Anthony Bourdain: Lessons to Pass on to Our Kids

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Good god do I miss Anthony Bourdain. I miss him like a friend – his perspective, his advice, his humor, following his adventures. I miss him as if I knew him, in the way that as time goes on you start to think of the loss of the person a little bit less until something reminds you of them and it all comes flooding back. That happened with a lot of us Bourdain fans when the trailer for Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain was released a few weeks ago. It sent me into a full-on binge of Parts Unknown and the loss is still so apparent.

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Anthony Bourdain taught us much about how to travel, how to eat, and most importantly, how to look at the world: with fascination, openness, respect, humor, and an appetite to know more and see beyond what’s on the plate in front of us. And he just looked so damn cool doing it, didn’t he?

Anthony Bourdain was a parent, too. He left behind a daughter, of whom he once said “She’s traveled a lot and enjoyed it, and I like to think that has given her a restless and curious mind. I encourage that in every way I can.” Sound like you? I think it probably feels familiar to many of us parents on a mission to show our children the world. He inspired many to go out and do just that, and to do it as a “traveler, not a tourist”. 


In honor of what would have been his 65th birthday, here are some lessons from Anthony Bourdain that we can pass on to our kids to encourage them to be wide-eyed, curious, restless little explorers of this big world of ours. 

Be curious – ask questions 

 “Without experimentation, a willingness to ask questions and try new things, we shall surely become static, repetitive, and moribund.”

Got an exhaustively inquisitive kid? Me too. It’s a good thing. Encourage and foster that curiosity for as long as you can, especially when out traveling. Why are we going here? Why are we seeing what we’re seeing and eating what we’re eating? Who made this food? Where did it come from? Let their questions inspire you to challenge your own thinking. 

Sometimes it’s fun to try things that scare you

“Your body is not a temple: It’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.”

All right so yes, often we are the ones that are scared for our children, doing what we can to protect them from harm. But let them have the opportunity to act on their instincts to be fearless, to jump from that thing that seems like it could be a little bit too high, to swim in that part of the pool that could be a little bit too deep, and  to definitely to eat that thing that doesn’t look anything like a chicken nugget. Model to them that being scared is the first part of being brave, and sometimes it’s the way we discover something that we love. 


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See the world with purpose 

“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. 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.”

Show your kids that we don’t just travel for the pictures and to check a place off the list or for a stamp in a passport; we do it to open up our eyes and our minds. Whether we do that by jumping on a plane and flying thousands of miles away or hopping on a bus to get to the next town over doesn’t matter, it just has to be done. 


Acknowledge all of our beautiful and complicated differences 

My favorite thing about Anthony Bourdain was his acknowledgment that everyone has a perspective and story worthy of being heard. More importantly, he was really committed to sharing stories that aren’t often told: those of roadside restaurant cooks, farmworkers, immigrants, Indigenous peoples, grandmothers cooking ancient recipes in tiny city apartments or remote deserts. He treated those people with as much (well, actually often more) respect than he did his Michelin star, James Beard award winning friends, and in countless ways we can look to his example when we talk about the concept of ally-ship. He was an active listener, genuinely interested in the walks of life of anyone and everyone contributing a little something good, or at least interesting, to this world. 


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Nothing brings us together like a great meal

“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 McDonald’s? 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?”

For all of our differences, most cultures love one thing: food, and the ritual of preparing and sharing a meal together. It’s an open window into a culture, a way to connect, and just one of the best things about life. Encourage your kids to eat adventurously, as hard as that can seem at some stages, and make sure that recipes from your own family and culture are familiar to them, too. 


Your mistakes do not define you

Something that Anthony Bourdain was very open and honest about was the fact that he spent much of his 20s heavily addicted to drugs. He managed to stop using, and admitted to being one of the lucky ones for even staying alive. He’s a great testament to the fact that our worst problems or the mistakes of our past don’t have to define our lives, and in fact they can help us to be less judgmental and more empathetic. 

Be a humble listener

“I always entertain the notion that I’m wrong, or that I’ll have to revise my opinion. Most of the time that feels good; sometimes it really hurts and is embarrassing.”

Admitting to our kids that we don’t have all the answers and that sometimes we’re wrong is important and can be hard, but it can also be a really fun way to approach travel. Level the playing field a bit and humble yourself by discovering something new with them. We learn so much from our kids; let them in on that secret! Share that we learn something from everyone no matter who or how old they are or where they come from. 


Leave something good behind

“Travel isn’t always pretty. 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.”


Thank you, Mr. Bourdain, for encouraging and inspiring all of us to be better, more open-minded, and more curious travelers, eaters, parents, and people. A generation of kids will be raised by the many who have been influenced by you. You left a lot of good behind.


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