Embracing the Happy Accidents

“I’m a big believer in winging it. I’m a big believer that you’re never going to find perfect city travel experience or the perfect meal without a constant willingness to experience a bad one. Letting the happy accident happen is what a lot of vacation itineraries miss, I think, and I’m always trying to push people to allow those things to happen rather than stick to some rigid itinerary.” – Anthony Bourdain

Like most of my travel friends, the loss of Anthony Bourdain has been hard to come to terms with. He and I had so many memorable Friday nights together. Me with my chicken broccoli take-out from the dingiest, but best, Chinese restaurant in St. Louis, and Bourdain with beers and bowls of noodles in Vietnam.

It was Bourdain’s approach to life that makes me feel like I could have so easily been the person sitting across the table from him, throwing down beers and talking about how fucked up US politics is.  I know I’m not unique in feeling this way; that was part of his appeal–he embraced people with a genuine curiosity that made you feel like you could be long lost friends.

I saw Bourdain speak when he came to St. Louis in 2016, and I was amazed by the crowd. There were the foodies, the travelers, the rebels. It was an eclectic mix. He appealed to everyone.

I’ve gone on a Bourdain binge since that fateful Friday. I’ve rewatched episodes and read every article that has come across my social media feeds. Bourdain lived his life in a big way–with insatiable curiosity and love and passion. I think there’s a lesson there for all of us.

I feel like when we open ourselves to the world, the world has a way of receiving us in all the right ways. I think it’s easier to do this when traveling, but what if we lived our lives like this. Woke up every day with passion, let curiosity guide us, greeted others with love, and allowed things to unfold as they’re supposed to. 

Maybe we’re too scheduled, too closed off, or too set in our ways.

It’s hard to not plan, to allow for that uncertainty. I’m getting better at it, but it still doesn’t always feel natural.

But I realize that the most memorable moments in my travels (and in my life) haven’t been  planned. They’ve just sort of happened.

Happy accidents.

In true Bourdain fashion, I didn’t plan anything for my current trip to Southeast Asia. I created a rough itinerary, but even that has changed. When asked what I was planning to do on this trip, my response has remained consistent, “I don’t know.”

People really think you’re nuts when you tell them you’re spending a month in Southeast Asia and you have no idea what you’re going to do. They just look at you with a puzzled expression that tells you that they’re unsure of what to say next. “Oh. Cool.” or some variation is normally what follows.

So far that not knowing has led me to new friends, a meal that made me spend a night hugging the toilet, a new tattoo, new Lao food, a sunburn, and the promise that tomorrow could be my best day yet. I don’t know. And that ambiguity excites me.


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