Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Ten Commandments of Travel (Requiem for Anthony Bourdain)

Hello, world, it's been a while.  Missed me?  I've been doing my thing: eat, sleep, work, train, cook, drink, travel, lather rinse repeat.  The world seems crazier, but day over day besides the nonsense in the news and on Twitter it hasn't seemed to go over a cliff-yet.

Over the past year and a half I've been meaning to write something but hadn't quite solidified an idea until this weekend.  Friday morning my text messages blew up with the news that Anthony Bourdain had died, jolting me out of my commute daze.  Those of you who know me well, know I am a huge fan.  Not only have I watched most of the shows, I've read four of his non-fiction books and have been hunting down his earlier fiction since finishing Kitchen Confidential.  After his Today show appearance, I cooked his Sunday sauce recipe over several oven-braised hours with neck bones and short ribs for an appreciative special someone.  It was maybe my biggest celebrity crush since Davy Jonesfrom Monkees re-runs.  Some of you have expressed disbelief that I had a hall-pass for a man over twenty years older and subjectively “worse for wear”, but drug addiction aside, our commons passions include well-cooked home cuisine, travel to far-flung parts of the world, and punk rock.  He seemed like a good drinking buddy, the kind of friend who would tell you if you looked fat in an outfit but would care less and shovel more food on your plate.  He was a savvy voyager and approached his hosts with reverence and genuine curiosity, underneath his badass swagger.  We may never know what he suffered or why he decided to leave us, and I hope he sees how many people he inspired.  Needless to say, the past few days have been tinged with melancholy over his suicide.

While cleaning today, I stumbled across a scrap of paper with notes I've been pondering for several months.  It feels like the right time and an appropriate tribute to someone I admired from afar who validated some of my more outlandish adventures.  This one's for you, Tony, I hope you'd approve.
  1. Thou shalt not overpack.  Most of us have way too much stuff in our homes.  There's no reason to overburden ourselves on the road.  I have yet to be convinced of the need for a suitcase larger than an overhead bin.  In most locales you can buy or veg hotel reception for forgotten items, as well as find a laundromat or in a pinch do a sink scrub. Save the checked baggage fee for something more worthwhile.
  2. Thou shalt not overplan.  While having some idea of places to go and things to do is beneficial, structuring a day with military precision limits the serendipity and adventure from unstructured wandering.  Plus, shit happens sometimes, especially when you're far from home.  Too many prior arrangements can fall like dominoes if something doesn't quite happen on schedule.  Set aside some time to meander as a form of meditation, or just do nothing.  
  3. Thou shalt seek to learn.  What's the point of leaving home if it doesn't teach you anything, move you, expose you to something you may not see in the comfort of your bubble?  Travel can not only show how other people and places are, it can also reveal something about your self.  Learn a few words of another language.  Hello, please, and thank you go a long way.  Read fiction or non-fiction about the destination.  Take a cooking class.  Have a child's mind.
  4. Thou shalt be aware of thy surroundings.  This should go without saying wherever you are, yet it still shocks me how people are lulled into an unwarranted sense of safety.  Besides looking out for your person and property, what is acceptable in one place may be offensive in another.  Save the noise-cancelling headphones for the plane.  Stop staring constantly at your smartphone.  Look around.  Would you want an out-of-towner to take a smiling selfie at the 9/11 Memorial? (Please say no.)  
  5. Thou shalt not use traveler's checks.  It is no longer 1989.  Most countries have ATMs and accept credit cards, maybe even PayPal.  You don’t need to exchange prior to departure, nor should you use exchanges unless you enjoy overspending.  Many places accept more than one currency, so generally you can keep what you have, or even sell to a friend later on.  Just in case, bring some cash-the dollar is still desirable (for now).
  6. Thou shalt be considerate of both locals and other travelers.   Maybe the exotic-looking person does not want their picture taken.  Maybe some fellow adventurers want to meet new people while others are trying to work through marital issues or have some alone time.  Ask first.  Show empathy.  Don't be a dick.
  7. Thou shalt reward good hospitality.  Tip well, where it's customary.  Otherwise, express appreciation.  Write glowing TripAdvisor/Yelp/Google reviews when warranted.  If something isn't quite right, try taking someone aside and expressing what is wrong with a smile and a desire to fix it.  It can pay dividends (see #8)
  8. Thou shalt maximize thy dollar spent.  Loyalty to brands add up to points for free tickets, hotel rooms, meals, you name it.  Do your homework.  Sign up for promotions and bonuses as a rule.  Get a credit card that doesn't charge foreign exchange fees.  Take surveys.  I've received additional points for providing feedback on my stay.  Laugh off those who tease you for point-grubbing when you're sitting poolside with a cocktail enjoying a well-earned vacation for less.
  9. Thou shalt not eat McDonald's.  I can't believe I have to say this.  Avoid things you can easily experience at home.  Try something new.  If you don't like it, you learned something (see #3).  Otherwise, why leave your couch where Seamless can bring you the same ole'?
  10. Thou shalt not induce too much envy by overdoing social media sharing.  You don't have to photograph every single plate, landmark, stray animal, or facial expression.  Edit your photos - who wants to see three copies of the same building or two of your nostrils?  Plus, if nefarious people know you're away, you could be a victim of robbery at home.  A well-curated album, or even a single photo, is worth a thousand crappy shots.