By Tanya DeBow
Some people are naturally homebodies, but there are some of us who persistently feel the need to be on the move, always itching for a change, needing to constantly be in new surroundings and soak in new experiences. This is often referred to as having the “travel bug” and for those of us infected with this mythological microbe, current events are making us clamor to find the right prescription for relief.
Travel writer Pico Iyer is quoted as having said, “Travel is like love, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.” We may not be able to physically travel anywhere remote, exotic, glamorous, or even just to the next town over at the moment, but that doesn’t mean we have to turn into stagnant zombies on our living room couches.
So put on your best pajamas, grab a drink and a bag of popcorn, and turn up the volume on any or all of these shows that will provide you with existential entertainment along with a taste of travel and let you vivre la vie de voyage albeit vicariously.
The Blue Planet (2001 – 8 episodes)
Watch on Hulu
Dive into a spectacular underwater nature documentary narrated by Sir David Attenborough. This breathtaking series took almost five years to make and included nearly 200 filming locations. As most of the ocean environment still remains a mystery, the production team had to overcome many challenges. Filming in the open ocean proved difficult, required the use of special submersibles, and over 400 days of filming produced no viable footage. After all was said and done, however, some new-to-us animal behaviors were exposed for the first time, the research resulted in a few new discoveries to science, and you can now explore the enigmatic unknown depths of the ocean from the comfort of your home.
Planet Earth (2006 – 11 episodes) & Planet Earth II (2016 – 6 episodes)
Watch on Amazon Prime or Hulu
Often considered an unofficial sequel to “The Blue Planet”, this award-winning series is also narrated by Sir David Attenborough, and is just as fascinating. Climbing out of the waters and showcasing various terrestrial habitats, each episode focuses on a specific environment and its native plants and animals. Otters in Southeast Asia, Tibetan foxes, leopards in Mumbai, Ethiopian ibex, monkeys in Jodhpur, and many, many others are featured along with magnificent vistas and stunning landscapes.
Our Planet (2019 – 8 episodes)
Watch on Netflix
Earth just can’t get enough Attenborough. This docuseries is also narrated by the dulcet-toned knight and takes armchair travelers from the North American prairies to the Arctic tundra and from the Central African deserts to the deepest of our Earth’s oceans. The series was created with two purposes: to celebrate the planet on which we live, and to be made aware of the interferences and threats that have violated its ecosystems. The message is sent and received via the program’s venerable awe and astonishing visuals. Be warned: this intriguing series may stoke your wanderlust fires and make you want to get out there to experience the wonders of our world, but this is as close as you’re probably going to be able to get for a while. The good news is that it’s pretty darn close to the real thing.
Tales By Light (2015-2018)
Watch on Netflix
This inspiring docuseries follows professional Australian and North American photographers and filmmakers as they journey around the world, delving into the lives of indigenous people from little-known places, or exploring the habitats of endangered species on land and in the ocean. They tell powerful stories of flora and fauna, mysterious cultures, global social issues, and the struggles of travel through their efforts to capture a single photograph that will speak to your soul. Experience the world in a new light through the lens of these experts.
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (2013-2018)
Watch on Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix
Over the course of 12 seasons, Anthony Bourdain travels the world showcasing various cultures and cuisines of lesser-known places such as Paraguay, Madagascar, Nigeria, and Sri Lanka. Some episodes feature American cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and Los Angeles, and some cover multiple areas of whole states such as New Mexico and Montana. Bourdain, often described as the “bad-boy” or “renegade” celebrity chef, provides a unique take on travel where he doesn’t just focus on food, but gives us insights to the cultures, the current political struggles, and the everyday experiences of the local inhabitants.
Lost Cities with Albert Lin (2019 – 6 episodes)
Watch on Amazon Prime or Vudu
Explorer and award-winning scientist Albert Lin searches for the world's most famous lost cities and unexcavated civilizations in this fascinating series produced by National Geographic. Buried Knights Templar caves in Israel, El Dorado in the jungles of Colombia, and ancient, forgotten island cities in Micronesia are a few of the legends featured. Archaeologists, historians, and other experts work with Lin to resurrect these mythological cities still hidden beneath the earth, learn the origins of the legends, and discover the current reality of those places. Utilizing high-tech equipment and with a knack for storytelling, Lin is on a mission to uncover and resolve mysteries at some of the most extraordinary sites of antiquity.
Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern (2006-2018)
Watch on Hulu or FoodNetwork
Chef and food writer Andrew Zimmern navigates around the world in pursuit of unusual native delicacies and surprising regional indulgences in an attempt to discover the most bizarre foods a location has to offer. Some of the places Zimmern features include Ecuador, Iceland, Australia, the Philippines and even Texas - because not all “bizarre” foods are found in remote exotic locations. With a strong sense of curiosity and evidently an even stronger digestive system, Zimmern provides colorful descriptions of the taste and texture of the foods he discovers, oftentimes including a short history of the dish as well. Unlike Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods does focus more on local cuisine than culture, but there are still great lessons to be learned from throwing away inhibitions and living in the moment.
Dark Tourist (2018 – 8 episodes)
Watch on Netflix
Significantly less mainstream than a traditional travelogue, the Dark Tourist docuseries takes a deep dive into lesser-known cultures and traditions around the world. From nuclear disaster sites like Fuskushima to a voodoo festival in Nigeria, smart storytelling and a different off-the-beaten-path approach to travel make this series stand out. New Zealand-based traveler and journalist David Farrier visits unusual and sometimes dangerous tourism spots in Asia, Europe, Africa, and more to pursue his fascination with all things macabre and morbid, and to investigate why the human psyche can often gravitate towards the grim, gritty, and gruesome.
Somebody Feed Phil (2018-present)
Watch on Netflix
Phil Rosenthal, producer/creator of Everybody Loves Raymond, exudes warm and fuzzy travel feels in this highly binge-able series that will take you to Cape Town, Venice, Saigon, and more. Phil’s upbeat and infectious energy can only serve to improve morale right about now, and his positive outlook rubs off on everyone he meets. He explores places, interviews people, and experiences local life with guileless child-like curiosity but by no means comes across as mindless or ineffectual. On the contrary, Phil’s engaging whimsy and quick wit keep the show entertaining and amusing, and often cause the viewer to wonder just what hijinks he will get up to in the next episode.
Jack Whitehall: Travels with My Father (2017-present)
Watch on Netflix
British stand-up comedian Jack Whitehall takes his father Michael on a journey where they experience a series of adventures, mishaps, and escapades from two very different perspectives. The freewheeling son and his straitlaced father create a dichotomous duo intent on strengthening their bond despite their differences. As they make their way across various continents and visit several countries, it’s the moments of blossoming connection between the two that make the show really worth watching.
Expedition Unknown (2015-present)
Watch on Hulu or The Discovery Channel
With a degree in archaeology and an obsession with legendary mysteries, host Josh Gates is passionately driven by curiosity and on a mission for answers. Expedition Unknown chronicles his global adventures as he searches for evidence and investigates lost cities, buried treasures, iconic unsolved events, and other puzzling stories. Armed with a quick wit and a thirst for action, Gates begins by interviewing key eyewitnesses and uncovering recent developments in the story before immersing himself in a detailed hands-on exploration. Whether he's trekking through the dangerously remote Siberian landscape in search of answers at Dyetlov Pass, diving in Namibia's Lake Otjikoto for WWI treasures, or traipsing across the English countryside looking for clues to verify if King Arthur of Camelot truly existed or not, each expedition leads him one step closer to the truth.
Carmen Sandiego (2019-present)
Watch on Netflix
This animated action-adventure series is quite the throwback for many GenXers. We got some of our first lessons in geography from the globetrotting, trenchcoat–wearing, mysterious master thief. Kids today, both in age and at heart, can now once again travel along with the title character as she navigates around the world in her Robin-Hoodesque capers thanks to the new Netflix reboot of the series. There is plenty of educational value here for everyone, as well as stellar animation and intriguing entertainment. A new interactive choose-your-own-adventure style show, called Carmen Sandiego: To Steal or Not to Steal, was also recently released on Netflix and provides endless diversion as you (and sure, the kids too) help Sandiego fight off V.I.L.E. – the Villains International League of Evil.