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Travel for the Rest of Us

few years ago, Chas Bruns was sitting on the couch of his cozy Second Street home, watching on TV as world-famous chef Anthony Bourdain bragged about getting upgraded to a $10,000-per-night presidential suite while on his travels.

Something about that irked Bruns, a 34-year-old filmmaker who also loves to travel the world.

“I thought that was so stupid. I could never stay there,” he recalled telling his roommates. “Somebody should be doing the same show [Bourdain] does, but so everybody can afford it.”

Turns out, that somebody was him. That moment was the catalyst for Bruns’ series “Dirt Cheap,” which began on the South Pacific island nation of Fiji for the 2014 pilot episode, and has continued with episodes set in Thailand and Bar Harbor. The friendly, talkative Bruns acts as both filmmaker and on-camera personality as he leads viewers in search of the cheapest tours, food, hotels, transportation and even the occasional adrenaline-fueled sky-diving or shark-diving adventure. And the enthusiasm he shows in the shows is genuine.

“I’m happiest when I travel,” Bruns said. “I love the newness of it. The friendships you make and experiences you have. You don’t know from day-to-day who you’ll meet, or where you’ll go.”

The Bangor native is no stranger to film, television and entertainment. He helped found the KahBang Music and Arts Festival in Bangor in 2009 and has worked on the city’s Waterfront Concerts series. He also spent several years in Los Angeles, helping produce programs such as Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Later, he moved to New York City to try his hand at acting, working as an extra on “anything that was shot in New York,” he said. 

This life had fun moments, but it wasn’t always easy.

“There was nothing that gave me a break,” Bruns said. “Unless you get a leg up, it’s a never-ending rat race.”

So Bruns decided to come back home. He found work in Bangor and bought a house out of foreclosure as an investment property. But the travel bug still had him in its clutches, and when he was “practically dared” to buy a ticket to Fiji by friends who had heard him talking about it for ages, it wasn’t a hard sell. He and a travel companion went there for a month in the winter of 2013, figuring out how to make a travel show as they went.

“We Googled stuff. Cheapest this, cheapest that,” Bruns said. “I’ve always kind of winged it. That works better for me.”

They hung out on the beaches, dined at local eateries, met locals and tourists, hiked in the jungle and swam in a waterfall. After coming home, Bruns started the long process of editing the 45-minute episode.

“I brought it to a producer I know,” he said, adding that the producer wasn’t totally sold on him as the host, calling him a “goofy, generic frat guy.” She urged him to find a different host—maybe a 22-year-old blonde woman.

He got discouraged for a bit, but not forever. Bruns decided he liked his own style and figured that other people might, too.

“I’d like to be a little more real and raw,” he said. “I’m sick of fake, cheesy hosts.”

So far, so good, with the Fiji adventure racking up more than 138,000 hits on YouTube. The Thailand episode—which features a trip to a pirate hideout and the consumption of lots of cheap, tasty street food such as sticky mango rice and chicken skewers, has had more than 180,000 hits. Bar Harbor, where he ate lobster ice cream at Ben & Bill’s, hiked, swam at Sand Beach and practiced his lumberjack skills at Timber Tina’s Great Maine Lumberjack Show in Trenton, has about 3,000 views so far.

“Dirt Cheap” hasn’t made him rich yet. In fact, he figures that he’s spent close to $40,000 on his three trips and only has made $250 on Google advertisements so far. But Bruns is undeterred, dreaming of future trips to such exotic destinations as Belize, the Dominican Republic, Iceland, New Zealand and Australia. Although he originally had hoped the series might get picked up by a corporate entity such as the Travel Channel, now he kind of prefers being his own boss. People can make a living from YouTube these days, he pointed out.

“I’ll never be a millionaire,” he said. “But from now on, I’m going to do what I want to do.”

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