Travel shows are both inspiring and downright cruel. On the one hand, these types of shows help you decide what kind of traveler you might be, or what types of adventures you might want to explore for yourself. On the other hand, when you see the spectacular wonders of the world on TV, it’s hard not to want to max out all your credit cards and run off to live the nomad’s life. So, let’s look at the best (and cruelest) shows that will get you packing your bags for the great and wild beyond.
To call Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown purely a ‘travel show’ is a little demeaning to the incredibly unique series he has crafted over the past three years. Parts Unknown doesn’t just show us some pretty scenery while the host eats weird food. Instead, Bourdain uses food as a unifier that starts a conversation on larger issues. Whether it’s the region’s political climate, cultural landscape, societal norms, or how singing in bars is some kind of universal hobby that should be avoided at all costs, food and travel are just the starting points.
About to premiere its eighth season, CNN’s Parts Unknown is the epitome of what travel is about. It’s what drives those of us afflicted with itchy feet to get out there and see the world; it’s the search for knowledge and understanding that keeps us looking and traveling. Bourdain’s experience and New York punk-rock confidence get him in the door. Once he’s there, his knack for getting people to open up over a meal helps his audience peel back the veneer of a culture and find something that connects.
Parts Unknown seasons one to seven are available on Netflix. Season eight airs on CNN from Sept 25 at 9pm.
If Anthony Bourdain is the punk rock traveler, then surely Eddie Huang of Huang’s World is the stoner hip-hop equivalent. Huang’s memoir, Fresh Off the Boat became the inspiration behind the ABC sitcom of the same name, but following season one, he has distanced himself from the show. Now under the wing of the Viceland network, Eddie Huang’s Huang’s World uses a similar concept as Bourdain by using food as a cultural equalizer but puts his own very unique spin on the idea.
For all his faux bravado and stoner culture facade, Eddie Huang is a really switched on guy. As a chef, his ability to recognize flavors and understand the deeper history and cultural significance of a region’s cuisine is his gift. Many times, the people he encounters appear genuinely surprised by how accurate his palate is. Whether a backwoods Jamaican barbecue street vendor or a high-end wine producer in Burgundy, the realization that Huang is the real deal when he gets what he’s being offered can’t be faked.
The show itself is a bit messy, and it reeks of Vice for all its good and bad aspects, but this is Eddie Huang in his element. He is a walking culture clash, so throw him in any situation, and he’s equal parts charming, funny, and profound.
Huang’s World season one is available on Viceland.
Up to Speed
Timothy “Speed” Levitch is a bit of an oddity. He’s an unusual creature whose passion for the quirky pieces of forgotten history oozes from his entire being. His style is probably best described by the man himself, in an anecdote told in episode one – a San Francisco ruffian stopped Speed in the street one day, looked him up and down and asked, “Why.” To which Speed replied, “why not?” That’s Speed.
In the Hulu Original directed by Richard Linklater, Up to Speed follows Speed taking a tour group around different cities across the U.S. On his travels, he reveals fun and fascinating historical facts about each location. He delivers these stories sometimes by talking to these lesser-known landmarks, and they, in turn, talk back. Because of course they do. It sounds a little kitschy, and it very much is, but it balances itself with enough dark and light moments, broader history, cultural context, and some personal stories that it doesn’t outstay its welcome. The worst part of this is that only six episodes were filmed.
Up to Speed season one is available on Hulu.
If you can get past some very shameless advertising, The Getaway has some genuinely worthwhile highlights. The Esquire Network series asks celebrities to take them to their favorite vacations spots for three days. We follow these celebrities around and see what they like doing on their downtime.
When the show isn’t trying to ever-so-subtly advertise at you through the celebrity mouthpiece of the week, there’s actually some fun to be found here. In particular, many of the episodes featuring comedians, like Aziz Ansari, Joel McHale, and brothers Seth and Josh Meyers, are thoroughly worth the watch.
The show is executive produced by Anthony Bourdain, but unfortunately, his influence doesn’t quite rub off. As for inspiring the wanderlust, however, The Getaway has got that in spades.
Limited episodes and clips are available to watch on the Esquire Network website.
Chef’s Table/The Mind of a Chef
No, these are not traditional travel shows, but they definitely deserve a mention. If Eddie Huang and Anthony Bourdain can introduce a country or culture to a broader audience through its food, then Chef’s Table and The Mind of a Chef introduce food through the lens of time and place. The focus is entirely on the chef in both of these shows, but by looking at where these chefs have come from and where they are today, their stories and the stories behind their dishes inspire just as much wanderlust as any other travel show. Who’s to say that a travel show must show the pretty scenery and oddball locals?
The strength of shows like these is that they allow the audience to peek behind the curtain. Episodes showcase chefs and professionals from around the world as they let us into their world. They take us on a personal adventure and almost always make us want to sell all our belongings for just a taste of that insane-looking food in that exotic location.