TELEVISION REVIEW / Channel-hopping between the travel shows

WHEN television packs its suitcases to go on holiday, the result is often a pyramid of aluminium flight cases - a nightmare of baggage-handling and a beacon to guide intrusive officials to their target. These days, of course, you can also stick a camcorder into an in-flight bag and wander around like a tourist - the offending equipment has become its own disguise. The result is backpack television, which may prove to be one of the more endearing novelties ushered in by the new technology. Last night offered a good opportunity to judge, in any case, with two camcorder-toting travel shows on different channels, and Video Diaries also going down with itchy feet.

The Big Trip (BBC 2) follows the trail of three groups of young travellers, not off the beaten track exactly, but certainly away from the six-lane highways laid down by the travel companies. The result is brash and exhilarating - something which captures the blend of endurance and excitement involved in all travel, but particularly so in youthful travel, when budgets are narrow and tolerance is broad. People get grumpy, hotel rooms disappoint, attractions turn out to be closed, but nothing can quite suppress the youthful greed for fresh experience.

They travel light, without a baggage of requirements or prepared observances, which makes them funny, apart from anything else - a wit that is assisted by the camcorder's inherent genius for the whispered aside. 'We should call the fashion police and get these monks sentenced to six months hard labour in a Gucci store,' muttered one boy, uneasily fingering the grubby trousers he was expected to wear before touring an ancient monastery; the line was funnier because of the beady-eyed presence of an extremely ancient monk.

They talk nonsense as well, naturally, but even that's endearing and true. 'Itsh the clearest, purest, happiest time of the day,' said one traveller, swaying on a Greek beach at sunrise after a night of clubbing. You couldn't tell whether this remark came before or after he threw up, but you knew what he meant. Really wicked was it, in that dawn, to be alive.

Lonely Planet (C4), a spin-off from the guide-books of the same name, is a bit more inventive in its use of the technology, going to double-speed for long bus journeys and cutting images together to capture the jazz and frazzle of touristic overload. But where The Big Trip is simply jubilant - the glee of being elsewhere - Lonely Planet is more obedient in its manner, more observant of the travelogue's conventional duty to impart knowledge - whether it be a smattering of local history or an insider tip. Paradoxically, though, because it's more explicit about its intention to get you out and about, it's never quite as stirring as the clueless youth of The Big Trip, travelling hopefully and never quite arriving.

Video Diaries: The Cuban Nipple Crisis (BBC 2) offered a slightly sourer excursion, the misadventures of Paul Harvey, a photographer attempting to shoot a topless calender in Cuba. I had better confess that I didn't care for Mr Harvey's company (there was something professionally blokeish about his manner), which may have made me less receptive to his creative agonies than I might otherwise have been.

It also struck me that the exasperation of the crew with Cuban prudishness was a little self-congratulatory. There was, admittedly, a certain comedy to the exactitude with which the minders calculated acceptable exposure (a third of a nipple was apparently consistent with Socialist values). But it takes two to create such negotiations. Which is more absurd - fussing over the fact that female nipples should not see the light of day, or bending over backwards to make sure they do?

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