I have been watching travel TV shows for years, looking for inspiration, living vicariously through the hosts. I remember spending the weekends in the basement of our Chicago condo while planning our first round the world trip, watching GlobeTrekker, Samantha Brown, Rick Steves, and Anthony Bourdain. No Reservations was like no other travel show on TV at the time, and I knew I wanted to travel like Anthony Bourdain.
I wanted to meet chefs, eat amazing food, and I can certainly be as obnoxious and snarky as Bourdain. We’re both from Jersey, I mean fuhgeddaboudit. I wanted that kind of unique travel experience. Something that many people dream about when reading all those famous travel quotes out there.
The Downside of Independent Travel
When we left on our first RTW trip in 2009, I was proud of our independent traveler status. I was loath to try any sort of group tour, being herded from one site to the next. We tried a four day Yangtze River cruise and tour during that trip, and was annoyed with the concept of eating and sleeping along with someone else’s schedule.
Instead, we used Lonely Planet and our detailed notes from the travel shows we watched, to find specific foods to eat, markets to tour, or restaurants to hunt out. And, in many cases we were able to find these places and had some great experiences, without a tour.
So, independent travel was for us. We made our own travel arrangements, worked on our own schedule, and did what we wanted. But, when I compared our travel to what I saw on the various travel shows, most notably No Reservations, I felt like something was missing.
These folks were meeting great people, being invited into homes, having meals with chefs. I, on the other hand, was always hesitant about speaking with strangers, always afraid that I was going to get scammed, always on the defensive. Not a great way to experience independent travel I recognize.
What we have realized is group travel is not for us, and with independent travel, we feel like we are missing something. How then can we find unique travel experiences? To delve into the food culture. To learn something new. How can we travel like Anthony Bourdain?
The Benefits of a Fixer to Travel Like Bourdain
When we tried to travel like Anthony Bourdain, most notably in Croatia, we failed miserably. In fact, the Croatia show set the bar really high, a bar we were unlikely to reach. In Croatia, we had a hard time finding unique, non-touristy food, whereas Bourdain was hunting for truffles, having wine tasting lunches with wine makers, and dining with chefs.
I knew that Anthony Bourdain had a fixer for this show, and all of his shows. We did not. Generally I am the “fixer” and I can’t arrange these types of experiences. Or, so I thought.
Our time spent eating in Emilia Romagna was simply amazing, one of the best experiences of our lives. Part of that was because of our travel blogger status and working with the Emilia Romagna tourism board. But, another part of it was because of working with Yummy Italy, who ended up being our local “fixer.”
By working with Yummy Italy, and receiving recommendations from the tourism board, we were able to travel like Anthony Bourdain. We went truffle hunting in the Italian countryside. We had a fabulous wine tasting lunch in the hills of Bologna, with the wine maker. We dined on truffles with a Michelin star chef. We did this all, in one day, while learning a tremendous amount about the local cuisine and history.
During our lunch at Corte d’Aibo, there was a moment when the winemaker, Antonio, excused himself from the table. We had already spent a good couple of hours with him, touring the property, drinking his wine, and eating his fabulous food. I leaned over to Eric and said “I feel like Bourdain. This is what it is like to travel like Anthony Bourdain.” We managed to finally make it happen, all over plates of fresh pasta.
Find Your Own Travel Fixer and Travel Like Bourdain
It was the complete opposite of our experience in Croatia. Now, I recognize that perhaps it is unrealistic to expect a TV show experience while traveling. I recognize that those travel shows involve fixers, who set up specialized and unique experiences to make a destination shine. I assumed after Croatia that it was impossible to replicate.
Then, after spending this fabulous day with Yummy Italy, I realized that it was possible, you just need to know where to find your own fixer. Companies like Yummy Italy exist all over. Look for small, independently owned companies. People who specialize in small group tours, or who arrange unique, private experiences, based on your likes and interests.
This is one reason why travel blogs are great (seriously, not just a plug for travel blogs). Many bloggers work with companies like Yummy Italy and can steer you in the right direction. Or, reach out to the local tourism board, like Emilia Romagna Tourism, who used Modena Tours to help arrange our experiences, including cooking classes with chefs, tours of famous balsamic vinegar producers, learning how to taste balsamic vinegar, and cheese makers, and wine tastings. Or, just google “private food tours in Spain” or wine tours, or hiking tours, or whatever you are interested in. That’s how you can travel like Anthony Bourdain, or a travel blogger!
Now, I am less enamored with the “daddy” version of Bourdain, who is less edgy than before, dresses nicer, and curses less. Maybe he has forgotten his Jersey roots. But, I still want to travel like Anthony Bourdain, and I have finally figured out how.
Planning a Trip to Emilia Romagna?
Looking for more travel tips on Emilia Romagna, and how to eat the best food in Italy? My book The Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna: How to taste the history and tradition of Italy, is available on Amazon now. If you are a NOOK reader, it is also available for download on Barnes and Noble.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together they have traveled to over 70 countries.