Yes, I still watch some Andrew Zimmern or Tony Bourdain on the Travel Channel or CNN. My personal opinion is the shows have become stale, mundane, and almost boring. But once in a while, they hit a double, though I prefer a home run.
Zimmern, you can tell, has been placed on a dietary restriction of sorts. He is superimposed on the place he is visiting, not really there. I can only assume his physician told him that 300 pound TV stars who eat anything and everything will not live very long. Bourdain has become rather mainstream, from his faux macho and fearless American persona.
But I do agree wholeheartedly with his biggest travel tip:
When he goes abroad, he looks for neighborhoods that are “in the center of things” so that he can explore his surroundings without planning ahead.
“I want to find a hotel in a neighborhood that has charm and character — the sort of place where I can walk to a café, sit down and feel the place,” he says. “One with a unique look — old colonial hotels are a favorite.”
Bourdain says that his hotel is always the first thing he books. Choosing a place in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a city gives him a front-row seat to everything happening there and allows him to stumble upon local favorites.
“If I have a good base of operations, it will be someplace I can wander from, someplace I can walk around in a neighborhood that I like,” he says.
His one rule: “I don’t want to be in a resort. This is something that I avoid absolutely.”
FYI, Mr. Mike and I have been doing this for almost two decades. Walking the city, finding a place to feel the culture and pulse of a city, have always been near the top of our list. Also high on the list, a local cafe’ or coffee shop, rather than a big chain to eat or drink. Cities where this is particularly important: London, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, Budapest, Amsterdam, Hanoi, Sydney, Tokyo, Chicago, Berlin, and ?? Never mind, it is important everywhere!!!!
Bourdain’s focus on location ties into another one of his top travel tips: Don’t schedule out every minute of a vacation. “Nothing unexpected or magic is going to happen if you have an itinerary in Paris,” he tells Money. “Anywhere you go, having that kind of a schedule, it’s punishing.”
Down time is always great, and can lead to some nice surprises. Hanging out for a few hours at a cafe or coffee shop in a quiet neighborhood is both therapeutic and revealing. And you might meet some locals, who can tell you where to eat, and what to avoid.
So, after finding a hotel in an attractive area, the only other activity is taking a city bus or walking tour. Walking tours can work, if the city is not too spread out, and the guide is exceptional. City tour busses are the safer alternative, and provide a good, but basic understanding of the city.
But it never hurts to ask! This applies to places to eat and drink, sights to see, and culture to experience. I love it when people ask me for places to stay or eat when they visit a new place.
Our upcoming return to SE Asia provides a little of everything. We have been to Bangkok, KL, Penang (Malaysia), Siem Reap (Cambodia) and Hanoi. But despite having been to those cities prior to now, it never hurts to refine our location. Friends in both KL and Penang suggested hotels, different from my previous visits. Trip Advisor reminded me that the highest rated hotel on their website is located in Siem Reap, and quite affordable. Our quasi-travel agent/dog rescuer/rock star buddy found an affordable, agent only rate, 5 star hotel in Jakarta for us.
As a point of clarification, I have stayed in the best of hotels, and probably some near the bottom. But I can guarantee you that the best ones, regardless of star rating, were in the heart of the city, near both interesting areas, good food, and public transportation.