Any traveler who lives to eat (or foodie who loves to travel) knows Anthony Bourdain. Host of a variety of food and travel shows on both the Travel Channel and CNN, Bourdain’s show “No Reservations” is known for copious amounts of food porn. Tony is an opinionated author and former professional chef with a penchant for pork who delivers delicious doses of snark in every episode.
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.
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.
“To see a Saudi family behind closed doors…to get drunk with Vietnamese rice farmers…presumably expands one’s horizons and level of tolerance.”
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.
On Choosing Destinations
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.
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
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…
Vietnam? No. Spain? No. Italy? Japan? I love Saigon, Barcelona, San Sebastian, Venice, Rome, Tokyo, Osaka.
Next I’m going to Vienna.
For the pork.
Tips for Travel
How do I stay healthy and fit on the road?
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.he key to really get the feel of a place – hit the central food market early in the morning.
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.
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.
If I Could Go Anywhere…
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.
The first place I eat when I get home is Katz’s Deli or Russ and Daughters.
Medellin deserves to be more popular than it is.
Really. Also Cartagena. Montevideo. Beirut.
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.)
The cheapest hotel or hostel I’ve ever stayed in was probably a horrifying combination “hotel” and brothel in Pailin, Cambodia.
“Hotels in Asia tend to make ours look third world.”
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.
The Most Interesting Character I’ve Ever Met on the Road?
Oh man..so 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.
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 Parts Unknown on CNN, No Reservations on the Travel Channel, follow Bourdain 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.
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All body photographs provided by the Travel Channel and may not be used without permission. Header photograph: Lwp Kommunikáció (flickr)