Old Diary

How to travel

When we were still RV’ing our TV reception was always in a state of flux.  Moving around from place to place meant that even with a DISH TV contract we weren’t always able to get a sight line to a satellite and from city to city the channels changed.  Suffice it to say that our TV watching was sporadic.

Occasionally we’d be in a place where we could catch the Anthony Bourdain series of travel shows and we enjoyed them a lot.  He wasn’t the kind of guy we’d spend time with — to be sure — but he produced an interesting program.  I was sorry to hear about his passing.

I came across this some time ago and I wanted to share it.  We aren’t doing as much travel as once we did, but a lot of his points are time tested and reliable suggestions for those who aren’t as lucky to do a lot of travel, and who suddenly find themselves with an opportunity to go — and are scared to do anything wrong.  For you, I dedicate this reprint:

a bourdainThe first thing I do is I dress for airports. I dress for security. I dress for the worst-case scenario. Comfortable shoes are important — I like Clarks desert boots because they go off and on very quickly, they’re super comfortable, you can beat the hell out of them, and they’re cheap.

In my carry-on, I’ll have a notebook, yellow legal pads, good headphones. Imodium is important. The necessity for Imodium will probably present itself, and you don’t want to be caught without it. I always carry a scrunchy lightweight down jacket; it can be a pillow if I need to sleep on a floor. And the iPad is essential. I load it up with books to be read, videos, films, games, apps, because I’m assuming there will be downtime. You can’t count on good films on an airplane.

I check my luggage. I hate the people struggling to cram their luggage in an overhead bin, so I don’t want to be one of those people.

On the plane, I like to read fiction set in the location I’m going to. Fiction is in many ways more useful than a guidebook, because it gives you those little details, a sense of the way a place smells, an emotional sense of the place. So, I’ll bring Graham Greene’s The Quiet American if I’m going to Vietnam. It’s good to feel romantic about a destination before you arrive.

I never, ever try to weasel upgrades. I’m one of those people who feel really embarrassed about wheedling. I never haggle over price. I sort of wander away out of shame when someone does that. I’m socially nonfunctional in those situations.

I don’t get jet lag as long as I get my sleep. As tempting as it is to get really drunk on the plane, I avoid that. If you take a long flight and get off hungover and dehydrated, it’s a bad way to be. I’ll usually get on the plane, take a sleeping pill, and sleep through the whole flight. Then I’ll land and whatever’s necessary for me to sleep at bedtime in the new time zone, I’ll do that.

There’s almost never a good reason to eat on a plane. You’ll never feel better after airplane food than before it. I don’t understand people who will accept every single meal on a long flight. I’m convinced it’s about breaking up the boredom. You’re much better off avoiding it. Much better to show up in a new place and be hungry and eat at even a little street stall than arrive gassy and bloated, full, flatulent, hungover. So I just avoid airplane food. It’s in no way helpful.

For me, one of the great joys of traveling is good plumbing. A really good high-pressure shower, with an unlimited supply of hot water. It’s a major topic of discussion for me and my crew. Best-case scenario: a Japanese toilet. Those high-end Japanese toilets that sprinkle hot water in your ass. We take an almost unholy pleasure in that.

I’ve stopped buying souvenirs. The first few years I’d buy trinkets or T-shirts or handcrafts. I rarely do that anymore. My apartment is starting to look like Colonel Mustard’s club. So much of it comes out of the same factory in Taiwan.

The other great way to figure out where to eat in a new city is to provoke nerd fury online. Go to a number of foodie websites with discussion boards. Let’s say you’re going to Kuala Lumpur — just post on the Malaysia board that you recently returned and had the best rendang in the universe, and give the name of a place, and all these annoying foodies will bombard you with angry replies about how the place is bullshit, and give you a better place to go.”

Anthony Bourdain: How to Travel

I might quibble about a couple of these, personality does come into how easily one will travel.  But some of it is pure gold.  Like that last suggestion — post something on chat boards that will prompt others to “put you right.”  — That is just the best idea.

The whole idea about taking suggestions from others does require a little personal savvy. Peg & I have in recent years relied a lot on TripAdvisor for restaurant ideas.  But we discovered that there are a lot of fake reviews, and a lot of people who don’t go out very often to eat who think any place they go is worthy of 5 stars.  So, I tend to read the reviewer’s other posts to see what their personal style is like — I have learned to discount the comments of a lot of reviewers and saved myself many unhappy meals as a result.  So, my advice is to use caution when relying on recommendations of any type. Including this article. 🙂