Whether it’s to research future trips or simply to travel vicariously on a rainy Sunday afternoon, I just love to watch travel TV shows.
Although I’ve tried, not even the most dedicated traveller can truly travel all the time. So whenever I’m having a rest from my globetrotting adventures, travel shows offer another way to channel my wanderlust and to travel vicariously.
Since there are so many shows to choose from, I’ve listed here several travel shows that I think are especially worthwhile.
1. Parts Unknown
Parts Unknown is easily my favorite travel show.
At first blush, it may seem to be a show about food, given that its host is a former chef. But for Bourdain, food is a conduit through which he connects with different cultures around the world.
It’s beautifully shot and produced, showing Anthony Bourdain and his crew at the top of their game. Bourdain created 12 seasons of the show before he tragically passed away in 2018.
I love the show’s scope and its willingness to change the format between episodes. Some take place in the relative familiarity of the USA or Western Europe, while others go to such wild places as Libya or the Congo. Some episodes are shot in a conventional style, while others emulate films or art styles relating to the destination.
If you’re looking for something truly great to binge, start here.
How to watch: in the US, buy seasons or episodes on YouTube, or you can find two seasons on Hulu or watch it on HBO Max. For some regions, it’s available on Amazon Prime Video.
I had never heard of this show until a Canadian traveler introduced it to me while backpacking in Nicaragua. I now love Departures.
It’s in many ways the opposite of the slickly-produced Parts Unknown. It feels more like a vlogging series, as it’s just two guys (and a friend as cameraman) going around the world with their backpacks. At every turn, it shows you just how much fun adventurous and low-budget travel can be.
The show has a fun dynamic, as one host is more intellectual and into the culture, while the other is a little more foolish and prefers to have drinks and play games. This helps keep things both interesting and light.
Something I like a lot is that Departures doesn’t just show the highlights of traveling. It also shows the process of getting there, and the serendipitous events that can lead to unexpected adventures. It feels totally unscripted and improvised, like a raw cut of what you might experience yourself if you set out to travel the world.
How to watch: available on Amazon Prime in some countries. Often airs on channels like Nat Geo or Travel Channel. All seasons of Departures are now also on YouTube.
3. Long Way Round
This one is many years old now, but it’s a timeless classic.
In Long Way Round, Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman decide on a lark to ride their motorbikes from London all the way around the world through Europe, Russia, Mongolia, crossing the Bering strait and through Canada and the US.
The best part: they hire a crew to follow them, resulting in arguably one of the best travelogues put on film.
The pair end up in some crazy situations, including being hosted by a mafia boss in Ukraine, who plays a song on his guitar before showing off his AK-47.
I’ve met many bikers on my journeys around the world who were inspired by this show. A later follow-up is called the Long Way Down, in which the two ride mostly through Africa and have even more crazy adventures.
In 2019, the duo made a third journey, driving on electric motorbikes from Patagonia in Argentina to California in the United States. Titled The Long Way Up, it was released on Apple TV+. I liked the third season a lot, though the first and second can be a little more fun, as the duo is still younger and less experienced.
How to watch: first two seasons available from Amazon as DVD and digitally for instant watch. Third season exclusively on Apple TV+.
4. Joanna Lumley’s travel shows
The British actor Joanna Lumley, known for starring in numerous films as well as the show Absolutely Fabulous, also happens to be a very prolific presenter of travel shows.
I didn’t know about her work until I finally saw Joanna Lumley’s Silk Road Adventure from 2018, which introduced me to her witty presenting style and the wonderful curiosity with which she approaches each travel destination.
Having grown up in India and having traveled often throughout her acting career, she brings a very interesting perspective. Her shows take the form of limited series documentaries focusing on a single destination or trip. Among them are titles such as Joanna Lumley’s Trans-Siberian Adventure, Joanna Lumley’s India, and Joanna Lumley’s Hidden Caribbean: Havana to Haiti. At a fine age of 75, she is still producing more series to come!
How to watch: on iTV in the UK, some series internationally on Netflix.
5. The Kindness Diaries
In the Kindness Diaries, former broker Leon Logothetis travels around the world on a vintage motorcycle. That may offer plenty of challenge in itself, but there’s another twist: for the entirety of the trip he must rely solely on the kindness of strangers for food, shelter, and fuel.
Cynics might cast him as some kind of freeloader, but the show is very much in good faith. Its premise forces Leon to barter and genuinely connect with everyone he meets. Along the way, he shows there is so much goodness and kindness in the world.
How to watch: available worldwide on Netflix
6. Bourdain’s other shows
I already mentioned Parts Unknown, which I think is Bourdain’s best work. But he also produced many other shows before it. If you’re up for a big binge, his earlier shows No Reservations, The Layover, and A Cook’s Tour are a great rabbit hole to go down.
