Is The Best Travel Show On TV Not On The Travel Channel?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Having little to do by way of physical activity post-turkey this Thanksgiving holiday, I decided to step away from the computer for a bit and flip on the TV. Like any good travel fan, I immediately found my way to the Travel Channel with the hopes of catching up on all the travel-related television programming that I normally miss out on due to my sole exposure to basic cable (read: TV antenna) back home.

However, I quickly found, there’s a limit to the amount of exposure one man can take of shows dating back to 1996 on the top ten fast food restaurants in America, the top ten train rides in the Canadian Rockies, or how to survive in Orlando on $40 a day. Where was the edgy, interesting, though-provoking programming I’d come to expect from queuing up Bourdain on Netflix? When did travel shows all of a sudden become solely about food (or the amount one can eat of it)? Why do I suddenly get a sense I’m watching a never-ending string of corporate training videos?

(Disclaimer: Travel Channel, if you’re reading this, please disregard this last paragraph. Actually, please disregard this entire post. Anyway, “Hi”, and, yes, thanks for asking, I am a huge fan and, yes, I would like to accept your offer for a 12-episode series featuring yours truly trekking around the world, offering up my insight, humor, and congeniality for the American public viewing audience. Yes, I did hear you are owned by the same company that owns the Food Network. Yes, I would be amendable to making guest appearances with Rachael Ray — I love her buoyancy — and, yes, I would stop bad-mouthing your network and sister stations in the public sphere.)

Anyway, I suddenly found myself straying into the upper reaches of the cable netherworld, and tuning into a weekend-long marathon of what, I am not afraid to announce to the world, what I came to discover as one of the best travel shows on TV right now — and it’s not what you’d think. The show in question is House Hunters International on HGTV.

It’s a simple premise really. The show usually involves a quite wealthy, younger to middle-age couple, usually newly married, oftentimes with young children, looking to pack up their bags and relocate, or to find a vacation home somewhere as pedestrian as Fiji or suburban Cape Town. What follows is a “Love Connection”-esque encounter with three potential suitors: houses in the couple’s price range (well, actually, usually ever-so-slightly above their price range — and real estate brokers don’t think we know their tricks).

We watch as the couple trudge about the house, oohing and ahhing about such things as laminate countertops or spacious “gardens” (that’s “yard” or “lawn” in non-American) which are almost always either “perfect for the kids to play in” or “not alot of space for the kids to play in.” Apparently, gardening, lawn darts and croquet are not big concerns for budding families.

After the three walk-throughs, the couple sits down in front of the camera for a congenial wrap-up of the pros and cons of each house — “I really liked how quiet the neighborhood was, but I’m not so sure about the beekeeper next door” or “The house has great light, but we would really need to do something about that mold problem in the nursery” We then finally break for commercial, then return for the reveal. We see which house was picked, followed-up by a before-and-after tour of the house post-furniture — and which usually almost always involves shots of the children on swings in the garden, surely a requirement in the contract.

Okay, so what makes this such a great travel show you ask? I have to say, it’s endlessly fascinating as an insight into the real world of a particular location. Think about it: what better way to get a sense of a culture or city than being welcomed into someone’s house (or, at least, the one they’re getting rid of)?

I find going into people’s homes endlessly fascinating when I travel. I like to see what kind of toilet handles people in that part of the world use. I love to see what peculiar addition to the house makes it unique to that country (a kumquat tree in the yard, or an Australian rain filtration system out back to water the lawn with). And who doesn’t love to see what kind of views one can expect living in, say, seaside El Salvador, or downtown Buenos Aires.

And this show covers serious terrain. Sit back for a couple hours and you’ll find yourself transported to such far-flung spots as Bangalore, Okinawa, Marrakesh, and Berlin. No trolley rides through Branson or profiles of fancy McDonald’s for this show. Come on, what traveler, wherever they go, doesn’t find themselves thinking, at least once, “I wonder what it would be like to live here?” Well, here’s your chance to find that out.

That is really where the show gets you. Not only do you get a peek at the inner-world of life somewhere else, but I guarantee you’ll find yourself picturing your own move there, mentally figuring out where your plant would get the best light in the veranda out back in your pied-à-terre in Melbourne, or where exactly you’re going to put the in-laws when they come to visit you in your three-story flat in Sorrento.

A truly moving experience: the essence of any good travel show.

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