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top gear carsTrekking through the Amazon, embarking from Canada as the first to drive to the magnetic North Pole, road tripping through Botswana and even riding through Chernobyl; it may sound like the best travel show you’ve never heard of, and that’s because it’s not a travel show at all — it’s Top Gear, a British program about cars.

The hosts — Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond — are car MacGyvers and automobile enthusiasts who drive and review virtually anything with wheels, along with the show’s anonymous racecar driver known only as the Stig. Airing in its current format for more than 10 years, the BBC show primarily features cars you could never dream of owning placed along the winding roads of drool-worthy backdrops such as the Amalfi Coast or the dunes of Abu Dhabi.

Clarkson could be considered the Anthony Bourdain of car shows (with May and Hammond just as cheeky) for those unfamiliar with the Top Gear concept. Their clever devil-may-care personalities, impressive knowledge and adventurous spirit lend themselves well to British banter and thrilling test drives, but even better to their globe-trotting (er, driving) episodes.

Though there may be other challenges peppered throughout, most seasons culminate with a special that inevitably flings the trio across the globe on a daunting journey in seemingly preposterous conditions. They make eating bugs or snakes with some remote tribe look like a cake walk. Typically armed with a tight budget and a ridiculous set of conditions, they forge ahead to find the source of the Nile or retrace the pilgrimage of the three wise men. In Bolivia, the motoring threesome bought second-hand off-road vehicles and navigated them to their mechanical limits across jungles and hair-raising hairpin turns on what’s known affectionately as Death Road. They then attempted a risky ascent into Chile across Guallatiri, an active volcano. This was thwarted by altitude sickness, but the footage they took was spectacular.

Slideshow: The Eight Best U.S. Road Trips

This season’s two-part finale (which has just aired) takes place in Myanmar (Burma), and the Top Gear camera crew was granted access to remote areas of the country — a first for any television crew. The challenge: to build a bridge over the River Kwai in Thailand and then drive across it. Along the way they gave viewers a first-time glimpse into the world of the Shan — an area of Myanmar larger than England and Wales combined with just one road built 150 years ago, no electricity, no hospitals and no planes overhead. Still in the midst of a 60-year-long civil war (the longest-running in the world), the Shan is unveiled as a lush, untouched stretch of otherworldly earth, with a reclusivity that gives it a mystique rarely found in today’s hyper-connected universe. Here’s a preview:



I was initially worried about making it through an hour-long British TV show about cars, but I’ve walked away each time laughing and actually learning something — not just about the coupes, convertibles and caravans, but about the countries the hosts drive them through. I’ve discovered that you don’t have to tune in to the Travel Channel to find travel; you can find it in the most unexpected places. For me, that sweet spot is Top Gear. Think of it as armchair travel with an engine.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

corpus christi bayfront hotel impossibleThink you’re a picky hotel guest? “Hotel Impossible” host Anthony Melchiorri will give you a run for your money.

The new show, which airs Monday nights at 10 p.m. ET on the Travel Channel, follows roughly the same formula as popular restaurant renovation shows like Gordon Ramsey’s “Kitchen Nightmares” on FOX and Food Network’s “Restaurant Impossible”: likable host swoops into failing establishment and uncovers all of the challenges holding it back from success — then attempts to turn it all around during a one-hour episode with a blend of tough love and humor.

Indeed, the recent episode we caught, featuring the Hotel Corpus Christi Bayfront in Corpus Christi, Texas, offered its fair share of laughs. After arriving at the hotel to find an unmanned check-in desk, Melchiorri took matters into his own hands — namely, a tree in the atrium that, when shaken, showered dust onto an already grungy carpet (“the only thing staying at this hotel is dirt!”). Other unpleasant discoveries were just around the corner during Melchiorri’s full inspection, including a head-scratching toilet paper shortage, dead roaches, a pigeon corpse by the rooftop pool and thousands of uninvited guests of the bacterial kind.

How to Find a Clean Hotel Room

Melchiorri also provided guidance to the hotel staff (after he finally found them), from the overwhelmed owner to a haphazard housekeeper who did such a poor job cleaning a toilet that Melchiorri asked her where he was expected to put his butt. All good stuff — but when Don Jones, the gentleman in charge of hotel marketing, announced his job title to be Intergalactic Ninja Sultan of Revenue Development, we knew for sure we’d be back for more episodes. You can catch some of the highlights from this one here.

Amid the comedy and gross-outs, interesting facts about the hotel industry do emerge. Did you know, for example, that hotels that offer room service generally charge more per night, and that by adding room service a property can expect to increase overall revenue by 10 percent? We also learned that a typical hotel allows 30 minutes per room for housecleaning; that’s a lot of manpower for a 199-room hotel.

Curious about how the hotel is faring post-intervention, we surfed over to TripAdvisor. Alas, the property’s reviews are still mixed, with a submission from just this week citing fruit flies and stains. But there’s a bright spot: Mr. Jones no longer appears to be identifying himself as a Ninja Sultan in his responses to guests.

5 Things You Should Never Do at a Hotel

– written by Melissa Paloti

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network.

the amazing race 17 teams castWho doesn’t love watching 22 stressed-out people racing (or sometimes simply bumbling) their way around the world? The drama returns this Sunday when “The Amazing Race,” our favorite travel reality show, kicks off its 17th season.

This year’s cast of 11 teams features a few intriguing pairings, such as beach volleyball partners, home shopping television hosts and a mom racing with the daughter she gave up for adoption 21 years ago. Of course, they’ll be accompanied by the usual young, attractive dating couples (including not one, but two blonde beauty queens!).

If you’re a fan of the show, don’t forget to stop by our Amazing Race message board each week for polls, discussions and speculation about each episode. You can weigh in with your early predictions about the teams on the Amazing Race 17 thread.

The 1.5-hour premiere of “The Amazing Race” airs this Sunday on CBS at 8:30 p.m. Eastern/7:30 p.m. Central.

–written by Sarah Schlichter