Aug 07

The Travel Channel: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of TV Travel

by in Random Things Flung, Travel

Travel ChannelThe Travel Channel is many things, but first and foremost it is a source of entertainment, not the know-it-all authority on travel. While it exposes the idea of travel and the world to many who would otherwise be content to sit in their La-Z-Boy recliner it will only give you the inspiration to get there, not the resources to explore. Alas, that will be reserved for the likes of Lonely Planet and Frommers or a host of some experiences shared on your favorite travel blog.

However there are a few shows that seem to embody what travel is all about, while other shows are more of a vacation exploration and more even still I have yet to figure out why they are on the Travel Channel. Cable, being what it is, I’m sure some of these shows are validated by the ratings they bring in and not for sticking to the main topic of travel. Let us look at the good, the bad and the ugly side of travel as shown on the Travel Channel.

The Good

Anthony Bourdaine’s No Reservations – Who doesn’t like this guy? OK, well a lot of people, I’m sure Emerald would like to BAM! Anthony in the head but for those of us with a sardonic twist of humor, we love his commentary. You could say he is real, but what is really real anymore when the likes of Flavor Flav, dancing Kate (sans 8 ) and Eric Nies are all on the same plane of being famous (or brought back to fame for the former) for being ‘real’?

I digress, from my Bourdain’ish rant, that Anthony Bourdain depicts interactions and experiences that you or I could hope to come across if we simply hopped off the tourist bus and took a look around us to really see and experience the place we are visiting. He seems to get it, that travel is about the sites we see and the experiences we have in some distant land becoming, if only for a moment,  intertwined in the lives and stories of the locals.

Dhani Jones’ Dhani Tackles The Globe – You could chalk this up to a jock merely trying to show off his macho-ness around the globe but there is more to this show. First, on more or less an obvious but shallow scale, he’s Black –  if you watched the episode where he went to Senegal (which is in Africa) you would understand why this has such great importance. The connection to who he is and was forever linked to some far off land of spirits passed came rushing together in something that cannot be explained and I believe changed this man for life.

The world is so diverse and varied yet travel is depicted, dare I say it, white washed, that it is good to see someone different showing us their experiences across the world. Furthermore, Dhani really gets to know and interact with the locals training with them building a bond that reaches far beyond just making a good TV episode and that my friend makes a great TV show.

Zane Lamprey’s Three Sheets – Sure he goes around and gets tanked, yeah I know you don’t like it because, well you want that job. Don’t worry, you and me both in fact you could say this site is a bit Three Sheets-ish and we both share something greater than travel and alcohol combined – MONKEYS! Outside of those three awesome bits is the fact that Zane really gets in deep to explore where the drink comes from, how it is ingrained (hehe liquor – grain….get it….ahem) into their culture and sits down with the locals and lets them show him how it’s done. At the very least, this is a mirrored image of a few hostel goers you have encountered I’m sure of it, love it or hate it alcohol and travel are longtime bedfellows.

The Bad

Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods -I like Andrew Zimmern, not in a creepy stalker “we’re friends” kind of way but because he is a dork, I mean really dorky which goes hand in hand with travel and travel blogging. You can’t fake that kind of goofiness. Yet, just because I like the guy doesn’t mean I think he represents travel all that well. He is there to gross you out and he does it very well since he likes every rotted fermented blood and bile soaked thing he eats, grossing out even the locals. Andrew Zimmern depicts the other as an undeveloped uncivilized savage in his exploration of travel, that is the barbaric foreigner doesn’t have a working fridge and therefore eats these disgusting concoctions. Though often the locals are looking at him in horror as he eats some rare food that he had to go out of his way in search of for your viewing pleasure. I’m not saying that this is always the case, but the idea of it definitely sends the wrong message about travel, and will more likely deter someone from traveling because they can’t find anything edible in a certain country than inspire them to pack their bags and head out to explore wherever Andrew goes.

Those cultures that do eat such exotic items are merely served up here for entertainment and any historical/cultural significance is lost somewhere between Andrew’s teeth.

Ghost Adventurers – Is this even travel? Even if they are in some new and exciting location all I ever see is the night vision close up of Zak Bagans face in some basement. I’m not sure if this show is supposed to be scary or funny but it doesn’t really hit either. Not only that but they never catch anything except maybe a creaking door in the background and a shadow someone saw move off camera. I’d rather watch the Chow Down Count Down for the millionth time than another episode of this.

Samantha Brown – She used to be fun to watch, now I feel like I’m watching a Sex and the City travel spin off. Maybe it’s not her fault but the producers, either way after 10 years on the Travel Channel her way of traveling has certainly upgraded. If you can afford this lifestyle, sure there is nothing wrong with it, but for the rest of us who actually need to save to travel you won’t find us dropping a few hundred dollars at all the top shopping spots of every place we visit nor staying in a nice single suite hotel. That is unless the ‘S’ fell off the sign and we are staying at a very nice ‘ho tel’.

On the opposite side of things it is nice to see a women travel host, since this seems to be a very male dominated field. However I doubt she provides any real advice for your solo woman traveler, and thus seems to have its good and bad but still lands itself in the bad category. Sorry Sam, I still think you are adorable @(^_^)@

Here is a list of women travelers who you should follow.

The Ugly

Bert The Conqueror – To be honest, I’ve never seen the show and while I’d go out of my way to watch most of the shows in the Good category I can’t speak on the show itself other than it seems to be an attempt to grasp viewers by showing a big furry trembling man whimpering like a toddler. Although now that I say it like that I kind of want to check it out. If all else fails to reason this into the ugly category, simply look at that photo, pure terror is not sexy – but at least the Travel Channel has Samantha Brown.

