What Will We Want When We Can Travel Again? - The Atlantic

What Will We Want When We Can Travel Again? - The Atlantic

Men in Kilts is a travel show that takes the Tucci model and doubles down. You don’t need to have seen Outlander, Starz’s fantastical time-traveling Scottish romance, to appreciate the charm of two of its actors, Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish. Indeed, Heughan’s pulchritude is so striking that the strangers he encounters during the series—from bagpipers to an auld grizzled fishing-boat captain—regularly seem dumbstruck. The concept of Men in Kilts is simple: Imagine The Trip, the Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon comedic travelogue franchise, but without the acerbic repartee. Instead, Heughan and McTavish, both Scottish, drive a camper van through parts of their native country and peaceably banter, in a series that radiates both bonhomie and fan service.

Once, Men in Kilts might have felt like a simple spin-off, the standard stuff of cross-promotional series. (Norman Reedus, who stars in AMC’s The Walking Dead, has a motorcycle-themed travel show, also on AMC, that effuses worn leather and performative masculinity.) Now it resonates at a different frequency. As Heughan and McTavish traverse Scotland in their hermetic van, what’s most mesmerizing is how few people they encounter. Drone footage captures mile after mile of billowing scenery, with an unthinkable abundance of stone ruins and purple-heather hills woven into the backdrop. The two actors bike, fish, dig for peat, and rappel; 99 percent of the time, they’re outside. It is the perfect post-pandemic TV travelogue.

To me, Men in Kilts has a visceral appeal that’s distinct from its hosts, as delightfully squabbly and equipped with double entendres as they are. It offers, quite simply, an escape from others, without an escape from companionship. McTavish and Heughan help cook langoustines and lobster on a makeshift fireplace; they skinny-dip in the frigid Atlantic Ocean, with not a single bystander. Even when they visit a distillery near Loch Laphroaig, the windows are conspicuously always open, to ventilate the malt with the cool sea air. They golf. They throw hammers. They do all this while, like Tucci, bringing their best sartorial game, dressed in waxed jackets and cashmere turtlenecks and faded tweed. Watching the show, after a year in a New York City apartment, I had a profound longing for the space and sky and air in virtually every scene—for landscapes that signal the endurance of humanity but are comfortingly devoid of humans.

The pleasure of watching Men in Kilts, and the slightly more weighted escapism of Searching for Italy, made me think about what travel will look like after the pandemic, and how the yearning to steep yourself in a different locale can survive the immediate future of face masks and isolation. To be optimistic is to assume that everything might reasonably soon return to “normal,” complete with the ability to crowd into a gelateria or join a teeming throng of human bodies taking selfies by the Fontana di Trevi without wincing. But will the impulse to tick destinations off predictable bucket lists be traded for a more intentional kind of exploration, and connection?