star restaurant one day and show just as much (if not more) enthusiasm for a bowl of noodles from a street vendor the next. He has demons (as we all do), an understated sense of adventure, and a willingness to drink his face off when culturally appropriate. My kind of show.
4/ Born to Explore
This show is beautifully shot, and many episodes feature locations, wildlife, and cultures you won’t see anywhere else. Much like the other shows in this list, though, Born to Explore succeeds because it has an engaging host who brings the world to life. Richard Wiese is the main man, and this guy is nothing short of amazing. Here’s a short snippet of his bio from the Born to Explore website:
“Richard has journeyed to all seven continents, tagging jaguars in the Yucatan jungles, leading expeditions to Australia’s Northern Territory and participating in the largest medical expedition ever conducted on Mt. Everest. He also achieved the first ascent of an unclimbed mountain in Alaska and discovered 29 new life forms on Africa’s Mt. Kilimanjaro.”
And oh yeah – he first climbed Kilimanjaro when he was eleven. Anyway, you get the idea. If there’s a place to explore on the globe, odds are that Richard’s been there and had tea with locals while doing it. Born to Explore first aired in 2011 and ran for 26 episodes; it’s won a bucket full of awards, including two daytime Emmys.
5/ An Idiot Abroad
The exact opposite of Richard Wiese is Karl Pilkington. Karl isn’t well travelled at all and has no real interest in exploration of any kind, but he’s pushed into it by his buddies Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant. He really does end up covering a lot of ground in the show, visiting China, Egypt, Peru, Brazil, Japan, Russia, and others on a show that brings whining to a special, elite level that even the most disillusioned malcontent can ever hope to attain. This is one of the funniest travel shows I’ve seen, and Karl plays his role of reluctant host beautifully.
6/ The Wonder List with Bill Weir
Another CNN production, this one features journalist and news anchor Bill Weir. The show features cities or countries going through significant change; it’s all about places at a crossroads, places in the midst of cultural, environmental, or political shifts. Seventeen episodes have aired to date, with more to come. Locations include Vanuatu, Bhutan, Madagascar, Galapagos, and many others. Weir is a pro, and this is a very well done travel show with outstanding visuals.
7/ Jack Whitehall: Travels With my Father
This is a Netflix original featuring UK comedian Jack Whitehall. The idea is that Jack, who never got to do a “gap year” when he was in his teens, decides to do one as an adult. The twist is that he manages to talk his father, a prim and proper curmudgeon in his seventies with absolutely no interest in travel, ethnic food, or different cultures to go with him. They explore Southeast Asia through six episodes in an Odd Couple-esque buddy series that has some great moments. There are a few scenes that seem just a bit too contrived, but overall this show is good for more than a few laughs.
8/ The Amazing Race
At this point I think most people know about The Amazing Race, so I won’t say too much about it, except that I am a Phil Keoghan fan and think the race does a good job showcasing different cities around the world. They don’t go too far off the beaten path, but it’s harmless international fun to scratch a bit of a travel itch now and then. The Canadian version, Amazing Race Canada, is also quite good.
9/ Travel Man
I’m going to be honest here and say I’ve only seen one episode of Travel Man, but I really enjoyed this quirky dude (nattily attired host Richard Ayoade) and the overall concept of the show. I’m quite excited to dig in and explore more episodes. Each show features Richard and a UK celebrity exploring one city for 48 hours.
10/ Word Travels – The Truth Behind the Byline
Word Travels is an older Canadian show that came out about ten years ago. It’s hosted by travel writers Julia Dimon and Robin Esrock. The idea is that they travel to different destinations, usually to write about their adventures, with each of them taking a different approach to the locations they visit. Travel writing isn’t always glamourous, and it can be hard work to get the job done in the face of challenges, culture shock, and the desire to explore instead of buckling down to do the work. It’s obvious both Julia and Robin love travel, and they are very good at their jobs.
I did a podcast with Robin a few years back where we talked about his career as a travel writer and some of the more interesting travel stories that he shares in his writing and speaking. He’s also the author of the Great Canadian Bucket List.
How about you? What are your favourites? Please feel free to join the conversation and comment below. Cheers!