Anthony Bourdain was a lot of things. He was a father, a chef, a writer, and a martial artist. He was also a traveler—as avid as they come. From the moment Bourdain burst into the limelight following the release of his eye-opening 2000 memoir Kitchen Confidential, he was on the road. His travel schedule only got busier when he dove into television as the host of award-winning programs like A Cook’s Tour, No Reservations, and Parts Unknown.
Bourdain tragically took his own life in 2018. By the time he left us, he’d visited dozens of countries—many of them multiple times. Based on that experience alone, it’s really no surprise that he had plenty of valuable travel-related wisdom to impart. And because he was a writer, he had a knack for sharing that wisdom in matter-of-fact, highly quotable terms.
Bourdain’s name has been back in the headlines lately thanks to Roadrunner, a new documentary celebrating his life, as well the new book World Travel: An Irreverent Guide, co-authored by his longtime colleague Laurie Woolever. Those releases have introduced Bourdain to a whole new crop of fans—and are further proof that his unique worldview continues to inspire today.
Keep reading for a few pieces of expert travel advice from the late, great traveler, sourced from his television shows, his books, and his past interviews—including several with Men’s Journal.
1. Get Off the Couch and Go
Perhaps the best piece of travel advice Bourdain ever shared was his encouragement to just do it. It’s one thing to daydream about traveling and another entirely to save up, plan a trip, board a plane, and jet off into the unknown. Bourdain recognized that—but encouraged people to get up and go all the same.
“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move—as far as you can, as much as you can,” the late chef said on Parts Unknown. “Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody. Open your mind, get up off the couch, move.”
Bourdain admitted to struggling with motivation himself on occasion, but he worked hard to stay open to the world around him.
“Look, I understand that inside me there is a greedy, gluttonous, lazy hippie,” he told Men’s Journal in 2014. “There’s a guy inside me who wants to lay in bed, and smoke weed all day, and watch cartoons, and old movies. I could easily do that. My whole life is a series of stratagems to avoid, and outwit, that guy.”
2. Choose Novels Over Guidebooks
Bourdain was a ravenous reader from an early age. He devoured classics like Heart of Darkness and the French comic book series The Adventures of Tintin long before he ever achieved his fame.
Literature had a major effect on the way he traveled, and instead of consulting guidebooks, he encouraged his admirers to seek out novels about the places they planned to visit—such as reading The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles before visiting North Africa or Graham Greene’s The Quiet American before a trip to Vietnam.
“Read up; but not the guidebooks,” he told Shermans Travel in 2013. “Read novels by people who spent a long period of time at the street level there: Ex-intelligence officers, NGO workers. It doesn’t matter how old the book is, it’ll give you a sense of how a place smells, feels, the little intricacies, annoyances, and delights of a place.”
3. Pack Smart
Bourdain traveled a lot, so it’s no surprise that he had packing down to a science. The intricacies of packing obviously vary from person to person and trip to trip, but the beloved chef had a few pieces of overarching advice. First and foremost, he preferred suitcases to backpacks (sorry, backpackers), and he had a particular fondness for the luggage brand Tumi.
“I don’t like having to worry about taking it easy on luggage when I’m throwing it in an overhead bin or tossing it on the tarmac,” he told Men’s Journal in January 2018. “So I travel with a piece of near-bulletproof Tumi luggage, which can take a beating and fits absolutely everything I need. Not to mention if shit goes down, I can hide behind it. And Tumi has a good repair policy if you do damage it.”
In that interview and others like it, Bourdain also shed light on the items he never travels without. Highlights include Moleskine notebooks for writing, sunglasses, a pair of desert boots, a workhorse knife, and several first-aid essentials.
4. Arrive Hungry
It’s no secret that Anthony Bourdain liked food—but he wasn’t a fan of all food. The grub served on airplanes, in particular, tended to spark his ire. In fact, he recommended avoiding it altogether, choosing instead to save his stomach for the delicious fare awaiting him on the ground.
