How I Travel: Anthony Bourdain

Any traveler who lives to eat (or foodie who loves to travel) knows Anthony Bourdain. Host of the Travel Channel show known for copious amounts of food porn, “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,” Tony is an opinionated author and former professional chef with a penchant for pork who delivers delicious doses of snark in every episode.

Over the course of six seasons and 100 episodes (the 100th episode aired September 6, 2010), we’ve watched Tony explore cultures around the world through food and drink and have fallen in love with his refreshing tell-it-like-it-is style. From referring to deep-dish pizza as “pizza for people who just aren’t fat enough,” to declaring that vegetarians are “the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit,”  it seems Tony’s got an opinion on everything, and he’s not afraid to share it. This week, he gave How I Travel a little piece of his mind…and we happily ate it up.

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Where have I been?

Three quarters of a million miles around the world since 2005. Which is to say, lots of places.

My first travel memory is the Queen Mary from New York to Cherbourg.

A long drive across France. I was about ten years old. The highlights were French comic books. Crusty French bread with Normandy butter, dipped in hot chocolate.

These are life changing experiences.

If you see how other people live – particularly when people who come from very different backgrounds, with very different belief systems are kind and hospitable to you, particularly when they have few means to do so – or their generosity comes at great cost. To be the recipient of random acts of kindness from strangers, to see how other people live, how hard their lives are…how different – and how similar.  To see a Saudi family behind closed doors…to get drunk with Vietnamese rice farmers…presumably expands one’s horizons and level of tolerance.

I have become, regrettably, over time, an elite traveler.

That doesn’t mean I don’t sleep on my share of insect infested jungle floors, or in cold tents in winter..or crummy bed and breakfasts, ludicrously dysfunctional “hotels” or longhouses. But these days, there’s generally a hot shower and a comfortable bed waiting for me somewhere within a few days travel.

William T. Vollman is an intimidating role model as both traveler and writer.

Non judgmental, accepting and absolutely fearless. He’s done everything from camping out alone on the frozen tundra above the Arctic circle, submersing himself in the low life of Thailand, hung with the mujahadeen in Afghanistan during the war against the Soviet Union.  Graham Greene, Norman Lewis, Somerset Maugham all made big impressions on me at a young age – making travel seem all the more romantic. I love novels that are set in faraway places -if the details are right – and if the setting is based on real life experience. Greene was particularly good at this, I think. Malcom Lowry. Paul Theroux is a great – if occasionally cranky- travel writer. I tend to like novels by former war correspondents or intelligence officers where they get the atmospherics of Beirut or Saigon right.

I choose locations based on books I read, movies I’ve seen, the recommendations of chef friends, idle bar room conversations…

If you meet someone who’s been living abroad and traveling for decades at the Heart of Darkness Bar in Phnom Penh and they tell you that Belem de Para is the most awesome place they’ve ever been – that’s worth making note of. Of course, my motivation is professional. I make travel television after all. But really? It’s all about me. The TV show is just an excuse. My network enables me to do what I always dreamed of doing. Often, I choose locations based on the “look” of a place – the notion that I can copy the cinematography of a film I loved – and return home having helped “make” something beautiful.

I’m a big believer in improvising and getting lost.

Given the demands of organizing a television show, we improvise to a surprising degree. I enjoy it. Famously, when confronted with a disappointing location, I prefer to quickly move to “Plan B” – even if there is no “Plan B”. It makes my crew very nervous – but some of the best scenes for our show – and the best times on the road, came from winging it at the last minute. Seeing something and saying, “fuck it…let’s just go there and see what happens.”

Research. It’s useful and polite to read up [on a place] as not doing so can lead to embarrassment.

Try giving the “A-okay” circled finger and thumb gesture in some parts of the world and see what happens.

I don’t carry a guidebook, but I’m a rather unique case.

I usually have a few novels set in whatever country, the CIA world Factbook, and a briefing packet.

Often, in fact very often, my itinerary has been constructed after consulting with local food bloggers.

They tend to know everything – and have a unique perspective on their culture that crosses boundaries and gets you away from the hotel concierge-style program.

My favorite destination to visit is…

Viet Nam? No. Spain? No. Italy? Japan? I love Saigon, Barcelona, San Sebastian, Venice, Rome, Tokyo, Osaka.

Next I’m going to Vienna.

For the pork.

How do I stay healthy and fit on the road?

I don’t.

If you miss the street food experience? You’ve missed everything.

Street food is the best of a country – and strangely, much safer for you than the spaghetti bolognese at the Hilton.

Drink. A lot. With everybody.

Be grateful and appreciative.

Don’t eat on the plane.

I generally knock myself out with Valium and try and sleep through the flight. Seems to work for my crew also.

The key to really get the feel of a place – hit the central food market early in the morning.

Gadgets I won’t travel without are: iPhone (with music downloaded) and Skype-enabled laptop.

One needs a playlist when alone atop a dune in the Empty Quarter.

Eat everything offered.

Pretend it’s Grandma offering – whatever it is that’s being offered.

I travel with a wheelie. Unfortunately, a backpack sends a bad message in a lot of the world.