Man V Food – Adam’s sex appeal can be debated another time because that is not the root of what I’m getting at but the pure gluttony as I become full just watching him chow down a steak 3 times the size of me. I wondered why he only visited restaurants in the  US until I realized that the rest of the world doesn’t boast its belly busters like the US. Throughout the rest of the world you are more likely to see a Kilogram restaurant, where you pay by the weight of your plate, instead of an all you can eat buffet.

Travel means something different to each and ever person depending on so many factors that what you or somebody else experienced before will never be more than a memory or the chasing of past experiences. That in itself could be reason why the Travel Channel doesn’t show real travel, because what is real at the time can never be replicated by anyone else no matter how many times they try to relive the experience they once saw on their TV screen. Yet, what does come across and what really makes people long to explore are the stories and impact that people share in their explorations of far away places to learn a little more about themselves.


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17 Responses to “The Travel Channel: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of TV Travel”

  1. From Paleo Diet:

    You rock. Thank a lot for taking the time. I’ll check back to read more and tell my friends about your site.

    Posted on 2013/04/28 at 1:03 pm #
  2. From Liza C.:

    I couldn’t agree more that Man vs. Food is “The Ugly”. It has nothing to do with travel, apart from the increasingly fat man moving from polyester booth to polyester booth. It’s depressing and I do not understand why they play it so often… I’m giving thought to the possibility the Travel Channel is preparing for a spin off, Man vs. Triple Bypass.
    I wish that they would play more shows about you know… traveling, and less about food, since there is already at least two channels for that.
    Give me beaches and margarita over watching an obese man stuff his “pie hole” any day.

    Posted on 2013/02/02 at 4:17 pm #
    • From Cornelius:

      Yeah, the Travel Channel is turning into the Food Network part II, and they play the same things so often.

      Posted on 2013/02/05 at 9:52 am #
  3. From Cornelius Aesop:

    True indeed, and while stopping at the two local places he gets to know the owners and customers which is always interesting to see.

    Posted on 2010/08/16 at 2:25 pm #
  4. From Emily at Maiden Voyage:

    You’re right–Samantha Brown just doesn’t do it for me anymore. But I LOVE Man vs. Food! It’s funny because that’s the exact type of show I normally hate–I think gluttony and competitive eating are disgusting. But he’s charming and funny, and something about the show captivates me. I like that in addition to doing a competitive thing, he also stops at two local places that just have great food.

    Posted on 2010/08/11 at 6:30 pm #
  5. From Cornelius Aesop:

    They should make more shoes like that, I'm sure it would get a well enough following.

    Posted on 2010/08/10 at 1:54 pm #
  6. From Cornelius Aesop:

    I'll have to check that out as well, so many shows to explore.

    Posted on 2010/08/10 at 1:53 pm #
  7. From Cornelius Aesop:

    I really need to look up this show, this many people talking about it has to mean it is pretty good.

    Posted on 2010/08/10 at 1:52 pm #
  8. From Gringoinquito:

    Check out Jet set zero tv.. Good show about living in other countries..

    Posted on 2010/08/08 at 11:45 pm #
  9. From Miles:

    Departures is a great show! It's just two young guys (plus an excellent cameraman) but avoids all of the cliches of travelling youth. These guys are engaging, open and guileless when it comes to sharing their experiences through thoughts and emotions. Highly recommended!

    Posted on 2010/08/08 at 11:41 pm #
  10. From Ayngelina:

    Departures is amazing! The cinematography cannot be beat, plus it's a Canadian show so you can't be it. Seriously, the beauty takes travel shows to a whole new level.

    Posted on 2010/08/08 at 11:33 pm #
  11. From Cornelius Aesop:

    Well hopefully a few more people will become interested in Three Sheets so that it becomes a permanent show on the Travel Channel, the world needs more three sheets – not enough monkeys on TV nowadays.

    Posted on 2010/08/08 at 8:35 pm #
  12. From Cornelius Aesop:

    Not even Bourdain? egasp! Well I highly recommend the three in the good category, and you could always watch them online. As for Frommers, definitely better of a travel guide than Travel channel 😉

    Posted on 2010/08/08 at 8:34 pm #
  13. From Keith Savage:

    Good round-up – can't say I disagree with anything. Including Three Sheets in the good category, while accurate, is a bit of loophole since the Travel channel only broadcast a few episodes for testing purposes.

    Posted on 2010/08/08 at 2:47 am #
  14. From CamelsAndChocolate:

    Interesting roundup. I previously worked for the TC (on the editorial side), but actually don't watch any of the shows (not even Bourdain!). I might have to check out some of the ones you recommend next time I'm in one place for awhile! And I definitely would like to see Departures that Dustin mentioned–sounds like much more my type of show than the usual stuff the Travel Channel airs.

    I now work for Frommer's, so glad you approve of our guides =)

    Posted on 2010/08/08 at 12:13 am #
  15. From Cornelius Aesop:

    Shows like that should be featured on the travel channel because anyone who has spent time traveling has likely discovered that it is often in the grit and grime that you tend to find some of the most amazing discoveries. Until then we are shown the inside of hotels with more stars then dollars we are willing/able to spend. Thanks for the tip, I'll have to check out the Departures.

    Posted on 2010/08/07 at 11:46 pm #
  16. From Dustin Main:

    While it doesn't air on the Travel Channel (to my knowledge), I highly recommend you track down the show Departures. It follows 2 friends on an rtw, traveling more the way we in the community travel, rather than the ritzy hotels and tourist traps.

    It played a role in kick-starting my rtw even…

    Posted on 2010/08/07 at 6:30 pm #

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