Five really important travel lessons I learned from Anthony Bourdain

Useful Tips By Louis Spencer JR |

I recognize that we’ll lose people in this life, and usually when it’s a celebrity, the news has an effect on us, but more in that way where we’re watching something happening to someone else, not experiencing it ourselves.

When Anthony Bourdain left this world though, it was different.

He was in our living rooms, taking us around the world, representing travel in its true form at a time when nearly all other shows on the subject were so obviously chasing commercial success at any cost.

In many ways, I feel like I traveled with Bourdain. Like he showed me some of the world.

So, this week I’d like to share a few of the greatest travel lessons I learned from a man whose storytelling will echo long past his years.

There really are no foreign places.

There’s a quote that reminds us that places aren’t foreign, rather it’s the traveler who is new there that’s foreign. It’s a thought process Bourdain carried with him and shared in his approach to travel. Travel is not about arriving somewhere, gawking at the people for how they do things and contrasting that with what you do differently—worse yet, thinking your way is somehow superior. No. Travel is about learning new people, understanding them, taking it all in and appreciating a place, a life, a lifestyle that’s not the same as your own. In Bourdain’s words:

“Travel is about the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown.”

Food means far more than sustenance.

One thing Bourdain did that went way beyond showing us the major landmarks of a place or the most popular places to see or be or photograph, he showed us the people who make each place what it is. He sat with them in their homes, at their tables. He ate their food, but not without stopping to understand why they make it, why they love it, what it means to them. He showed us that eating in a country is about more than just finding the place with the best reviews or checking one must-eat meal off of our bucket list. Eating in a country is about culture and flavor and life, it’s about appreciation and tolerance, and that’s a lesson I always carry with me. In Bourdain’s words:

“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”

Travel isn’t always pretty.

Travel, for all of its glamour and greatness, sometimes amounts to little more than a hot mess. There’s not a lot that’s glamourous about a 16-hour flight sandwiched in a middle seat between an armrest snatcher snoozing on your shoulder and someone who selected a window seat but insists on getting up for the restroom every hour. I wouldn’t call it pretty either to be stuck somewhere in China without any Mandarin banked in your brain and no wifi, having forgotten the card from the hotel with the address written in Chinese characters, and trying to figure out how to get back. There are times in travel that will try you. There were endless times in the episodes when Bourdain wasn’t met with the prettiest situations, but he dealt, adjusted and added it as part of his story. In Bourdain’s words:

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s OK. The journey changes you; it should change you…You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”

Travel is absolutely, 100%, necessary to life.

By now, anyone who’s read any of my words or seen any of my photos, knows that travel runs through my veins. It’s who I am. And that’s not just because I like being on vacation or because I like taking pretty pictures. It’s because I believe the world is our most beautiful gift. Not only does it awaken you to life and humanity, but it forces you to appreciate it in a way that nothing else can. It makes us more tolerant and understanding (at least it should). It makes us more grateful for what we have and what we have the fortune to witness as wanderers. It also makes us freer, even if only for as long as the vacation days last, because it gets us unstuck from monotony and same-sh*t-different-day syndrome. In Bourdain’s words:

“Without experimentation, a willingness to ask questions and try new things, we shall surely become static, repetitive, and moribund.”

The more you travel, the more you see how much is left to learn/see/eat/do/feel.

For some of us, maybe travel is about relaxation, family, escape, adventure, education, or fill-in-the-blank descriptor. But for all of us, travel is an enlightenment, whether we realize it right away or not. For me, travel is a reminder that I’m just one small girl in one small corner of the world, and there’s so much out there that I have no clue about. It makes me want to see more, do more, learn more, eat more, feel more. And a lot of that was inspired by what Bourdain showed us. His shows were where I saw what I haven’t seen and where I remembered that this travel thing is a lifelong mission I’ll be happily, and eternally, dedicated to. In Bourdain’s words:

“Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom…is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”

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