Others who’ve come before you have sent a bad message.

I love Uruguay.

And Colombia is awesome. It gets a bad rap, but that’s a fantastic place to go these days.

If you handed me plane tickets to anywhere in the world, right now I’d go to Tokyo.

I’m in the mood for some sushi – and Tokyo is so fabulously confusing, challenging, exciting.

What I miss most when I’m away: My wife and daughter. And Mad Men.

The first place I eat when I get home is Katz’s Deli or Russ and Daughters.

The cheapest hotel or hostel I’ve ever stayed in was probably a horrifying combination “hotel” and brothel in Pailin, Cambodia.

You got what you paid for: fear and squalor. The nicest was Cambodia again. The Grand Hotel D’Angkor. Hotels in Asia tend to make ours look third world. Though the hotel I love most is the Chateau Marmont  in LA.

Medellin deserves to be more popular than it is.

Really. Also Cartagena. Montevideo. Beirut.

The most interesting character I’ve ever met on the road? Oh many. Usually characters in that netherworld of ex-military, ex-spies, expats who long ago have gone native.

You find them sprinkled around Southeast Asia and Latin America.

If everyone goes there, I’m automatically hostile to the idea of going myself.

That said – some things are just too good to miss. Angkor Wat. Macchu Pichu….the Hermitage Museum…and some places even hordes of tourists can’t kill. Like Rome..Venice…there are always strategies to avoid the madness and find the local places. (See earlier point: drink heavily with locals whenever possible.)

Who wouldn’t travel if they could?

I plan to keep traveling as long as they let me. As long as I can. And when they won’t? I’m thinking Italy.

Be sure to check out No Reservations on the Travel Channel, follow the show on Twitter, and pick up Tony’s books on Amazon. Special thanks to Jennifer Heigl of Daily Blender for facilitating our interview with Tony Bourdain.

Read more about foodie travel:

“How I Travel” is a new BootsnAll series publishing every Tuesday in an effort to look at the unique and diverse travel habits of some of the world’s most well known and proficient road warriors. Got ideas for who we should talk to? Drop us a note.

You’ll find links to all the “How I Travel” articles on the How I Travel archive page, you can become a fan of “How I Travel” on Facebook, and you can follow the @howitravel profile on Twitter to get updates as soon as new features in this series are published.

all photographs provided by the Travel Channel and may not be used without permission


Leave a Comment

Older comments on How I Travel: Anthony Bourdain

Cristina Dima
07 September 2010

OMG finally THE man I wanted to read about :) Way to go! :)

07 September 2010

love you ,and your books and show …. too bad your married…..

jim humberd
07 September 2010

See the thousands of pages, thousands of photos, and eleven books we wrote at BootsnAll created Web Site at

For both of us, especially for me, food is a means to an end, not an end in itself. We eat to travel, we don’t travel to eat. Hotels and restaurants are occasional tools of travel for us, never our destination.

In our nearly 6 months in France, I had an omelet in two places you might call a restaurant. We find that grocery store, and bakery clerks are thrilled to meet Americans, the waiter and bell hop are thrilled to get a tip.

If we have no schedule, we aren’t late.
If we don’t care where we are, we aren’t lost.
If we have no itinerary we’re exactly where we ought to be.
If we can’t see IT this trip, we’ll see IT next time.
In the RV our clothes are on a hanger. There are goodies in the refrigerator. We know who used the toilet last.
Our vacation is not a destination, it’s the Journey.
Turn here, explore there, relax and enjoy.
We have traveled 87,000 miles in an RV in nine trips, and spent over 600 nights in 28 European Countries, in our RV.

Anonim Bogdan
09 September 2010

I’m not a big, but a huge fan of you, Anthony. Great article.

09 September 2010

I love it that he sometimes picks a place by saying “fuck it, let’s go there!” Reminds me of someone else I know and love.

Don Halbert
12 September 2010

Sweet!!! Ever been to Costa Rica? I have a great Costa Rica news site here:

Pura vida!

Heather on her travels
19 September 2010

How do I travel? – Easyjet or Ryanair and the best hotel I can afford or blague a free night from.

Where I’m with you all the way – love South America, prefer to avoid tourist traps and crowds, a street-food stall with a queue is the best way to avoid tummy trouble.

Where we part company – I have to read the guide book if only to find out what are the must see bits I’m missing and I dodn’t do Valium or drink with strangers.

21 September 2010

Great article, love Anthony. I would definitely like to meet up with him in a dive bar somewhere and have a few beers and discuss travel!

Alicia Fernandez
22 September 2010

I love your show and as well as you I love to travel, travel to my native Uruguay, Montevideo wow love to have some asado and chorizo right now. Once again love your article and your show keep it up!!

Jaco Jordaan
13 October 2010

Great article, the details are well written.

Flavio Alvarenga
13 October 2010

Great site and stories! Have you been to New Zealand?

26 December 2010

Hey Tony, you are the bomb! Love your show, love to travel. Yes, Angkor Wat is getting touristy, but I LOVE it and all of Cambodia! Great country to visit. When I can’t travel myself because of work or other constraints, I travel vicariously with you! Thank you for helping me see the world!