Travel TV Shows You Can’t Afford to Miss
When I’m not traveling, I spend a lot of time thinking about traveling, reading about it, researching destinations, planning itineraries for my next trip, and – thanks to Netflix – watching TV shows about Travel. Five TV shows in particular have had an enormous impact on how I travel, why I travel, and where I travel. The fact that they managed to do so while being very entertaining is a bonus.
1. Scam City
Scam City is my current favorite travel TV show. It is hosted by easy-on-the-eyes Irishman Conor Woodman, who travels all over the world to learn how tourists are preyed upon in different countries. He sets himself up to be the victim of a scam, then befriends the scammer(s) and talks to them, learning how they operate. As you might expect, there are pickpockets and prostitutes, but some of the scams are downright ingenious.
One scam that struck me as being particularly hard to detect was counterfeit currency in Buenos Aires. Cabbies pick up tourists, drive them to their destination, and then provide them with counterfeit change when they pay for their fare. Alternatively, they take the tourist’s money, pocket it, and show the customer a counterfeit bill, claiming that the counterfeit is the one they were given. Do you know foreign currency well enough to be able to spot a fake? I don’t think I could.
Scam City has 20 Episodes that take place in 17 countries. You can watch Scam City on Netflix streaming.
2. An Idiot Abroad
Wikipedia categorizes An Idiot Abroad as a “travel documentary/road trip comedy” series. While that may sound odd, it’s actually very accurate.
The “idiot” in the title is Karl Pilkington, a man who has no interest in travel and a tendency to speak aloud whatever thought enters his mind. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant send Karl off to exotic locations that he would never choose to visit on his own, and force him to take part in activities he would never consider.
Karl is not really an idiot so much as a person who speaks without thinking. For instance, when he went to Point Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point in the US, he mused aloud, “I dunno why we’re bothering to film this in color. There’s nothing to see here but snow.” Of the Great Wall of China, Karl said, “It’s not a great wall. It’s an alright wall. It’s the Alright Wall of China.”
I love this show for a couple of reasons. First, it’s absolutely hilarious. Second, it does something that other travel shows don’t do – it gives viewers a brutally honest look into how traveling is not just the picture perfect moments you see on Instagram and Pinterest. Karl Pilkington does not sugar coat anything. Rio is incredibly noisy, climbing Mt Fuji is difficult, whale watching can make you seasick. These are things that travelers need to know. It’s better to go in with realistic expectations and be delightfully surprised than to go in with high expectations and emerge disappointed.
There are 16 episodes of An Idiot Abroad, in which Karl visits at least 14 different countries. Each adventure is funnier than the last, so be sure to check it out, even if you aren’t the traveling type.
3. Bad Trips Abroad
Bad Trips Abroad sounds like something most people would rather not watch. But by listening to (and, hopefully, learning from) other people’s horror stories, we can avoid having the same misfortune befall us when we travel. These experiences include getting arrested, being in an accident, being robbed, and so on. These are the sorts of thing that we don’t really think about when we are planning our trips, but should.
There are 20 episodes of Bad Trips Abroad.
4. Anthony Bourdain: A Cook’s Tour or Parts Unknown
Pretty much all of Anthony Bourdain’s shows are must see television for foodies who love to travel. One of the current Netflix offerings, A Cook’s Tour, is his first shows, produced in 2002. The premise of the show is a simple one – travel the world and eat what the locals eat. In just one episode, I saw him eat fish eyes, tripe, and other exotic foods that I wouldn’t dare put in my mouth for fear of gagging. But he eats it all, declares it delicious, and moves on to the next destination to do it again. There are 35 episodes in A Cook’s Tour, highlighting the culinary delicacies of 17 countries.
By contrast, Parts Unknown is his most recent television show, and it has aired for nine seasons on CNN. Season 10 will premiere next month. The first nine seasons consist of 80 episodes that feature Bourdain traveling to 45 different countries… and even Antarctica. As its name implies, the show takes a look at lesser known destinations that typical tourists might not see when visiting a foreign country.
5. Planet Earth
Okay, technically, this isn’t a travel TV show. But it does such a beautiful job of showcasing the beauty of the world we live in that I felt it needed to be included as a show to watch for inspiration. There are so many wonderful, exotic destinations in the world… places we haven’t heard of before and couldn’t possibly imagine. Or, as David Attenborough says in the introduction, “A hundred years ago, there were one and a half billion people on Earth. Now, over six billion crowd our fragile planet. But even so, there are still places barely touched by humanity. This series will take you to the last wildernesses and show you the planet and its wildlife as you have never seen them before.”
One of my favorite scenes in the series centers around the mating habits of New Guinea’s birds of paradise. The birds are just fascinating, they way they strut and preen and try to attract a mate. But my favorite is the bird who tidies up his area before the lady-bird arrives. He picks up any stray debris with his beak and tosses it to the side. Amazing.
The segment on the endangered snow leopard – the world’s first ever video footage of the animal – was equally fascinating.
There are 11 episodes in Planet Earth Series 1, and six more in Series 2. All of them are nothing short of stunning. And be sure you watch the Planet Earth Diaries segment at the end of each episode, which shows how each episode was filmed. In most cases, it was a very ambitious undertaking!
Some other travel TV shows that are currently available on Netflix:
Departures – I only watched one episode of this. It’s about two young men, friends since high school, who decide to travel the world. In the episode I watched, they drove from one side of Canada to the other in an RV. It seemed to be more about their drunken exploits than about the places they were seeing. As such, it didn’t appeal to me very much. However, it ran for three seasons and won several Gemini awards (Canada’s version of the Emmy) , so maybe it’s worth watching.
Great World Hotels – That’s great as in expensive. I don’t really find the excesses of the rich and/or famous very entertaining. And I don’t like to make the place I sleep the most expensive part of a vacation. If you do, you might enjoy this one.
Luxury Travel Show – Highlighting exotic locations and sumptuous hotels, this show is somewhat less “in your face” extravagant than Great World Hotels.
Stephen Fry in America – British comedian Stephen Fry travels through all 50 states. It’s a great show because it gives a non-American’s view of America in a way that is amusing and fun to watch. Amazingly, he fits the entire USA into just six episodes. Which means that you don’t get an in-depth look at any one area. But it’s still an entertaining show, so worth a look.
Born to Explore – This is a very interesting show, as the host travels to destinations and really gets a good look at the local customs and people. For instance, in one episode, he goes to Morocco and learns the local trade of leather tanning. Each episode is about 20 minutes long, and there are 26 episodes total.
Wild China – This is a nature documentary consisting of six episodes. It features beautiful and expertly done cinematography. If you have an interest in travel to China and/or you enjoy the great outdoors,you would probably enjoy watching Wild China.
Rock the Park – This show highlights the beauty of the United States’ National Parks. Each episode is just 20 minutes, but gives you a glimpse of what each park offers visitors. There are 26 episodes in all.
Tales by Light – A travel TV show for photographers, each episode features an exotic location with a photographer who is attempting to capture it through a camera lens. It’s a very visually appealing show, and may also give you a few photography tips.
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