Grantourismo! An Interview with Lara Dunston & Terence Carter

Paris In The Spring
Paris In The Spring

In 2008, Lara Dunston was interviewed about her life as a travel writer and her experiences traveling with her husband, Terry Carter, who is also a travel writer, photographer and now – an expert in the art of eggs – culinary-style. (You think I’m kidding…)

Together, they have taken on a new project, Grantourismo!, which has them traveling from their home-base-storage-unit in Dubai to a new destination every two weeks over a twelve month period (February 1, 2010 through February 1, 2011). Not only are they investigating new destinations, Terry has found some new egg recipes and still travels with his trusty cleaver.

Being avid travel writers, you’ve just begun yet another journey around the world. How did you choose which countries to visit considering HomeAway Holiday-Rentals’ numerous available locations?

Lara: We’re two months into a 12-month grand tour of the globe, an experiential-cum-local travel project we’ve called Grantourismo. It’s a ‘contemporary’ grand tour, which means rather than learning to paint or do archery as the original grand tourists did way back we’re doing and learning things with contemporary relevance.

Terence Macaron Cooking Class Paris
Terence Meets Macarons

As Terry is into cooking, he’s learning how to cook a quintessential dish in each place we visit (in Marrakech a local cook taught him how to make tajine) and I’m learning anything from languages to learning about immigration in Paris from an academic who just finished her thesis on the subject. We’re staying in each destination for two weeks, so we’ve traded hotel rooms for rentals this year and partnered with HomeAway Holiday-Rentals. HomeAway Holiday-Rentals had a long list of destinations they wanted us to cover so our choices were based on a combination of places that are popular where they have a lot of properties, destinations that are not as popular that they want to inspire people to visit, and destinations that show the variety of places they have from sleek apartments in Buenos Aires to rustic trullo in Puglia.

You’ve written about “voluntourism”. What types of volunteer opportunities have you planned for yourselves during this endeavor?

We’re ‘parachuting’ into places and using our skills to quickly learn about the place, meet people, get tips as to what we should do and learn, and then arrange things.

Terence: We haven’t planned anything because for Grantourismo we’re not planning much ahead of time. We’re ‘parachuting’ into places and using our skills to quickly learn about the place, meet people, get tips as to what we should do and learn, and then arrange things. One of our missions is to give something back and promote sustainable travel, so they take in a whole lot of things, not just volunteering. The easiest way for people to give something back is to buy, eat and drink local/regional products, to shop locally in small businesses and direct from producers rather than chains owned by multinationals, and to then spread the word about those products by telling their friends, writing about them on their blogs, Facebook pages etc, so that’s what we’ve been doing. In each place we’ve visited so far, we’ve sought out and have raised awareness about local cultural products, local traditions, green initiatives – everything from an ethical fashion boutique in Paris to some small designers in Ceret using a very traditional Catalan fabric, and we’ve just talked to a sustainable travel agent in Montenegro specializing in local travel who is also a member of the Local Travel Movement.

…finding short-term volunteer experiences has actually been one of our greatest challenges…

Lara: Volunteering is another way to give back and can take many forms but we’re mainly looking for short-term volunteer experiences that we can promote, anything from participating in an environmental clean-up day to volunteering to read books to kids at an orphanage to working for a day in a soup kitchen. But finding short-term volunteer experiences has actually been one of our greatest challenges so far because we’re looking for the things that people on holidays could just do for one or two days, as not every one can commit to a 6-week, 3-month or even one year experience. It’s been a challenge finding experiences we can actually *do* in a day or two but we want to get a taste of these things before we write about them. If anyone has any ideas we’d love to hear about them!

You both are passionate about “local produce, local products” and the globalization of crafts. How does one go about discovering the truth behind the souvenirs they’re buying?

Souq Walk Marrakech Morocco
Souq Walk Marrakech Morocco

Lara: The best thing people can do is simply talk to the owners of shops or the people working on stalls at a market. I think it’s fairly easy to tell who is legit and who isn’t, but key questions to ask are “which town/region is this product from”, “who made it”, “what is it made from” etc. From the answers you can easily tell who is a real producer or who knows the producers as they will come out with the answers straight away and probably speak at great length and passionately and knowledgeably about them, whereas someone who is dodgy and selling things made in China in Paris will probably go “um… well…” Although I will never forget having an argument with a woman in Petra, Jordan, who was selling junk made in Korea and swearing that it was locally made. People should also look for information on tags and labels of course.

