After two months of sheltering in place, the algorithms are working overtime to keep us entertained. I am not sure what message Netflix is sending me with such personalized picks as “Cooked With Cannabis” and “Waco,” but I do know that it’s time we took back the TV remote.
Instead of indulging in junk food fare, we should be bingeing on enriching shows that can transport us to different countries, cultures and experiences – think of your computer or TV screen as the wardrobe portal to a real Narnia. The networks and streaming services are jammed with travel programming, including the stalwarts on the Travel Channel and National Geographic, available on Disney Plus.
To help you find a title that matches your travel interests and aspirations, we asked seven travel writers to assemble a viewing guide organized by genre. Don’t feel guilty for cuing up several – or all – of these shows. Soon enough, when your streaming service asks, “Are you still watching?” you won’t be home to answer.
– Competitive travel
“The Amazing Race” (Hulu; from $5.99 per month andAmazon Prime; $12.99 per month). Over nearly 20 years and 31 seasons, 11 teams of two have been zigzagging the globe in hot pursuit of the finish line. To collect the prize money, they must overcome such challenges as consuming gag-inducing meats in Argentina and hoisting 50-pound wheels of cheese in Switzerland – on top of flight delays and their own personal dramas. – Andrea Sachs
“Travel Man” (Hulu). In this fast-paced and often funny series, English comedian Richard Ayoade tours cities in 48 hours with a famous sidekick. The pair hit tourist highlights and meet locals through such classes as chocolate-making in Brussels and elf history in Reykjavik. Ayoade plays the hard-to-impress crank but distributes wisecracks and factoids with the verve and cadence of a jazz drummer. – John Briley
– Food and drink
“Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” and “The Layover” (Rent or buy on Amazon Prime; episodes $2.99). Bourdain’s fearless and compassionate explorations of places large and small, famous and not, remind us of why we travel. Standout episodes include the late chef slurping noodles with President Barack Obama in Vietnam and returning to Provincetown, Massachusetts, the hometown where he got his culinary start. In “The Layover,” he races against the 24- or 48-hour clock in New York, Paris and Hong Kong, among other locales. – Helen Carefoot
“Gordon Ramsey: Uncharted” (Disney Plus; from $6.99 per month). The Michelin-starred and oft-bleeped British chef uncovers unique dishes, ingredients and preparations in such exotic locations as Peru’s Sacred Valley and Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. He then puts his knowledge to the test by competing against a well-known chef. A panel of judges featuring some of the farmers, foragers and families who helped him along the way decides the winning dish. – Dina Mishev
“Somebody Feed Phil” (Netflix; from $8.99 per month). Phil Rosenthal, best known as the creator of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” is like an unsupervised kid in a candy shop as he gleefully roams top culinary and cultural destinations. Somehow he can maintain a smile while stuffing his face with a foot-long Gatsby sandwich in Cape Town, South Africa, or rowing a Venetian gondola with a belly full of cicchetti, gelato and pork chop. – A.S.
“Ugly Delicious” and “Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner”(both on Netflix). Iconoclastic chef David Chang, of Momofuku fame, explores the historical, cultural and geographic significance of individual dishes, such as fried rice, tacos and curry. For example, in the pizza episode, he and his foodie pals travel to a half-dozen cities, shattering truths about the Platonic slice along the way. Chang flips the script in “Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner,” focusing on the food scene in one city. In each episode, he is accompanied by a celebrity pal, such as Vancouver native Seth Rogen, who introduces viewers to Ceph Rogen, his namesake octopus at the Vancouver Aquarium. – A.S.
“Salt Fat Acid Heat” (Netflix). In the companion series to her best-selling cookbook, Samin Nosrat sets out to understand the building blocks of flavor and how they figure in regional cuisines. Her quest leads her to farms in Northern Italy, salt mines in Japan and her home in Berkeley, California, where she prepares food with her mother and one of her first mentors at the legendary Chez Panisse. – H.C.
