The Fourth of July marks one of the busiest travel times in the U.S., but our guide to the best travelogue shows means you can go on an escapade without leaving the comforts of your own home. Anthony Bourdain set the bar high for such jaunts with Parts Unknown, combining curiosity, empathy, and passion. While there are a few chef-driven efforts on our list, you'll also find actors roving through their ancestral homelands and a gangly talk show host balancing his great sense of humor with a growing sense of adventure. And, because these virtual voyages are of varying lengths, you'll still have time to get some fresh air and/or some barbecue, should you absolutely desire it.
Despite the title of their show, Men in Kilts hosts Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish are more often kitted out in cozy sweaters and wool pants as they journey through Scotland. But that doesn’t prevent them from fully embracing their homeland, exploring its history and cuisine with gusto. Sam and Graham drink in the gorgeous rolling hills and the lochs and the scotch, asking insightful questions in between feats of strength at an unofficial Highland Games tryout.
Men in Kilts may not be the most adventurous travelogue show; the Outlander co-stars could hardly be described as roughing it in Season 1, though they did pretend to sleep in a van together (possibly inspiring some Jamie and Dougal slash fiction along the way). But the lived-in chemistry between its hosts means it’s just as enjoyable to watch them make small talk on the road as it is to see them hoist boulders or do some impromptu skinnydipping. And it looks like Sam and Graham will have a chance to be bolder this August, as they set out to New Zealand for Season 2. Maybe they’ll wear the kilts on the walk to Mount Doom. — Danette Chavez
The romance of Italy is unmistakable in Bobby and Giada in Italy, which was released as part of the first wave of Discovery+ originals in January 2021. In the four-part series, Food Network personalities Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis gallivant across Rome and Tuscany soaking up culture, cooking traditional meals, and learning about the country's rich history. Though Bobby is certainly the more acclaimed of the two chefs, Giada plays host, guiding her American pal to the spots that dominated her childhood growing up in Rome. (Giada's mother is actress Veronica De Laurentiis, and her grandfather is Italian film producer Dino De Laurentiis.) Later, their move to the Tuscan countryside sees them go beyond the four Roman pastas as they learn about the specific ingredients and farming practices that make the region's food so distinct.
Like other food-focused travelogues, Bobby and Giada in Italy boasts plenty of close-ups of simmering sauces and fresh pasta, but the hosts themselves are the real draw. Their natural chemistry creates a sense of intimacy that will keep viewers hooked as they speculate about what went down after the cameras stopped rolling. — Claire Spellberg Lustig
Late night hasn’t been the same since Conan O’Brien left, and his travel series is yet another reminder of his unparalleled brilliance. As we eagerly await the release of his newest spinoff, Conan O’Brien Must Go, we can indulge in Conan Without Borders. These TBS specials take the tall ginger comedian to far-flung corners of the world, immersing him in a whirlwind of absurd and entertaining situations. From training to become a luchador in Mexico to renting a family in Japan, Conan’s escapades are consistently side-splitting. He’s also joined by a star-studded cast of travel buddies, including Steven Yeun, Sam Richardson, and even Michelle Obama.
But what sets the travelogue apart is its balance of laughter and substance. Amidst the hilarity, the series exposes the audience to a variety of cultures in a way that doesn’t feel exploitative. Locals are never treated as the butt of the joke — it’s always Conan. The host also ensures that important issues are treated with sensitivity, whether it’s speaking with refugees or visiting culturally significant sites. The show’s seamless blend of comedy, travel, and education make it a must-watch that will certainly leave viewers craving their own international adventure. — Dianna Shen
Samin Nosrat's 2017 cookbook about the four "cardinal directions" of cooking was adapted by Netflix into a four-part series that took Nosrat's philosophy out of the kitchen and across the world. The series explores the indulgent cheeses and olive oils of Italy, the salty soy sauces and miso of Japan, and the acids and spices of Mexico, before wrapping up in Nosrat's hometown of Berkeley, California.
Nosrat is a sparkling TV personality in addition to being a talented chef, and her endlessly curious take on global cuisine is inspirational. The series, directed by Caroline Suh and boasting acclaimed documentarian Alex Gibney among its executive producers, is a truly immersive and textural experience, from the thump of a parmesan wheel to the dripping olive presses to the sizzle on a perfectly seared short rib. It's hard to walk away from Salt Fat Acid Heat not wanting to take a trip abroad and see these food preparations in person. And then to take the lessons from the show and learn how to cook these meals yourself. — Joe Reid
The Wine Show is perhaps the most deceptively laid-back of all travelogues. After all, how taxing can it be to sip expensive vintages with a Goode friend and offer pithy assessments of their quality? As it turns out, very — Matthew Rhys told W Magazine in 2021 he and co-hosts Matthew Goode, James Purefoy, and Dominic West start throwing back the chenin blanc and burgundy at eight in the morning when filming. And they can’t lose their poise or elocution, no matter how many glasses renowned wine expert Joe Fattorini pours for them.
We’re not suggesting that we should feel bad for all these handsome men, roaming the countrysides of various European countries with each other, or that the quality dips between sips. The Wine Show remains breezy no matter how many sweet wines Rhys is forced to endure, or how many challenges Fattorini puts the hosts through. It’s even handled the rotating lineup of co-hosts with ease, never losing a step even if it loses a Matthew (or two) for a season. The results are rich and complex, and nearly as intoxicating as the wines themselves. And, with the recent cancellation of Perry Mason, there's no better way to cheer up Matthew Rhys. — Danette Chavez
It's a testament to the show and to the magnetism of Stanley Tucci as its star and tour guide that the grim realities of the world — Searching for Italy was filmed within the ebbs and flows of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions — don't detract from the appeal of this immersive and informative travelogue. Tucci's affinity for Italian culture, history, geography, and especially the food is palpable. But best of all is the way Tucci interacts with the people of his ancestral country. Speaking fluent Italian, Tucci banters about everything from San Marzano tomatoes to the indulgent pastries in Rome, to the point where it's less about Tucci guiding the audience on this tour and more the audience getting the privilege of casually observing Tucci on his Italian vacation.
The series is currently streaming on Max, though it debuted on CNN, which is why it at times can feel like a newsmagazine, with Tucci seeking out stories of economic strife and even violence that have beset some of these Italian communities. It's to Tucci's credit that he can blend a serious story about Romani cuisine inside their migrant settlements with the preparation of an indulgent zucchini pasta on the Amalfi Coast and make it all feel like the same experience. — Joe Reid
TOPICS: Conan Without Borders, Bobby and Giada in Italy, Men in Kilts: A Roadtrip with Sam and Graham, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, The Wine Show, Bobby Flay, Conan O'Brien, Dominic West, Giada De Laurentiis, Graham McTavish, James Purefoy, Matthew Goode, Matthew Rhys, Sam Heughan, Samin Nosrat