Jonathan Bennet and James Vaughan. (Photo by Nicholas Nicotera)

Bennett, Vaughan announce OUTbound cruises for LGBTQ travelers

Jonathan Bennett and James Vaughan just made history as the very first gay couple to ever appear on the cover of The Knot wedding magazine. The experience has made the couple very aware of just what that means — or could mean.

Vaughan explains, “We never intended for our wedding to become a statement or advocacy or any of that, but when I’m looking to find engagement rings to propose to my boyfriend … and the look I got. That’s when I realized, oh, we still aren’t as far along as we should be. We were like, we have to do something.”
But the couple isn’t just shaking things up on the glossy pages of magazines. They are also revolutionizing LGBTQ travel. When it comes to travel, they want everyone to be able to feel safe and make lifelong connections with their traveling companions and with the places they explore together.

“As much as we would hope that in 2021 everyone is inclusive of everyone and everyone is loving and supportive of everyone, we’re not there yet. So the reason we need these spaces is so we can feel safe to see the world and not have to worry about a glance or a comment or what have you,” Vaughan says.

That’s why they founded OUTbound, where, right now, their biggest ship is only 200 cabins. “Intimate, boutique experiences to bucket-list destinations. That is my favorite way to describe it,” Bennett says.

OUTbound is hosting its inaugural trip in early November, a Greek Isles Cruise with an optional Monsters and Gods pre-party and a drag brunch with stars — Heidi N Closet, Jan, and Jackie Cox — from RuPaul’s Drag Race. They make no bones about waiting to make a splash right from the start.

You likely know Bennett from Mean Girls. He played the heartthrob who Lindsey Lohan’s character steals away. He continues to be a very busy guy, reprising his role on Shondaland’s Station 19, releasing the best-seller Mean Girls Burn (Cook)book, appearing in Ariana Grande’s latest ”Thank You, Next” video and starring in Hallmark’s film The Christmas House.

Vaughan is an actor, director, writer and producer, who now hosts Celebrity Page. He also came in second on the Amazing Race and has hosted American Music Awards’ Red Carpet Live. Travel is his middle name.

Dallas Voice had the chance to FaceTime with the couple and learn all about OUTbound, and what makes them the perfect pair to found it and to host guests on adventures all around the globe.

Dallas Voice: So, you’ve gotten engaged — Mazel tov! And now you’re starting an all-inclusive, all-included LGBTQ+ travel company – OUTbound. What makes OUTbound so special in the field? Bennett: It’s just something fresh and new in gay travel that no one has. It’s not a floating circuit party. It’s different. So it’s exciting. I love a good floating circuit party. But it’s just ours is a different way to travel, a different experience. It’s about finding those places where they’re excited for us to be there and they’re celebrating with us.

Has travel always been your thing since you were little? Bennett: Yes. And adventure’s always been a huge thing from us as a couple from the day we met.
Vaughan: Our first date wasn’t that crazy. We just went and sat on the beach for six hours, which is my idea of the dream date. We bonded over the fact that we had both lost our dads to cancer in the same year. And Jonathan’s dad’s tagline was, “It’s all about adventure.” He always said, “Everything is all about adventure.”

If something’s going wrong, it doesn’t matter; it’s all about adventure. So we decided on our first date, we’re like, “Hey, if this works out, that should be our tagline.” We should be that couple that it’s all about adventure.

And seeing as you’re engaged, I guess it all worked out? Vaughan: Yes! Turns out, it worked out. So here we are and adventure really is our theme. So it makes so much sense that we would create OUTbound, so we could take these adventures all over the world with our LGBTQ family in a space that we are not only safe but we are also celebrated. Because we completely charter these ships or resorts or whatever it is, and we take them over completely with our staff, our LGBTQ fam. And it’s a space where you can come see the world and also always feel safe to hold your partner’s hand. Always feel safe to live how you want, always feel safe to express yourself how you want, because you are amongst family.

I did Amazing Race 10 years ago, so I’m an adventure person regardless. I’ve always been all about travel. I’ve been to 40 countries now. So it’s always been big for me. Jon has traveled as well. We’ve gotten to go to some cool places together. Our goal is to create these adventures with the group that really becomes a family and we all explore the world together.

This might be a cruel question for you, but do you have one all-time favorite travel experience or moment that was like, “I will never stop traveling. This is life”? Bennett: So, going to get the first look at the Olympics and the Olympic Village in South Korea a few years ago was one of the coolest experiences of my life. And getting to see all of the different parts of the country and experience all of the different parts of the culture. I got to experience another culture to its fullest, and it really made me want to travel the world more and experience what the world has to offer.

Vaughan: I kind of think those moments where you get to actually be a part of the culture and a part of what the experience is like for the people that live there are the moments that really grab you and make you say, “I want to do more of this.”

Absolutely. So, when it comes to OUTbound, one of the really unique things is that all of the excursions are already planned and are all included, right? So you go on the cruise and you stop at each port, and there’s already something planned? Vaughan: Yes! The excursions are already set up. Once you book, you don’t have to worry about anything.

Bennett: You just trust us and follow along and we’ll show you what you want to see in those locations.

Vaughan: What we tried to do was just go through and say, “Okay, when we travel, what is it that we want?” And we tried to just do that checklist and then make OUtbound be that. And that’s why it’s smaller ships, so you can actually get to know people more. Smaller ships can also go to the cooler ports, and with smaller ships we also can include the excursions and things like that. So it’s all just taken care of.

Bennett: It’s all about checking off your bucket list with OUTbound. It’s about going to those locations that you’ve always dreamed about going to and going with a family where you’re safe and you are celebrated while you do it. We are all-inclusive and all included, meaning everyone’s welcome and everything is included. It’s not just for gay men, it’s for every member of the LGBTQ family.

Vaughan: What better way to see the world then to do it with this LGBTQ+ family that we’re building. Because that’s our goal in this. Our goal is to create these adventures with the group that really becomes a family, and we all explore the world. Together.