A few weeks ago, a Parts Unknown episode brought me to tears. An emotional reaction isn’t all that surprising when it comes to a production led by Anthony Bourdain — be it curiosity, elation, and most understandably, envy. But those feelings weren’t what I was experiencing when I finished the episode on West Virginia. I was crying out of empathy.
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to see the world, and I was fortunate enough to be in a position where such a dream was not too distant. My father is Jamaican, and my mother is Filipina and Irish, and they met in the travel industry. To get the family together meant moving in some way, and my parents raised my siblings and me to think that such mobility should come with ease. But there’s something about how a child can interpret a parent’s wishes. Even when my mom and dad did all that they could to show me the world, I still grew up restless to see it on my own terms.
I didn’t know exactly what that feeling meant until I was a college sophomore who caught an episode of No Reservations.
Like all of Anthony Bourdain’s shows, rebellion is a running undercurrent — it’s the type of viewpoint that a 19 year old would gravitate toward. No, Uncle Tony wasn’t going to see the pyramids of Egypt, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to hold his hands up for a photo at the Tower of Pisa. It’s not that travel isn’t about these so-called tourist traps; it can be. It’s that getting out there is mostly about finding more than what you’ve come to expect.
The world feels smaller with fewer undiscovered locales, but Anthony showed that a little-known restaurant or a completely unknown home can be exotic. It’s the unfamiliar that makes for the adventure, and for better or worse, improvisation is a part of that.
Not long after I first saw No Reservations, I decided to study abroad in Prague. To say that my parents were nervous about this choice is an understatement. They wanted me to explore on my own, of course. But I should mention that I have cerebral palsy, so watching travel and traveling are two different things. I can’t do everything a non-disabled person can do. I have to think on my feet, and I have to depend on others. I went anyways — so terrified that I cried…