Many of you already know Brand g’s co-owner (and Anderson Cooper’s younger, cuter brother), Jeff Gundvaldson. He has spent the last decade – along with co-owner and honorary gay Brian Van Wey – building Brand g into an industry leader with care and thoughtfulness and a willingness to let me humiliate him on a regular basis.
So, let’s begin!
- What’s your favorite part of your job?
Traveling with our guests and experiencing the destinations I personally love through their eyes. It’s so gratifying and fun to see their joy, wonder and excitement as the trip unfolds. I feel like a parent whose child is meeting Mickey Mouse or Cinderella for the first time, and if the kid doesn’t cry or unceremoniously pee, it’s a really wonderful moment.
What was your most embarrassing Brand g moment?
It was years ago on our first trip to Halong Bay in Vietnam. We were on two buses, with our Vietnamese guide and half the guests on the first bus. His bus arrived first, and as we disembarked the second bus, I saw the guide proceed to march his half of the guests aboard the wrong vessel – a bigger and glitzier boat than the one we had chartered.
Guests began complimenting me on how much nicer it was than they had expected. Like that kid meeting Mickey Mouse, I thought I might wet my pants, but not out of wondrous excitement. As we changed course and marched the guests over to their somewhat less glamorous accommodations, I could see the disappointment in their eyes, which just about killed me. Luckily, after settling in, they realized our boat was quite romantic and we ended up having a wonderful time. But we only charter top-tier vessels now, because mama doesn’t want to wear Depends.
- What’s your favorite Brand g memory?
Our first trip to Myanmar. We visited a primary school in a very small rural village along the Irrawaddy River. The cruise line had started a fund to help put a new roof on the school for the meager cost of $1,500. In several sailings, they had only managed to raise a couple hundred dollars.
After visiting the school and the children, some of our guests took it upon themselves to engage their fellow travelers, and they not only raised enough money for the roof, but also for more chairs, desks and a white board.
It made me incredibly proud and was the catalyst for many more Brand g philanthropic projects all over the world. You put a bunch of gay folk up to a challenge, they meet it with flying (rainbow) colors!
What is your favorite travel destination?
It’s honestly a toss-up between Vietnam & Cambodia and India. For me, it’s all about the people and the cultures, and these are two cultures that are vastly different from our own. I love the kind, gentle and welcoming nature of the people, and the wonderfully vibrant and tasty food.
The history of these countries is so rich and complex and interesting. I think in a former life I was the Empress Mahal, because every time I go into the Taj Mahal I just want to lay down.
- Where in the world would you like to go that is unavailable to us right now?
Two places: Russia and Turkey. We have already taken guests to Turkey, but only to Istanbul and Troy. I would love to explore other areas of the country. Although things have calmed down a bit, it is still a tad too politically unstable for us to feel comfortable bringing guests there.
Russia would be a whole new frontier for us, if only it were more gay-friendly and (to those viewed as spies) less murdery. There is incredible history – and some of the most stunning museums and palaces anywhere in the world – but Putin isn’t exactly welcoming LGBT travelers with sparkly cupcakes and a dance party.
- What is the most embarrassing job you ever had?
During my college years, it was a long list. I worked at a laundromat, washing, fluffing and folding. I wore a housedress and sensible shoes, but no one got the joke.
I also worked in a 40-below-zero frozen food distribution warehouse, pulling orders for restaurants and schools. I mean, I am of Nordic stock, but come on.
The worst job was managing a convenience store. Teenagers take it as a personal challenge to shoplift, and you get tired of frisking 17-year-olds. “Is that a can of beer in your pants, or are you just happy to see me?”
- What would you be if you could be anything?
A wealthy philanthropist who could just travel around the world and help improve the lives of those in need. This wouldn’t be “Everybody gets a car!” philanthropy or slapping my name on buildings. I’d want to do it in ways which are respectful to them and their culture. There’s not enough dignity for people in less fortunate circumstances.
- What is your greatest extravagance?
Food and cooking gadgets. Troy and I don’t eat out a lot, so I don’t hesitate to buy what I want at the grocery store or Williams Sonoma. You need to borrow a $50 Italian potato peeler? I’m your man.
- What one thing would you want people to know about you?
Most people who know me have probably figured out that I’m an introvert. I love people, but I’ve always been painfully shy and sometimes I think that I may come off aloof, which is the last thing I want people to think. Being a tour leader definitely pushes me out of my comfort zone, and has helped me grow incredibly.
In fact, I hope to be premiering my one-man show, Tales of a Travel Goddess as soon as I learn to sing and dance.