Jack Maxwell is just one of those guys who’s exceptionally easy to like. He’s loud and boisterous and knows how to curse — but he’s also gracious as all hell and deeply grateful for the good fortune that’s come his way. He’s basically the perfect drinking buddy, which may explain the success of his show Booze Traveler on the Travel Channel (10pm).
This week, we spoke to Jack about his thirst for adventure, the importance of drinking as a part of the travel experience, and the power of dreams.
You talk a lot about growing up in South Boston — did your upbringing influence that very distinct ‘storyteller’s spirit’ that you have?
Growing up in Southie, there were some characters, let’s say. We’d get these wonderful stories of adventure and travel after these guys had a couple of cocktails. It was magical to me, it was storybooks come to life. It was this live action fairy tale and, as a result, I just wanted to travel and see the world. Because of our economic condition — in the projects, we were pretty poor — it was a treat to get to the other side of the city, never mind the other side of the world.
Now, I get to see the world and celebrate all the cultures of the world through the lens of a cocktail glass. Everybody drinks, somewhere, some thing, some how, everybody drinks, so we want to find out what people drink, why they drink it, and then listen to the stories that they tell when they do.
Do you find that storytelling is inextricably tied to drinking?
When they’ve had a couple of cocktails, people get relaxed. That’s when the fun starts. We’re not talking about excess, we’re just talking about a couple of drinks. There’s no better way to get to know somebody or to say, “I want to know you” than, “Hey, let’s have a drink. Can I buy you a cocktail?” or, “Yeah, let me share some of my cream coffee liqueur, or my cow’s blood honey wine, or my mulled wine, or my caldo de frutas, or my expensive scotch.”
Everybody around the world wants to share their drinks and they want to tell stories. That was the biggest surprise to me. When I travel, I find out that I might think I know a place, but I really don’t until I talk to the locals and have a couple of drinks with them.
What would you say to young travelers who might be focusing a little too much on technology and not enough on experience?
I’ve been to several places around the world more than once, and every single time, it’s different. This is not taking the tourist route. This is not sitting on a bus while some guy points out this over here and that over there. “This is the Eiffel Tower, this is the Louvre, and this is the …” No. Get out and talk to the people. If you think that you’ve traversed the four corners of the globe, you haven’t until you talk to the people. You might have a totally different experience.
Sure, maybe the topography has been covered, maybe you’ve seen the land, but there are different people to talk to every time and that’s when you get the true essence of what travel is about. It’s not about gathering miles, it’s about collecting memories.
What do you have to say to the person who’s kind of on the fence about travel or who watches your show and says, “Oh, I wish I did something like that.” What is your thought for them?
I would say, “Look at me. I’m just a Southie kid from the projects that had a dream to see the world and now I get to do it.” Yes, of course, they have different circumstances. They might have a job, they might have kids, they might have a husband or wife that you obviously have a responsibility to … and I can appreciate that, but I’ve always thought that we’re enhanced not by the goods we collected, the cars, the houses, but by the experiences we had in life.
I’ve never been disappointed. I’ve never said, “I wish I had a nicer car and not have gone to this place,” because I loved to see the world. I loved to talk to different people from different places and learn a few words in different languages because that’s what fills you. Houses and cars come and go. Of course, the reality is you have to put food on the table, but to see the world and to see it through the eyes of the locals, to me, I get turned on by that. I think that’s one of the greatest things on earth.
I don’t know a single person, not one, who’s ever gone somewhere and come back and said, “I wish I didn’t do that.” Not one. What does that say? Go. Please go. No matter how you do it, no matter how you get there, how much it costs, whatever it is, please go. If you hated it, okay, then don’t go again, but I don’t know anyone who ever has come back feeling that way.