The following is an interview with Paige Conner Totaro, 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?
Paige: My parents used to take me to see travelogues at a local theater when I was very young. These were essentially slide shows or videos with a live narrator talking about their travels. I don’t remember much about the content of the travelogues (except for a predilection for terribly corny and culturally insensitive jokes by the narrators), but I remember being fascinated with the stories they told about other cultures.
At my elementary school, there was an assembly each year that featured foreign exchange students who were studying at the high school, who came to talk about their home countries. I always loved hearing about what surprised them about American culture. Some were obvious: yes, Americans do drink a lot of soda; yes, Americans rush around a lot and no, they do not linger over meals. But others were not so obvious to young Paige: “Americans are too friendly.” How can you be too friendly? I wondered. I learned that some cultures are very private, and friendship has to be earned, so American “friendliness” could be seen as aggression or insincerity.
Together, these exposures taught me to question cultural assumptions. I traveled as much as I could in high school and college (though I wish I had done more), but when my twin daughters were born the thought of travel was overwhelming. We remedied that when they were 12, when my husband and I took a year off and traveled with them around the world. I am pretty sure that will remain the highlight of my life.
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?
Paige: To me, “Unquote” means off-script, unplanned, out of the ordinary.
We wanted a name that would evoke what we are trying to do with our tours: to provide authentic cultural experiences. For all of us, our favorite travel memories came from unplanned experiences or encounters with strangers, whether locals or fellow travelers. We want to provide those opportunities within our tours, allowing people to have their own special experiences in the destinations they visit – not just checking something off a bucket list of things they have seen.
Unquote Travel: What do you do in Unquote Travel?
Paige: I handle the fun stuff – the business organization, the contracts, insurance, taxes, that kind of thing. Is that not fun for everyone?
Unquote Travel: This is a standard question for those of who are working in the travel industry; where is your favorite place in the world and why?
Paige: I can’t possibly pick one favorite! I love some countries, like New Zealand, Iceland, and Newfoundland for their incredible natural beauty. I love Jordan, Vietnam and Turkey for their beauty but more for the warmth of their people. I love some places for their amazing beaches, like Hawaii, Thailand, the Yucatan, and Vieques, Puerto Rico. I love some cities, like Buenos Aires, Antwerp, and Tokyo, for their unique cultures. I like places where people are friendly and want to share their culture. And that is most places, really.
Some of my favorite travel experiences have happened in places that were not necessarily special on their own, but where the people I met provided glimpses of their daily life. A teacher in a small town in Spain took us to her family’s wine cave before going to a local monastery to listen to monks chanting, and then stopping for hot chocolate at a roadside stand. After a late night of cheap beer and trying to translate dirty jokes with our tour guide in Thailand, she took me to the local market to treat me to a local hangover cure. A teacher in Romania treated us to breakfast followed by a shot of homemade brandy before taking us to his science classroom full of taxidermied animals he’d reclaimed after a local museum closed. Allowing yourself to be open to new experiences can create the most vivid travel memories.
Unquote Travel: If you’re planning a perfect itinerary, what would it be?
Paige: For me, the perfect itinerary is no itinerary.
But I do have this dream of circling the Mediterranean one day – maybe by boat, maybe by land.
Unquote Travel: Tell us about your travel philosophy.
Paige: When I go to a new place, I want to get an overview of the place, see whatever the place is known for, eat the way the locals do. So I usually start with a tour of the city, either a free city tour, an audio tour, or even sometimes a Hop On Hop Off bus, just to get the lay of the land. Then I’ll circle back to the areas that look the most interesting and start asking locals to recommend a place to get a cup of coffee or a beer, depending on the time of day. I love to just see what happens if I just start talking to people and ask them where I should go. It’s always fun to feel like you’re discovering something new.
Unquote Travel: What famous travel personality do you best relate to?
Paige: I adore Ian Wright on Globe Trekker. I love how he uses humor to relate to people around the world. I’m not nearly that funny, but I do know that sometimes – no, a lot of times – you just have to give in to the embarrassment when you’re trying to communicate with someone and you don’t have a common language.
Unquote Travel: Do you have a blog or do you do any other travel-related work we might find interesting?
Paige: I have a blog called All Over the Map, where I write about family adventures, some from my family’s trip around the world, and some from other families traveling from Tanzania to the Galapagos to New Zealand to Iceland – pretty much all over the map. I also write for TravelMamas, where I am known as the Startup Mama. And I’m part of the Findery Influencer Team.
Unquote Travel: Any exciting upcoming travel plans? Please, do tell!
Paige: I was never very outdoorsy when I was younger, but after my hike of Newfoundland’s East Coast Trail last year, I’m kind of hooked. I’m hoping to hike from Argentina to Chile through Paso Leon in 2017.
Unquote Travel: What do you want to achieve through Unquote Travel?
Paige: I want to inspire more people to travel more places, open their minds to other cultures and spread peace and understanding in the world. I like to think big!
Unquote Travel: Where can we find you on social media?