“No one has ever felt better after eating plane food,” Bourdain told Bon Appetit in 2016. “I think people only eat it because they’re bored. I don’t eat on planes. I like to arrive hungry.”
Of course, the prospect of starving oneself on a long flight—say, the 19-hour haul from New York City to Singapore—isn’t exactly appealing. In such situations, Bourdain would cave and order food, but only specific items.
“For a super-long flight, I’d order cheese and shit load of port,” he said. “I’d eat some cheese and drink myself stupid.”
As for bringing your own food on the plane? Maybe think twice—unless “you want to be the most despised person in the cabin,” he cautioned.
5. Eat and Drink with The Locals
Whether you order food on the plane or not, the real culinary adventure begins when you arrive at your destination. At that point, Bourdain recommended complete open-mindedness—not just when it comes to eating new things, but also eating with new people. He applied the same open-minded approach to drinking with locals as well.
“To see a Saudi family behind closed doors, to get drunk with Vietnamese rice farmers,” he told BootsnAll, “expands one’s horizons and level of tolerance.”
Just be careful when the drinks start flowing in Russia, he cautioned in his 2001 book, A Cook’s Tour.
“They’re professionals at this in Russia, so no matter how many Jell-O shots or Jaeger shooters you might have downed at college mixers, no matter how good a drinker you might think you are, don’t forget that the Russians—any Russian—can drink you under the table,” he wrote.
6. Venture Off the Beaten Path
Bourdain lived by the expression “be a traveler, not a tourist.”
He loathed rigorous itineraries and advocated countless times throughout his career for venturing off the beaten path and opening yourself up to surprises.
“Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico, and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonalds? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria’s mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head?” Bourdain wrote in Kitchen Confidential. “I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once.”
7. Don’t Let Travel Keep You From Getting a Workout
Anthony Bourdain is best known as a food lover and avid traveler, but he had other interests, too. Chief among those was Brazilian jiu jitsu; he went so far to call himself a BJJ “addict” in a 2017 interview with Men’s Journal. And he didn’t just train when he was at home.
Bourdain adapted his fitness routine to life on the road, jamming his Brazilian jiu jitsu Gi into his luggage on every trip and seeking out training at local gyms no matter where he was in the world.
“Look, I’m an addict,” he said of his obsession with BJJ. “There is something that ticks for me. I find myself going to pretty great lengths to get my time in. I train wherever I go. No matter what city I’m in, if there is a gym that calls itself jiu jitsu, I will be there. I will just walk into a class. I don’t like to do privates on the road.”
While traveling, Bourdain tended to do his workouts in the morning. He saw it as a great way to balance all the lavish eating he did while globetrotting.
“I wake up, have a little water, and then it’s straight there. It’s incredible for you physically,” he said. “I always feel incredible afterwards. It is the perfect countervailing force against my life as a professional glutton.”
8. Prepare to Be Proven Wrong
Bourdain always came across as a guy who had it all figured out—a person of unwavering principle with a profound understanding of the world around him. Yet he professed to be wrong about a lot, and he viewed that as a positive thing, especially while traveling.
“I have an operating principle that I am perfectly willing, if not eager, to believe that I’m completely wrong about everything,” Bourdain told Men’s Journal. “I have a tattoo on my arm that says, in ancient Greek, ‘I am certain of nothing.’ I think that’s a good operating principle. I love showing up to a place thinking it’s going to be one way and having all sorts of stupid preconceptions or prejudices, and then in even a painful and embarrassing way, being proved wrong. I like that. If you can get a little smarter about the world every day, it’s a win.”
9. Let Travel Change You
Travel can have a profound effect on a person, whether it’s through eating unfamiliar food, meeting new people, or learning something surprising about a place you thought you had all figured out. Bourdain was adamant that it’s important to lean into that reality—to let travel change you, even if it hurts.
“Travel isn’t always pretty,” he wrote in his 2007 book No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach. “It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
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