“Booze Traveler” (Travel Channel; cost varies by provider). Jack Maxwell, an erstwhile South Boston bartender, takes on the role of alcohol-fueled anthropologist in this show’s four seasons. With a Bourdain-like gift for chatting up strangers and a willingness to disregard the gross factor, he imbibes traditional drinks from the familiar to the extreme while exploring the cultures that made the cocktails popular. – Liza Weisstuch
“No Passport Required” (PBS, free; stream on PBS Living channel add-on for Amazon Prime or rent or buy episodes for $2.99 each). Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson takes viewers into the ethnic fabric of U.S. cities, focusing each episode on a cuisine and the immigrants who cook and serve it, such as Filipinos in Seattle and Ethiopians in the District. While the pace is slow, the show offers authentic glimpses into the immigrants’ lives. – J.B.
“Expedition Unknown” (Discovery, cost varies by provider; stream on Amazon Prime or Hulu). Indiana Jones meets TV true-crime solver in host Josh Gates, who combines a thirst for adventure with impressive journalistic skills and moments of genuine fear as he chases down historical mysteries on location – from Amelia Earhart’s fate to the site of Yamashita’s alleged treasure. – J.B.
“Globe Trekker” (Vudu; episodes $1.99) If there’s such a thing as a Travel 101 class, it’s this educational series that dates from 1994. In each episode, the magnetic hosts offer an overview of an area – from remote villages to major metro areas – and then veer off the beaten path and meet the locals. In one episode, a host could be sampling Cornish pasties in the United Kingdom, while in another, they’re drinking yak milk tea with a Kyrgyz tribe along the Silk Road in China. – Kate Silver
“Himalaya With Michael Palin” (Buy on Amazon Prime, episodes $1.99; and Vudu, episodes $1.99 ). “Monty Python” veteran Palin plays himself, a disheveled Western backpacker, as he explores high-altitude destinations, including Khyber Pass in Pakistanand Mount Everest base camp in Tibet Amid breathtaking big-peak scenery, he goes bull-racing with a Pakistani aristocrat, visits a street dentist in Peshawar and meets a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner who tells him that his chi is weak. – Melanie D.G. Kaplan
“Epic Trails” (Outside TV and BackpackingTV;both free). Eric Hanson, a congenial field guide, puts one hiking boot in front of the other on some of the world’s most spectacular trails, such as the 400-mile Jordan Trail, which runs from Umm Qais in the north to Aqaba in the south. Hanson is an ambling trekker, in the best way possible: He often stops to gaze at the wildlife, sample nature’s bounty and grin goofily at the magical scenery. – A.S.
– Animal travel
“Wild Things With Dominic Monaghan” (Rent or buy on Amazon Prime; episodes $3.99). British actor Monaghan’s enthusiasm and random facts about the world’s weirdest, biggest, smallest and most dangerous animals makes this show fun for families. While Monaghan, who is most famous for his roles in “Lord of the Rings” and “Lost,” heads to far-flung places like Madagascar, Palau and the Australian Outback in search of a specific species, such as aye-ayes,, expect to learn about every other animal he meets along the way. – D.M.
– Compassionate travel
“The Kindness Diaries” (Netflix). Leon Logothetis left the luxurious lifestyle of a London broker to bop around in a lemon yellow Volkswagen Beetle convertible, with no money, supplies or plans beyond relying on the kindness of others to advance his cause. (In the first season, his transport is a similarly colored motorbike.) On his road trip from Alaska to Argentina, he dispenses hugs to generous strangers, a currency that buys him shelter, food and friendship. – A.S.
“Tales by Light” (Netflix). In this Australian series, photographers and filmmakers take viewers behind the camera lens, illuminating the natural and cultural context around iconic images they capture. From free-diving with manta rays in Indonesia to connecting with impoverished children in Bangladesh, photographers capture beauty and vulnerability to bring greater awareness to global issues. – Erin E. Williams
– The underbelly of travel
“Scam City” (Amazon Prime). Irishman Conor Woodman uses hidden cameras to discover con artists in places like Las Vegas; Marrakesh, Morocco; and New Delhi. Whether he catches a pickpocket or snares a vendor who gave incorrect change, Woodman builds up scenes like a suspense movie and may have you convinced that travel is more sleazy than not. But even the moderately savvy traveler may wonder whether some of the incidents are staged and, ultimately, whether Woodman himself is trustworthy.- M.K.
