Oh, to be gripped by wanderlust and yet be stuck at home because a certain pandemic has taken the whole planet hostage. What should one do? The answer: binge drinking on travel TV shows! In fact, travel television has never been better and more widely available. Or accessible. Thanks to streaming services, we can virtually send ourselves to almost any part of the planet with just a few clicks.
So if you’re desperate to pack your bags and hop on a plane, but are stuck at home instead, check this out.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner
After Anthony Bourdain tragically died, there was a little scuffle to fill the gap. Gordon Ramsay recently made an attempt, with sad results. The sad reality is that Bourdain cannot be replaced. Chef David Chang of Momofuku restaurants is another contender. He does admirable work on his two food-inspired travel shows on Netflix. In this one, Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner, Chang travels around the planet with a different celebrity in tow with each episode. Think of Kate McKinnon in Cambodia, Chrissy Teigen in Morocco, you get the idea. For most shows, the pairing of celebrity and destination makes no logical sense, which is something like shaking your head. Do we care what Kate McKinnon thinks about Cambodia, although she has never been there and knows little about the place? The only one who fits in well is Seth Rogen in his hometown Vancouver. All in all it is still a very worth seeing show.
Conan without borders
Conan O’Brien was to make a second career as a presenter of a travel TV show. This Netflix series was born out of the many field researches O’Brien did around the globe. And each episode is a hilarious escape from Conan’s silly antics. The host of the late show travels to Armenia, Cuba, Haiti, Korea, Mexico, Israel and Italy. In the final episode, Conan brings one of his producers, the smart, meticulous and Italian-obsessed Jordan Schlansky, along as a comic strip. And it works wonderfully. Since Conan has since done field research in Berlin, Greenland, Ghana, Japan and Australia, we hope there will be a second season.
Gaycation with Ellen Page
This is one of those shows where you stop and think: I can’t believe that nobody has ever done such a show before. Maybe because the political atmosphere in the United States and elsewhere was not right for such a show. Now it is. And the actress Ellen Page does a wonderful job as a host of a travel TV show, because she takes her good friend Ian Daniel with her on the trip. The show revolves around the globe while Page and Daniel explore the LGBTQ culture around the globe.
Originally a production of Lonely Planet, Globe Trekker has turned one or two generations from coach potatoes into world travelers. In 17 seasons, starting in 1994, the show has covered the entire planet with a cast of quasi-permanent presenters whose style is to look into the camera and address the viewer as if an old friend is advising us on what to do at certain destinations. For many who grew up with Globe Trekker, rotating presenters Ian Wright, Megan McCormick and Justine Shapiro felt like our travel companions. Longtime viewers may also recognize presenters Bradley Cooper and Padma Lakshmi before they became famous.
Jack Whitehall: Traveling with my father
A show about someone who travels with his father does not sound very promising. But then again, not all father-son duos are Jack Whitehhall and Michael Whitehall. The younger Whitehall is a comedian and his father is an agent and television producer. The older Whitehall is also quite a grouch. So his class clown of a son who takes him on a tour of Southeast Asia, as they do in season 1, makes for so much hilarity that this show becomes a lullaby of travel television.
Someone feeds Phil
You would be excused if you had never heard of Phil Rosenthal. He was a longtime producer of the show Everybody Loves Raymond. It turned out that his vocation might be in travel television. Somebody Feed Phil combines the global enthusiasm for everything food-related with the planetary passion for travel and takes viewers around the globe as Rosenthal eats his way through cities like Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), Mexico City, Bangkok, Dublin and New York City. The third season is currently in production.
The simply so called street food is not that simple. The Netflix show focuses its attention on Asia and delves deep into one city after another in each episode. The show takes you through the bustling food markets and street stalls of Seoul, Singapore, Delhi, Bangkok, Osaka, Japan and other Asian cities. Warning: It could make you very hungry.
Restaurants on the outskirts of the city
Netflix’s latest television show about food/travel is a kind of hybrid. Imagine Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares marries Chef’s Table and then both end up in a Throuple with Queer Eye. The result would be something like this show, where a chef, a restaurant owner and an interior designer show up in a troubled restaurant that happens to have an amazing view (read: possible tourist trap) and try to fix it by doing a complete remodel. The first season was recently set up on Netflix, and we hear whispers that a second season may be coming. Read our Q&A with the team behind Restaurants on the Edge.
Rick Steves’ Europe
Like Globe Trekker, Rick Steves is personally responsible for giving one or two generations a lifelong case of wanderlust. Steves feels like your nerdy neighbor next door who happens to have a serious passion for travel. He’s whip smart, knows a lot about European history and is hard to despise. More importantly, Steves’s show is something of a subtle political act: he has made many travel-loving Americans curious about travel and made it easier for them to travel abroad, even though they wouldn’t normally have done so. In this way, he hopefully broadened their horizons and stirred up fear of the rest of the world outside America’s borders.
The better of the two Netflix shows from chef David Chang, Ugly Delicious’ two seasons are worth watching. Rather than focusing on one destination per episode, as is the case with most travel-related shows, Chang only takes on one food theme at a time. For example, while he explores Viet Cajun cuisine, Chang hangs out in the kitchens of chefs in Houston and New Orleans. In the episode about curry, he floats through India with Aziz Ansari and cooks with Padma Lakshmi in her New York apartment. Ugly Delicious makes you hungry and travel, but it also deepens your knowledge about food and its origins and culture.