They’re more focused on food and drink than Parts Unknown. Also, Bourdain’s personality during this time can be a bit more macho and abrasive (see: his lame rants against vegetarianism). Nevertheless, these shows will transport to places all around the world in a way only few shows can match. I like Bourdain’s unpretentiousness, eating street food in Asia one moment before white-cloth dining in France the next.
If you liked his newer work, think of No Reservations the less-refined prequel series that’s equally worth watching.
How to watch: No Reservations is on Amazon Prime
7. Ugly Delicious
In Ugly Delicious, chef David Chang trots the globe in search of the purest as well as most mutated forms of typical cuisines. While the show is about food in the superficial sense, it’s really also about the entire culture around food.
I mean, yes… the dude talks a lot about how tasty things are, but food is very much the lens through which he explores the world and its different people. This style and approach of Ugly Delicious is quite reminiscent of Anthony Bourdain’s shows. (I know, I keep banging on about Bourdain, but the man’s a legend.)
The show takes you to places all over the world. Along the way, it will give you a greater appreciation for how cultures mash together and how different (culinary) influences can intermingle. A brand new second season was just released in March 2020.
How to watch: available worldwide on Netflix
8. Simon Reeves’ BBC Shows
Adventurer Simon Reeves has produced a long list of documentaries for the BBC, usually released in the form of a miniseries covering a specific destination.
While Reeves is more of a gentle personality than you find in most travel TV shows, I often enjoy his low-key travelogues. Most recently, they have taken him to Russia, Burma, the Mediterranean, and in The Americas with Simon Reeve on a journey from Alaska to Costa Rica.
How to watch: ‘The Americas with Simon Reeve’ is on BBC iPlayer if you’re in the UK
P.S. This post proclaims these to be the ‘best’ travel TV shows (as this is just what people search for), but it’s of course quite subjective. Is there another travel show you’ve enjoyed? Then share your tip in the comments! And if these TV shows aren’t enough already, be sure to check out these best travel movies that will let you travel vicariously and inspire your wanderlust.
Some links may be affiliate links, meaning I may earn commission from products or services I recommend. For more, see site policies.
Leave a comment
Your email address will not be published. Comments are manually moderated.
Just tripped over this and I love the info. Well done! I’m a “young” active 65 year old looking to start traveling alone to places more intriguing than Paris or Rome( which I love ,but…)
Found Bourdain to be a bit too nihilistic for my taste.
I am a huge fan of your first three choices, and am happy you found “Departures”. While I am not sure about streaming, there are a few others that should not be missed. Top of that list would be the Michael Palin travel documentaries, especially “Around the World in 80 Days”, “Pole to Pole”, and “Himilaya”. If you want travel humor, “An Idiot Abroad” is very funny and goes to amazing places. If you want something few have heard of, “Travels to the Edge” is a terrific travel photography show.
I would also recommend YouTuber “Best ever food review show”, Vietnam based but does amazing quality content all over the world, budget to high-end food, street food and customs. Super interesting to get perspectives from small groups of people all over the world.
Another interesting show, from the vice network, is David Choes’ “Thumbs Up” he hitchhikes and sometimes jumps on a train like a hobo to get around the world. Completely different from all the other shows… Which is very interesting… The man is a millionaire after selling artwork to a new company called Facebook… I made about $20 million… Not bad for an artist ..Eddie Huang, another chef, travels around the world to taste different cultures… His first show is called “Fresh off the Boat“ and the other is, Huangs World “..He definitely dives deeper, sometimes talking about politics, history, while he wears some of the most ridiculous urban outfits bordering on plain ridiculous… But it’s funny, and he’s not afraid to challenge himself and the audience… And for a more backpacker friendly but very satisfying travel show is “Globe Trekker”..I’ll be at more main stream, it’s still a very interesting show that goes off the beaten path… With several different travelers, my favorites are Megan McCormick, and Ian Wright … It even features a younger Bradley Cooper before he got famous… no, as most people believe Anthony Bourdain committed suicide, that isn’t true at all, he was murdered… All you have to do is look at the evidence and understand what kind of situation he was… How he would poke fun at politicians… Like Hillary Clinton, and even had the nerve to insult Henry Kissinger… Of course Anthony Bourdain was right about both of them… Rest in peace Tony, he was more than just a TV show host, he was almost like a friend because I had so much in common with him…Music, his dirty humor and a raging drug habit… But this time I’m an artist, who loves to cook, and he’s a man who realized that the world is not as it seems… And he paid the highest price of all.
Long Way Down is the sequel to Long Way Round (they travel by bike across Africa) and is definitely worth a watch.
Some of my favourites are:
– Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern
– Rick Stein’s travel shows
– Street Food
I haven’t heard of Uggly Delcious before, but now keen to see what I’ve been missing out on
Nice tips! I’ve been watching Street Food too. You might like Ugly Delicious 🙂
This guys show’s are what can really be offered through the likes of youtube, completely unfiltered travelling brilliance!