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Bourdain Inspired a Generation of Travelers

“Where do you write?” the man asked, half covered in mud from the volcanic hot spring. He’d seen the camera and pack accompanying the curiosity of two Americans in a remote South Pacific forest. “For today, Travel Channel,” I told him. “But I don’t have a show.”

“Maybe one day,” he laughed. “You will be famous.”

I thought about what the man said for a while, staring up into the midday sun. I thought about camera crews and scripts, itineraries and meals. But I wasn’t thinking about me. I was thinking about Anthony Bourdain, the legendary t.v. travel host whose death was tragically reported today.

He died of an apparent suicide in a French hotel room, less than a week after that conversation in the hot spring.

C’est la vie. C’est la mort.

As time ticks, I’ve often wondered what will be remembered of me when I go, and I’ve often thought about the legacy of Bourdain. The comparison is poor, though we share a token logo on a resume. It is poor because Bourdain represented the full palate of the world. I have only sampled a taste. Yet, his story represents the best of what we can all hope to be remembered for. It represents a rebirth, Bourdain didn’t start filming t.v. until he was 46 years old; and a lifestyle, Bourdain visited over 80 countries in 17 years as a host; and the human flaws within us all, Bourdain smoked two packs of cigarettes per day.

If you ask me to summarize Anthony Bourdain’s message in one word, that word would be—hope.

You can be weathered and reborn, you can be flawed and fantastic, and you can go wherever you dream if you commit long enough. Through No Reservations and Parts Unknown, the world watched Anthony leave a trail of footsteps around the globe.

They were big shoes to fill.

In Vietnam, Bourdain’s boot prints were everywhere. They were on the roadside of the old DMZ, where our driver pulled out cell phone photos of Anthony dining in Hanoi with Barrack Obama. They were in Saigon, where aromatic boils from a roiling stew pot filled an alley with the flavors of the Saigon Lunch Lady. And they were even in the jungle, disguised as moonshine in a far-reaching cavern under the Earth itself.

Following Bourdain’s trail at the Saigon Lunch Lady

I’ve seen his trail in many places, from Europe to Asia and even back home. But for me, and for a generation of travelers, Anthony Bourdain’s spirit will always be felt most in the real parts unknown.

I gathered the Souled Out Crew for their thoughts on Anthony Bourdain, a man and a storyteller who devoured life with a passion so fierce that it became contagious:

Ashley “Mrs. Buttersworth” Dowdy— “He showed the world that travel is more than pretty pictures or fancy hotels. It’s about meeting the people who live there and opening your heart and mind to learning about their culture. My favorite part of our trip to Vietnam wasn’t the food or the scenery or the hotel — it was the people. 

It’s hard to believe that someone who appeared to make effortless connections with people could feel so alone that he would ultimately take his own life.”

Matt “Rick James” Nolen — “The man was a real influence. I’m really affected by this. I’ve already got a bottle of Buleit bourbon ready to go when I get home. I’m going to watch his shows all night.”

Michael “Nigel Fedderbottom” Caldwell— “I’m no wordsmith, but we have long used his advice for our travel planning. Out of hundreds or thousands of pieces of advice, we valued his highly because he was so passionate and convicted. Hours watching him on t.v. only fueled our already insatiable desire to see more of the world, taste more cousin, and meet more peoples. He truly spurred on our wanderlust.”

Leni “Too Sweet” Stoeva— “He was an advocate for the outspoken, the weirdos, and so many underdogs. He was an inspiration that pushed people to get outside of their comfort zone.

That man was always fighting the beast within. I know that road. But I was lucky and I found some light. It’s a hard and long fight and you never know when you might give in. You can go out at 28 or you can go out at 68, but I hope he has found some light within now.”

Justin “Pennywhistle” Hipner — “I’m not the most eloquent, but I’m been watching Parts Unknown at the office all day. The guy was pretty much the real life Most Interesting Man in the World, and the godfather of the modern travel movement.”

Written by

When an urban developer bought my apartment building in 2016, it pushed me out of the soulful streets of Memphis, and outside, into a life on the road. I soon found out that travel was both a cure and an addiction. And I plan to keep going, with readers alongside, for as far as this road can stretch.

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