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Around the World in 80 DVDs

As parents of small children, my wife and I were not surprised when our style of travelling changed.  Last summer’s trek to Salina, Kansas, for Aunt Clara’s 100th birthday party summed things up: Perfect travel moments like our Roman sunset on the Campidoglio had been replaced by a sightseeing tour through the hallways of an assisted living facility led by my 2-year old son, a connoisseur of the little ceramic dogs, cats, and Jayhawks occupants keep outside their doors.  La vie quotidienne, perhaps, but a perfect moment nonetheless (although it does help this grounded traveler to throw a little ornamental French in to describe it).  If, like us, the only foreign tongue you hear spoken these days are snippets of the exotic Gumballic family of languages, such as may be overheard on a transatlantic flight (seated next to a toddler attempting to chew 3 gumballs at the same time), the library has a number of great travel DVDs to remind you either how much fun you may have had in your glory days of international travel, or just how lucky you are to be safe on your couch with your kids tucked neatly in their own beds, instead of accompanying you on a 24-hour train ride to Ulan Bator.

No discussion of travel shows can begin without paying homage to the moneybelt-wearing monarch of the medium, Rick Steves, whose countless DVDs, books, and podcasts serve to inspire erstwhile travelers not least for imparting the idea that if a guy as nerdy as that can sit atop a travel guide empire, surely we, too, can manage to get around on the London Underground, or at least stumble into the local tourist information center, per his famous mantra: “First, find the local TI!”  All kidding aside, Rick Steves is a living legend deserving of his long-lived popularity, and his other mantra—that the benefits of travel extend not only to the traveler, but the entire planet—is well taken.

When we couldn’t bear to see Rick Steves bounce up anymore Renaissance stairs, our quest for a new travel guru began.  However, sampling DVDs of the other major players in the travel show industry, we became nostalgic for his efficient good cheer and charming blooper reels.  We travelled to South Africa  and Mexico  with the great Rudy Maxa, but somehow a tinge of hotdish hung over the trips, and his pronunciation of Spanish place names, although it sounded good to me, offended the ears of my wife, a former Spanish major.  A journey to Tierra del Fuego with jolly Joseph Rosendo seemed aimless, and it was so hard to tear him away from the international wine tasting festival in Hong Kong, we felt more like party bus riders than tourists in that great Asian city.

Then we found the Globe Trekker series, and after viewing several episodes hosted by Ian Wright, our Rick Steves travel memories faded like a pair of his own pleated khakis.  Ian Wright, with Cockney accent and energy to spare, hits most of the landmarks you would want to see in a place, but can be counted on to push the experience further: A headfirst dive into a frozen lake in Russia , a Mongolian marmot hunt, horseback riding among the giant Easter Island heads.  Wright balances buffoonery with a sense of wonder, making light of his own misadventures and cultural baggage, while respectfully expressing an outsider’s discomfort with local customs like imbibing fermented mare’s milk on the edge of the Gobi Desert, or the omnipresence of “ruddy awful-smelling” Sardinian ghost cheese.

I experienced a creeping sense of familiarity watching Ian Wright’s Globe Trekker episodes, until the moment when, as I watched him leap from the mast of a sailboat into the Mediterranean, I finally recognized my own toddler son in his exuberance and enthusiasm for all he saw.  Either that, or it was their shared need to locate the highest point wherever they happened to be, climb it, and jump off.  But it was also a good reminder that the daily journey of a 2-year old to the outskirts of his own tiny universe, though it may lack the glamor of a Parisian nightclub or windswept Saharan sunrise, makes the most entertaining travel show of all. - Dan Coleman, Collection Development

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