The following is an interview with Stephen Bugno, co-founder of Unquote Travel.
Unquote Travel: Please tell us your story. When did you first get interested in traveling, and how did you pursue your passion?
Stephen: I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t interested in travel. Every summer until I was nine my family spent one week at the beach for our holiday. After that, my parents got the idea, and presumably the money, to make our vacations a little longer, farther away, and more interesting. Each following we toured a different part of the country and by the time I was thirteen we had even made it to France. Even before I was a teenager, I was playing a surprisingly big role planning these vacations. I’d pull out a map, study it, read some books and tell my parents to go here and there, etc. They would follow up and make it a reality.
After university, I joined the US Peace Corps, volunteering in Uzbekistan. Following that two-year stint, I continued teaching English abroad, in countries like South Korea, Spain, Mongolia, and the West Bank. In between teaching contracts, I’d set off on long-term trips covering the Middle East, Europe, southeast Asia. Eventually, I cracked the code of the digital nomad and learned how to make money from the road. The past five years I’ve been traveling with my laptop, working online from each new country that I come to. I never get tired of exploring new places and seeing how people live in different countries.
Unquote Travel: Let’s talk about the company name: Unquote Travel. It’s quite unique. How did you come up with the name and what does “Unquote” mean to you?
Stephen: Actually, our partner Paige came up with the name. It means we’re a little out of the ordinary, but in a good way, of course. We’re not dishing out the same factory-made group tours that everybody else does. We’re travelers designing tours for travelers. We want our guests to get the best experiences, which means learning the about the essence of each place we go to. Unquote Travel means the best experiences happen outside the quotation marks.
Unquote Travel: What do you do in Unquote Travel?
Stephen: I’m responsible for tour development and trip itineraries. This basically means I’m either planning new trips myself or coordinating with the small local tour companies that we work with closely to provide us with high-value, experiential tours.
Unquote Travel: This is a standard question for those of you who are working in the travel industry; where is your favorite place in the world and why?
Stephen: I always get asked this question and I always say the same thing. I like a lot of places. And I like them for a lot of different reasons. I’m in the business of loving the world: finding what is unique and distinct in each place and sharing that with you. If I had to choose only one place in the world, I would say India. The reason? There is always something interesting going on in the streets. You can’t be bored in India. Especially as a photographer. Furthermore, the cultures and customs there are so much different from my own that you are constantly learning something. Plus the physical and human diversity across the country is incredible, from the Sikhs in the Punjab to the Bengalis of Calcutta to the palm-shaded backwaters of Kerala to the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas.
Unquote Travel: Tell us about your travel philosophy.
Stephen: My travel philosophy revolves around great experiences, which is what I tried to build this company around. Sure I want to see interesting sights, but travel is so much more than that. It’s about learning the history of a place and understanding its current events and context in the modern word. It’s about meeting locals and understanding their perspectives and how they go about daily life. It’s about becoming more open and tolerant to different ways of life. Traveling is an inward journey as much as an outward one. Traveling slowly helps me to accomplish all of these things and to view myself as a temporary resident as opposed to just a tourist passing through.
Unquote Travel: What do you want to achieve through Unquote Travel?
Stephen: My aim with Unquote Travel is simple: help people get great travel experiences. We’ll do this by traveling in smaller groups, going at a slower pace, and utilizing public transportation when we can. We’ll introduce our travelers to the best local food and stay overnight in family-run guesthouses. This helps to keep our money in the local economy. I’ve put a lot of my personal travel philosophy into this company and hope people will embrace these values as well.
Unquote Travel: What famous traveler / travel personality past or present do you best relate to?
Stephen: I have been most influenced by Rick Steves. I grew up watching him on PBS and picked up his Europe through the Backdoor Travel skills handbook when I was 17. He teaches travelers his backdoor philosophy, to connect with locals and become a temporary European. He preaches that by spending more money on your travels only builds a thicker wall between you and what you came to see. And that traveling helps you to understand and appreciate other cultures, destroying ethnocentricity.
Unquote Travel: If you’re planning a perfect itinerary, what would it be?
Stephen: My perfect itinerary has a little bit of everything. Some big cities and museums. Some small towns and villages. Some outdoors stuff. Lots of walking. It’s got rail travel and maybe even a little hitchhiking if I’m feeling adventurous. Couch surfing is another thing I like to do to help me meet locals and learn about a place. Basically, I like a wide variety of activities and my ideal trip should reflect that.
I also like to seek out what a particular place specializes in. Maybe that’s alpine scenery or well-brewed beer or perfect waves for surfing. Maybe it’s Gothic architecture or old-fashioned streetcars. Whatever that place does well or has the best of, that’s what I want to get into. So I see world-class art in Madrid, ride bullet trains in Japan, and eat street food in Thailand.
Unquote Travel: Do you have a blog or do you do any other travel-related work we might find interesting?
Stephen: I’ve been publishing the GoMad Nomad Travel Mag since 2009. It’s an online travel magazine for independent travelers. My personal blog is BohemianTraveler.com where I write about the places I go and show the photos I take when I’m there. I also do a lot of freelancing, and regularly write about rail travel in Europe for the Eurail blog.
Unquote Travel: Any exciting upcoming travel plans?
Stephen: In August I’m going to Chiang Mai to meet with our Thailand tour provider. They are an awesome small company dedicated to responsible tourism and local-style travel in Thailand. They’ve prepared an exclusive tour for Unquote Travel that I’m very excited about. There is a lot of mass tourism going on in Thailand that I don’t like one bit, but this is the complete opposite of that. Think village homestays and waterfalls, hanging out with elephants (not riding them), and eating the most delicious Thai food.
In September I’m headed to Europe for another Eurail trip. Then I’ll be leading our Poland & Czech Republic Heritage Tour. That is shaping up to be an excellent exploration of well-preserved historic cities and delicious local food. You won’t want to miss it. Later in the year, I hope to visit Mongolia, a place I taught English for a year.
Unquote Travel: Where can we find you on social media?