What Anthony Bourdain Taught Me About Traveling

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Impossibly hard to understand, explain or identify.

Those are not necessarily the words you use to describe something with the utmost appreciation but that was Anthony Bourdain’s choice compliment when describing countries he loves.


Some thing or some place that was inherently separate. Exotic. A divide that made you question what you know about the world.

And thus, see it’s beauty in a whole new, miraculous light.

Equal parts excited, starry-eyed, and uneasy, I would watch Anthony Bourdain first in No Reservations then later in Parts Unknown in wonder on his adventures to destinations around the world. 

Sometimes he was dog-sledding in a magical frozen tundra and other times sipping home-made whiskey stewed from the stomach of a deer mouse. 

He always approached the experience with an openness no matter the absurdity of the dish.

His level of appreciation for the unique taught me to leave judgments at the door when traveling.

His quick whit and snarky attitude taught me that you didn’t have to understand everything in order to appreciate or respect it.  

He advocated for following your senses and intuition to guide you.

He advocated for being while abroad not doing, not sticking to tourist hot spots in a jam packed day where you barely have a minute to actually notice what’s going on around you.

He advocated for slowing down and slipping into the pace of life in that country.

He traveled solo, he would meet strangers at a bar ordering a coffee or absinthe, he would meet with friends of friends for a trip through a market, or he would meet up with old friends who would show him around their country. 

This was a big part of what I was taught about traveling.

Growing up my parents took us places and showed us things, we spent one Canada Day on Victoria Island off the coast of Vancouver in tandem with a trip across the border to Seattle. We went back to the South every 2-3 years to visit my mom’s side.

One year we explored Charleston and the beaches of Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, the next Disney World, Epcot (my favorite!) and the beach town of Port Saint Lucie I remember trying alligator, I remember getting bitten my fire ants and thinking, “well that’s a sneaky threat”, I remember it being gorgeous and sunny before entering a restaurant and coming out to tropical thunderstorms, I remember seeing a tornado in the distance.

On my own I picked up that travel wasn’t about these really big sights or days lounging on a beach. Travel was about noticing the beautiful differences of life around the world – sometimes subtle and sometimes quite obvious.

Then watching Anthony Bourdain on screen, I was hooked. His fearlessness, his independence, his playfulness to go with the flow no matter what was thrown at him. 

He didn’t always have a great attitude and sometimes he made some mean spirited jokes, but I loved him even more for that.

Travel wasn’t supposed to be this picture perfect thing where everything was easy and nothing went wrong.

Life doesn’t even go like that… even in our own homes, how the hell can we expect to travel 1,000 miles to a strange country that speaks a different language and everything goes according to plan - that’s insane!

Goodness and here I am a travel consultant saying THINGS WILL GO WRONG ON YOUR TRIP. It’s supposed to. 

Or rather, things will go differently than planned.

There’s an old story with a recent adaptation that goes… There’s a man who wins the lottery, so be buys himself a house, and his family says, “wow that’s amazing that’s really good luck”. And the man says maybe. Then the man gets into an accident, and the family says wow that’s horrible! And the man responds, maybe. While in the hospital the man’s home on a cliff crashes into the sea during a big storm. His family says wow so lucky you were here, again the man says, maybe. And on and on it goes.

We don’t actually know in our limited understanding of the universe what is good and bad. In fact, there is no good or bad, it’s just our limited perceptions are often quick to categorize events as good or bad.

For example, my first week living in Paris in 2012 I got food poisoning at a really elegant restaurant in the 1st arrondissement – one of the nicest areas of Paris. “That’s horrible,” everyone said.

In my mind it didn’t feel that way, it just was. It was inconvenient at times in the days proceeding, certainly, but it wasn’t bad to me then.

Fast forward years later when I spent five months traveling through Central America and everyone kept asking aren’t you scared of getting food poisoning. I laughed. I wasn’t scared at all; if I could get food poisoning at a posh restaurant in Paris, I could get food poisoning anywhere and that wasn’t good enough reason to stop me from living my life!

At that moment I realized I was even grateful for the food poisoning experience in Paris.  

Maybe getting laid off is finally the push you need to start your dream business. Maybe breaking up with someone allows you to find the love of your life. 

After his death one year ago I felt compelled to re-watch a few episodes of No Reservations and Parts Unknown (although I hadn’t watched TV in years except in Spanish as apart of my grand plan to learn the language).

Of course I turned to No Reservations (his first show) and to Season 1, Episode 1 – Paris.

Within one minute of the show he criticizes travelers for judging people in other countries and worse, for allowing those judgments to impede your understanding of the world.

I got chills.

I was reminded again over a decade later of why I travel. Why I think it’s important… no, necessary, for us all to travel.

To get outside our comfort zones and experience other ways of living without judgment or criticism. So we can be world citizens and meet each other with compassion and peace.

In another episode, while dining with a Laotian man who during a routine day of work repairing homes, he knocked into a 30-year old bomb dropped by Americans during the Vietnam War.

The translator states, repeating the host, “Please eat, we eat together, don’t be shy.”

Anthony Bourdain responds, “This is something I’ve seen a fair amount of over time; acts of kindness and generosity from strangers who have no reason at all to be nice to me… and frankly, kicks the hell out of me.”

I get a lump in my throat. A mixture of a heavy heart for the damage that Americans have caused during periods of extreme greed, violence and ignorance, but also that the human spirit cannot be broken.

Human beings around the world are incredibly forgiving, kind, generous, good people.

If you have doubts, or slight reservations, do it any. Try the ant egg omelet. Go off the beaten path. Eat with locals in their homes.

Need guidance planning your trip? Figuring out what to do when you’re there, or hell, even where you should go! Book a one-on-one consultation call with me. Or hire me for full-service travel planning.


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Travel Lessons from Anthony Bourdain | Sapphire & Elm Travel
Travel Lessons from Anthony Bourdain | Sapphire & Elm Travel