Two of the most famous travel hosts on TV were Anthony Bourdain and Rick Steves. The two, and their audiences, have commonalities but are very, very different. Which are you?
Once a tour guide, Rick Steves focuses on trips to Europe for his Public Television (and public radio) show, Rick Steves Europe. His approach to bringing Europe to his TV show viewers mixes in travel tips with a deep, rich history of the locations he visits. He adds insight to visitors that add depth to their European travel experiences.
What Steves does well is remaining approachable for those who haven’t yet visited Europe, but offering enough depth for seasoned travelers to remain interested. It’s this balance that has made him relevant for decades, now in his 11th season but 20th year of Rick Steves’ Europe. He was also, in many ways, one of the first travel TV personalities before the category added such immense breadth.
Rick Steves has a more classic approach to travel television. His audience has been dedicated through the years and leans academic.
Before Anthony Bourdain was a Celebrity Chef, the Hell’s Kitchen New York City author penned Kitchen Confidential chronicling the life of a chef at Les Halles where he later became executive chef. His first television show was a Cook’s Tour (now on Hulu) though it wasn’t a mass-market success.
The next step for Anthony Bourdain, No Reservations, turned out to be his breakthrough both for himself and the Food Network. The show focused more on culinary experiences in great travel destinations. The Travel Channel later added “The Layover” with travel guidance for the best 24 hours in major hubs.
This was followed by what can only be described as a travel television triumph for Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown. His first episode on the CNN series was Myanmar, shortly after it reopened. The Emmy Award-winning series featured guests like Christopher Walken, Francis Ford Coppola, and his partner, Italian actress Asia Argento before the show abruptly ended with his death in Stasbourg, France on June 8, 2018. Bourdain battled depression, drug addiction, and issues with his partner’s abuse by Weinstein which peaked near his passing. He left one daughter, Ariane, behind.
Are You More Rick or Anthony?
There’s a theory that travelers fit into one of two categories: Rick or Anthony. Rick Steves is seen to have a more thoughtful, informed, and historic approach to travel, while Bourdain is traveling for experiences both culinary and personal.
“Rick” travelers bristle at the kitsch of Bourdain, spending episodes that feature him in poorly-made movies themed to the region. They also prefer to focus on where they are and why it’s important rather than the food they might eat there. In a simple sense, Rick travelers would spend hours in line for a personally guided tour of the Vatican and would find a cute family-owned Italian restaurant for dinner afterward. Anthony travelers would marvel at St. Peter’s as they duck down a back alley for the best Cacio e Pepe in town and seek an underground club feigning a poor Italian accent because they only allow locals.
Initially, I was certain I was more Anthony than Rick. His approach to Europe feels more like socks with sandals, and asking for ranch or refills on soda – the kind of American tourist I desperately want to avoid. But as I started to watch more Rick Steves, I found myself enjoying the take on places I had visited many times before. Some of the history was a review of things I already knew, and I didn’t love watching the host walk through museums – but I didn’t turn it off either. Then again, Steves is focused on Europe, Bourdain is far more globally concerned.
As I think back to some of Bourdain’s arrogance, I can see how that would be a turn-off. But watching Steves, I saw him sit down at a restaurant with decent-looking food and heard nothing more about it. I want to be able to experience more than sculptures and architecture. In one episode, Steves held hands with three tourists around a column at the Pantheon to demonstrate its size – and that’s just not my style of travel.
Perhaps the world isn’t so gray that it’s either Rick or Anthony, but most travelers I have met have a preference for one over another. As we get ready to re-enter the world after a dark 2020, I am thrilled by the possibility of more travel and seeing the things I have missed so dearly, and visiting new places. Maybe any travel at all right now is the right answer, but I’d ask our readers: What type of traveler are you, Anthony or Rick?
What do you think? Do travel lovers fall into one of these two categories? Where do you find yourself?