Since 2015, there’s been no need to go on a minibreak to a cultural European destination. Richard Ayoade and Joe Lycett have gone for us. They’ve waited at airport security lines displaying their miniature toothpaste tube in a clear plastic bag. They’ve bought mystery crisps from railway vending machines. They’ve been to the museums, tried the local delicacies and gone on the sightseeing tours, meaning we could stay luxuriously put.
Indeed, for a good chunk of 2020, staying put was the only option, which is when Travel Man: 48 Hours In…really came into its own. During lockdown, you could spin the globe, choose a location, load up All 4, and have a packed weekend there blasted into your face. All the experience of short haul travel with none of the having-to-mime-migraine-symptoms-to-a-Hungarian-pharmacist. Bliss!
Now Travel Man: 48 Hours In… is back for four new episodes, we salute the show’s most entertaining trips so far.
10. Hamburg with Bob Mortimer
Adding “…with Bob Mortimer” to anything makes it better. (Try it. The One Show… With Bob Mortimer. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire… With Bob Mortimer. Year 10 Parents’ Evening… With Bob Mortimer.) That’s definitely the case on this 48-hour stint in Hamburg, the high point of which has to be the visit to the German Food Additives Museum. It starts off niche, and just gets more niche from there as Mortimer encourages Ayoade to ingest out-of-date E numbers. A solid best-of list entry.
9. Amsterdam with Joe Lycett
Here’s the point at which Travel Man’s producers must have scribbled down the note ‘Joe Lycett – new host if Richard leaves?’ The two have more in common than you may think – they’re both sardonic clothes horses who run on irony – but while Ayoade’s persona leaves little room to express genuine delight, Lycett is a joy machine. We see it here when he’s confronted by a Dutch street organ that plays Wham. Immediately, he starts to jig, hands held aloft screaming “I feel so alive!”, while Ayoade nods along barely perceptibly. A strong audition for the main part.
8. Moscow with Greg Davies
Worthy of celebration solely for the local outfit Greg Davies wears at the traditional steam bath: a kind of toga worn with – as the Taskmaster describes it – a hat that makes him look like a sinister children’s character. Add to the outfit the ‘being whipped by two men using birch branches’ treatment that Davies volunteers to undergo, and we are entertained. See also: space food.
7. Split with Aisling Bea
This is Aisling Bea’s second time as a guest on the show and both are good fun, but this pips the other because it features what is officially the most adorable Travel Man sequence of all time: Bea and Joe Lycett walking extremely sweet rescue dogs from a local animal shelter along a dedicated dog beach. As Lycett puts it, “it’s the cutest day I’ve ever had and that’s saying a lot.” If a tiny puppy stand-up paddle-boarding doesn’t do it for you, then there’s also strudel-rolling, a fish cookery class, and a museum of frog taxidermy that genuinely makes you worry for humanity. Clearly mates who get on, these two are great company.
6. Copenhagen with Noel Fielding
The happiest Goth on Earth in the happiest place on Earth? That’s what you get with Noel Fielding in the Danish capital. The Mighty Boosh star giggles his way through open sandwiches, bakery windows, a beer museum and a tiny rollercoaster. They both love the fairground, and both appear to provoke genuine antipathy from their cycling tour leader Mike the Bike (he doesn’t like trouble), who makes every effort to ditch them mid-tour. The chemistry is good, the mood is… as relaxed as Richard Ayoade appears to get (key quote from Fielding: “I thought this was going to be a holiday, not one of your weird, anally retentive fright-fests.”) And they’ll always have Galoppen.
5. Berlin with Roisin Conaty
In which: they travel in a jazz lift, very much almost die on the road in what was voted the World’s Worst Car of 1975, improvise a blues jam session, and go to a bowling alley. Not a bowling alley but a kegelbahen, where Richard Ayoade appears to reveal genuine anger and a surprisingly intense competitive streak (plus a serviceable Daniel Day Lewis impersonation) when he refuses to leave until he gets a strike.
Comedian, writer and actor Roisin Conaty makes an excellent audience for Ayoade’s patter, awkward Kula Shaker jokes, and the break’s Cold War theme in general. He’s great, she’s great, and it just works.
4. Hong Kong with Jon Hamm
An extended-length Christmas special, this is a joy of an hour. Watch as the former star of Mad Men and the former host of The Crystal Maze take a ludicrously short journey in a Rolls Royce, have their portraits ripped out of paper by an artist named “Uncle Man”, and get a foot massage – or, as Ayoade describes it, “an onslaught of unparalleled brutality”. (Squirming and grimacing under the touch of his masseur and telling him to stay the heck away is as aggressive as you’ll see the man). The best bit? When they get measured for dandy bespoke suits with which they are clearly – and rightly – overjoyed.
3. Ibiza with Jessica Knappett
Companionable banter is all very well, but sometimes it’s fun to witness a clash of personalities so extreme you wonder if it’ll end in violence. And that clash isn’t just Ayoade (sardonic, reserved) vs Knappett (wahey-the-lads! ‘BEEFA), but Ayoade vs Ibiza itself. Put simply, the party island/hippy hangout is his nightmare, and this episode features genuine appeals to camera for rescue. From what? From a gong bath, a surfing machine, the hotel where Wham’s Club Tropicana video was filmed, and from a hotel manager who insists on taking them to a place “where membership is a smiling face.” Despite Knappett’s appeals for Ayoade to have an open mind and go with the flow, his mind remains resolutely closed and stressed, and it’s quite a lot of fun to watch.
2. Miami with Rhod Gilbert
There’s no personality clash here. Ayoade and Gilbert are like two complementary grape varieties blended into the same refreshingly dry wine. It’s a wine that you’d think would be too acerbic for Miami’s brand of relaxed Cuban cool, but you’d be wrong. Humidity aside, they both have a great time on the Florida coast. They eat crab meat lollipops that cause Ayoade to break out in a spontaneous smile, and which Gilbert describes as the most amazing meal he’s ever had in his life. They wear crab bibs, are rubbish at beach yoga, nervous of alligators, live it up at a domino game and sip drink thick, sweet coffee and freshly squeezed juice you feel like you can taste. A beautiful combination.
1. Vienna with Chris O’Dowd
The best Travel Man episodes are the ones where chemistry between host and guest really chimes, and here, it’s unimprovable. This trip to Vienna with his The IT Crowd co-star Chris O’Dowd is the happiest Richard Ayoade has ever looked on screen – possibly the happiest he’s ever been in life? Perhaps that’s down to the relief of not having been the one to have accidentally smashed a snow globe in Vienna’s national snow globe museum (O’Dowd is now banned from Austria). Or perhaps he’s just relaxed, having fun and enjoying making his pal laugh over partially fermented grape juice and cheesy sausage. They eat apple strudel, drive hotrods, explore the sewers and ride a Ferris wheel as part of a locations tour for The Third Man, and generally have a lovely, lovely time.
Milan with Morgana Robinson whose superior pasta-making skills leave Ayoade humiliated.
Iceland with Bill Bailey for boiling eggs in a geyser, the Icelandic punk jam and the hot tub hats.
Stockholm with Sally Phillips for Ayoade’s obvious discomfort and Phillips’ obvious joy at the ABBA museum.
Porto with Nish Kumar for Nish’s excitement about his religious wax buttocks.
Dubrovnik with Stephen Merchant for them going on the Game of Thrones locations tour without having seen Game of Thrones.
Travel Man: 48 Hours In… airs on Fridays at 8.30pm on Channel 4. All episodes are available to stream in the UK on All4.