“Dark Tourist” (Netflix). David Farrier, a New Zealander with the deadpan delivery of John Oliver, delves into tragic or discomfiting historical events, figures and practices in Japan, Europe and Latin America, among other locales. The show flits between dark (his Geiger counter goes berserk during a Fukushima radiation tour in Japan) and light (he eats cake with disciples of Santa Meurte in Mexico). Even during the tensest moments, he hangs onto his wits – and wit. – A.S.
– LGBTQ travel
“Gaycation” (Hulu). Exploring the world through a queer lens means addressing some difficult topics, which Ellen Page and Ian Daniel unpack thoughtfully. The duo dive into LGBTQ experiences around the globe, from a same-sex wedding in Japan to nightlife with a drag queen in Kyiv, Ukraine. In each location, the hosts have serious, sometimes somber, conversations with activists, journalists or politicians, including Ted Cruz in a bit that went viral. – M.K.
– Buddy travel
“Better Late Than Never” (NBC.com, free). The Golden Guys – actors Henry Winkler and William Shatner and retired athletes Terry Bradshaw and George Foreman – pack up their egos and eccentricities for a YOLO hurrah in Asia, Europe and Morocco. The quartet, plus comedian Jeff Dye, behave like a dysfunctional sitcom family as they partake in such antics as sleeping in a capsule hotel in Tokyo, appearing in a K-pop video in South Korea and donning giant papier-mache heads for Barcelona’s La Merce parade. – A.S.
“Departures” (YouTube, free). Scott Wilson and Justin Lukach have an uncanny ability to locate adult beverages, no matter how far-flung the destination. The 20-something friends head to some impressively remote spots, traveling with reindeer herders in Mongolia and pig-hunting with locals in the Cook Islands. At best, the series offers beautiful cinematography, youthful curiosity and unabashed frivolity; other times, when one of the hosts is scaring wild animals or brushing his teeth in a public water fountain, you might opt to stay home. – M.K.
“Jack Whitehall: Travels With My Father” (Netflix). The buddy movie conceit becomes a family affair in this series that follows the road-tripping capers of Jack, a Brit expat and L.A.-based comedian, and Michael, his very proper English father. Personalities clash, but familial love prevails on their escapades through Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia and the American Southwest. A strip club, Chernobyl and a rave-style beach party in Phuket are just a few of the stops on their madcap itinerary. – L.W.
– Sporty travel
“Dhani Tackles the Globe” (Travel Channel; stream on Apple TV). Eminently likable Dhani Jones, the up-for-anything former NFL linebacker explores countries and cultures through their most popular sport, from cycling in Italy to cricket in Jamaica and lucha libre wrestling in Mexico City. When not getting sport-specific tips from locals – Jones participates to varying degrees of success – he checks in with the country’s food, history, architecture and more. – D.M.
– Ocean and island travel
“The Voyager With Josh Garcia” (NBC.com, free). Cruises might be out of the question right now, but you can still visit ports of call around the world. Disembarking from a different ship each episode, Garcia explores cultures and cuisines at sites both well-trodden and far off the tourist trail. His relaxed, engaging conversations with locals are the highlight of the show. – E.W.
– Comedic travel
“Conan Without Borders” (Netflix). Conan O’Brien takes his late-night shtick on the road; the conspicuously tall American is occasionally political and generally hilarious, whether he is learning salsa in Cuba, taekwondo in Korea or Judaism in Israel. In each episode, he sprinkles in a pinch of history and culture, but his antics and shenanigans meant for late-night-aged audiences are far more memorable.. – M.K.
“An Idiot Abroad” (Rent or buy on Amazon Prime, episodes $2.99). Producers Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant whisk Karl Pilkington, the hapless British antihero, to bizarre misadventures, from being buried alive in Russia to competing in an ill-fated Mongolian wrestling tournament. While you laugh at Pilkington’s cluelessness, you can also experience such wonders as the Great Pyramid of Giza and swimming in the holy Ganges River. – E.W.
“The Moaning of Life” (Rent or buy on Amazon Prime; episodes $2.99). Marriage, happiness, identity and choosing to have children are just a few of life’s Big Questions that Pilkington, of “An Idiot Abroad,” raises upon turning 40. His globe-trotting search for answers proves to be an in-depth and enlightening cross-cultural study delivered with a hearty dose of British wit. – L.W.