Anthony Bourdain wants you to be a traveler, part II


Above: Bourdain strikes a new pose.

I opened The New Yorker this week to discover that the advertisement for travel-chef Anthony Bourdain’s television show, No Reservations, has been altered. Last September, you will recall that I disparaged the original ad for Bourdain’s show, which inanely implored readers to “be a traveler, not a tourist.” San Francisco Chronicle travel editor John Flinn used my observations in a column that riffed on the traveler-tourist distinction — and I later added some more perspective in a post called “The tourist is always the other guy“, which landed a brief Nota Bene link from Arts & Letters Daily.

I’m not sure if all of our blog and media hubbub had anything to do with it, but the ad for Bourdain’s show has been changed. The updated tagline now reads, simply, “Be a Traveler” — which seems like a much more dignified exhortation (though I’ll still assert, perhaps needlessly, that watching TV does not make one a traveler).

To view the updated ad, click here.

Posted by | Comments (5)  | March 30, 2006
Category: General

5 Responses to “Anthony Bourdain wants you to be a traveler, part II”

  1. Gregory Says:

    I guess you could say – according to your analysis – that my father’s mission statement is based on a false dichotomy…

    I know it was based on many years of travel – starting in the 60’s when we traveled in our VW bus through the deserts of the Middle East, etc… – when the image of the “ugly American” abroad was at its apex (though I still see such behavior in my travels).


    A Brief History

    “Travelers and tourists, the distinction is simple: Tourists are those who bring their homes with them wherever they go, and apply them to whatever they see. They are closed to experiences outside of the superficial. Travelers, however, leave home at home, bringing only themselves and a desire to learn.”

    Those words were written in 1977 by Gary Langer, a 21-year-old budget traveler, in the first issue of Transitions Abroad magazine. In a few lines, he summed up what the magazine, and travel, would become in the next two decades. Transitions Abroad was created as the antidote to tourism, a magazine with the specific goal of providing information that would enable travelers to actually meet the people of other countries, to learn about their culture, to speak their language, and to “transition” to a new level of understanding and appreciation for our fascinating world. The title was also meant to suggest the changes in our perspective that result from such immersion. Transitions Abroad, from the very first issue, became the major tool that independent travelers could use to find the timely facts they need — where to go, who to see, where to stay, how to get off the tour bus and go beyond the postcards.

    Transitions Abroad was founded by Clay Hubbs, editor and publisher of the magazine and former professor and study abroad adviser at Hampshire College, Amherst, Massachusetts. Dr. Hubbs is particularly knowledgeable about educational travel options, working abroad, and living abroad; he is available for interviews.

    Now well into its third decade, Transitions Abroad Publishing has spawned not only the renowned magazine, but also a selection of other essential resources for the person who wants to travel, really travel, without being a tourist.


  2. Rolf Says:

    Hey, Greg. I’m aware that some people travel in a more mindful and responsible manner than others. I’m just pointing out that the rhetorical tourist/traveler dichotomy has become (and perhaps always was) a somewhat empty class/fashion distinction. That is, people have always found ways to passively declare themselves “travelers” — be it through their budget, or wardrobe, or obsession with “hip” destinations — in a way that has nothing to do with travel ethics or host cultures. The traveler/tourist distinction is more of an inbred argument among visitors to a place than it is an issue that would ever interest the hosts (who don’t see that much difference among all the relatively wealthy foreign folks strolling through their neighborhoods). Clay Hubbs has unquestionably made great contributions to grassroots indie travel; but Anthony Bourdain’s TV tagline struck me as more of a declaration of social superiority (which carries its own kind of ugliness) than an exhortation to be a more mindful traveler. Hence my irritation.

  3. Gregory Says:

    Hello Rolf,

    I understand and agree with your points and irritation with some slogan created by some “marketing whiz” in a department in another multinational corporation.

    That is, by the way, precisely why I emphasize grass-roots work abroad and long-term travel on the website (even if the subjects are less sexy), as this type of experience almost makes inevitable some cultural sensitivity which pays proper respect to the hosts who have reason to see many visitors as arrogant and condescending. No doubt one will always remain an outsider in another culture in the broadest sense — either by appearance or mores — but my reasoning is that the longer one stays outside of the expat communities, the greater respect one offers and the less likely the superficial almost neo-Colonialist pose.
    By the way, I did find Anthony’s books Kitchen Confidential and A Cook’s Tour two of the better reads I have had in years (even with his New York Lou Reed style posing), and growing up as he did with parents from two cultures gives him a unique and witty perspective. The Travel Channel is just another Corporate purveyor…

  4. Rolf Says:

    Yup, I, too, am all for going slow, getting out of expat circles, and immersing oneself in the culture.

    As for Bourdain, I haven’t read his books. In interviews, he seems sensible and well-reasoned in his attitude toward travel (and I implied before that he probably wasn’t responsible for his TV tagline).

  5. Ron Mader Says:

    The distinction made by Transitions Abroad a quarter century ago came at the right time. That said, it’s a new century and Rolf is right on the mark. Kudos to No Reservations for downsizing its slogan. It is simpler and more effective.

    What impresses me is that in 2006 we are focusing more on notions of sustainability and even responsible tourism. Locals don’t really care much how a traveler/tourist self defines themself as much as they appreciate someone with good manners and a willingness to interact in a way that encourages us all to interact in a respectful manner.