You have also written of location independence. What single piece of advice do you have for people wanting to do what you’ve done?

Terence: Take a look at this piece we did for Matador but to be honest we didn’t really think of what we’re doing as location-independent work until a few people started using the term when they asked us about what we do and how we manage what we do. In our opinion there isn’t really any other way to be travel writers except to travel and if you treat your work seriously and you’re a professional and it’s your main source of income you cannot do it any other way than to travel and to travel with all your gear. The best investment anyone can make is to buy a good laptop and use technology they trust. We use Macs and they essentially serve as our offices – we can’t live or work without them.

Do you find it easier to write about your days’ activities the same day, or at a later time?

Lara: It’s not always possible to write up what we’ve experienced on the same day, cause we’re simply so busy sometimes with full schedules from early in the morning right through the day until late at night, so we might have a backlog of work, especially on the Grantourismo trip at the end of a two-week stay when the last few days are really frantic. The key is detailed note-taking and memory-shots. As long as I take detailed notes and take photos, any kind of pics to prod that memory, then I’m fine. Without them though, it can be a challenge.

How easy or difficult has it been to find new external hard drives “on the road”? Or do you pack 10 of them ahead?

…for instance, when Lara’s hard drive in her MacBook (not a portable drive) died when we were in Nicosia, so we searched high and low and eventually found a computer shop that had loads of dust-covered boxes of software we’d never heard of and found a no-name drive, opened and covered in dust, but it was cheap and it worked just fine.

Terence: Our bags are heavy enough as they are, mainly due to the technology, laptops, camera equipment, books and research materials, so we buy hard drives as we go. They’re not always easy to find of course. We had a lot of trouble in Cyprus, for instance, when Lara’s hard drive in her MacBook (not a portable drive) died when we were in Nicosia, so we searched high and low and eventually found a computer shop that had loads of dust-covered boxes of software we’d never heard of and found a no-name drive, opened and covered in dust, but it was cheap and it worked just fine.

Lara in Wadi Rum
Lara in Wadi Rum

In your extensive travels, have you found the world becoming a smaller place, with globalization such as it is, or is there still sufficient variety in countries and cultures to warrant a continued sense of wonder and awe?

Lara: I definitely have a sense that the world is becoming smaller because there is greater connectivity and I’m continually seeing connections, especially cultural, social and economic connections between places and people, and I kind of like that in a way, that I meet people who know other people far far away. But then there are many things about the world that are becoming ‘smaller’ in that they’re becoming the same, such as fast food and the stuff sold at markets. You’ll see the same junk in Jerusalem that you’ll see in Paris that you’ll see in Thailand and Beijing. We found that very depressing, especially as so much of it is being sold as being from that destination, and that’s another reason we embarked on this project. When we travel these days we don’t necessarily have to have that sense of wonder and awe all the time as we did when we were younger. We’re happiest when we learn new things and meet new people and really go away feeling more familiar with a place, its people, and its culture.

On a side note – Terence, how DO you explain carrying a cleaver in your luggage to Customs officials?

Terence: As long as the cleaver goes in the bag under the plane, it’s not a problem – you just can’t take sharp objects on board – but I also carry a couple of grinders of my favourite salt and peppers, and a few other kitchen utensils that not all holiday rentals seem to have, so I think they’d get that I was simply into cooking and not a terrorist!

Editor’s notes: All photos courtesy of Lara Dunston and Terence Carter at Grantourismo. Lara also runs the Cool Travel Guide blog.

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Discussion »

  • #1lara dunston

    Hi Gretchen

    Nice chatting with you! Thanks for the interview!

    Lara & Terry

  • #2Lee Palmer

    Haha, I wouldn’t dare take anything remotely suspicous on a plane, whichever bag I put it in.
    What if the staff are morons and actually think you are a terrorist?! :P

  • #3James Clarke

    They are actually quite understanding at airports, if its in the main bag you can’t get to, there’s no harm in things like knives.

  • #4lara dunston

    Our one year trip is now over, and I can say that we never had any problems with the knife or other kitchen utensils despite taking dozens of flights!

  • #5Gretchen

    @Lara – congrats on no hassles with the cutlery or other devices of food destruction/preparation!

    Let me know when you both are off on your next adventure! ;)

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