And continuing the 10 Q series in 2011 with Lara Dunston and Terence Carter. Those who wonder whether I’ve interviewed Lara already are correct: I did so in number 3. The reason for a new interview is quite interesting: Lara and Terrence are among the few travel bloggers who succeeded to make a living out of blogging last year. They traveled and blogged exclusively for Grantourismo.
1) Who are you?
I’m an Australian-born travel writer who works with her writer-photographer husband, Terence Carter. We moved to the UAE in 1998, to teach film/media/writing (me) and design websites (Terence), and we’ve been travelling the world ever since. Although we did some travel writing in the mid 90s, writing one of the first compact guides to Sydney when Terence ran a publishing department, we accidentally fell back into it around nine years ago, when Lonely Planet needed new authors for their Dubai guide and other Middle East titles. We ended up getting so much work that we had a year’s worth of commissions lined up for 2006, so we put our things in storage in Dubai and took to the road. After bouncing around the planet from one assignment to another, we began to develop Grantourismo.
Grantourismo – a contemporary grand tour aimed at exploring more enriching ways to travel – grew out of some of our frustrations with our work. Our idea was to travel more slowly and sustainably, stay longer in places, stay in rentals not hotels, connect more with locals, do and learn things, and wherever possible, give something back to the places we were visiting. We were lucky in that HomeAway Holiday-Rentals had a similar project in mind and were looking for a writer-photographer team, so they hired us! Getting paid to do your dream project? Life doesn’t get much better than that.
2) What do you like about what you do?
Aside from travelling the world and meeting incredible people, we love the flexibility and freedom that travel writing gives us. Our work takes us places, we can work anywhere, and while we essentially go wherever the work is, we can say yes or no to commissions. If we don’t like working with a particular person, we don’t have to work with that person again – when you work for a big organization you don’t have that choice. What we’ve loved about the last 11 months, working on Grantourismo, is that we’ve got to travel the way we most love to travel – staying in holiday rentals for two weeks at a time, really settling into a place, and learning to live as much like locals as we can; connecting with local people and finding out what they do and how they live their lives; and doing and learning things ourselves, from learning how to play in a gamelan orchestra in Bali (Terence) to learning the secrets of making pierogi in Poland (Lara).
3) What don’t you like about what you do?
The hours – we’re essentially working from the time we wake until the time we sleep, seven days a day. We normally take a few days off at Christmas, though we didn’t this year. The pace of travel – two weeks in a place might seem like a lot when the average person spends just 1-3 days in places when they travel, but we’re not on holidays, we’re working. So as well as discovering places and meeting people, we’re busy looking for stories, planning, doing interviews, writing posts for the site and stories for other publications, uploading photos, editing video, interacting on social media, and coordinating our travel – every single day.
Before Grantourismo we used to get frustrated with the whole hotel check-in/check-out process, it all seemed so tedious and time-wasting, but after 11 months we’re getting a little tired of moving house every two weeks. It’s impossible to travel light when you do what we do – in addition to a bag each of personal things, we both have laptops, I have a carry-on bag of books/reference materials we’ve collected on the way, and Terence has a bag of camera gear, plus a tripod/lighting case, and now he has a saz too! – travelling for one year and all four seasons is very different to a six- or even 12-week trip. We’re constantly paying for excess luggage, and getting frustrated by the fact that most trains aren’t equipped for people with luggage and many train stations don’t have elevators. But then, without it, we couldn’t do our jobs as well as we can.
4) Please tell us all about your blog and your aims with it.
Grantourismo is a place for us to chronicle our grand tour and to promote slow and sustainable travel, experiential travel, local travel, and the idea of living like locals by staying in holiday rentals. On a daily basis, we’ve been uploading stories and Terence has been producing stunning galleries of images and videos. We’re writing about the places we’re staying, the people we’re meeting, and the things that we’re doing and learning. We’ve stayed in everything from a traditional cone-shaped trullo in Puglia to a beach house in Costa Rica. We’ve talked to chefs, winemakers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, fashionistas, and scientists. We’ve gone hiking, bird watching and game watching. We’ve learnt about wine and learned to cook lots of things. We’ve learnt everything from bead-making in Cape Town to making offerings in Bali. We’ve visited Masaai villages, Rio favelas, and Cape Town townships. We’re hoping our stories about those experiences inspire travellers to travel in the same way. We’ve also been recruiting travel writers/bloggers to help us spread the word – by holding monthly competitions with amazing prizes (including holiday rental stays, cameras tours, guides, travel notebooks, CDs, etc) where entrants have to write a post on one of our themes.
5) Your top 3 destination experiences you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
That’s really tough, as there are so many, so I’ll focus on the last year only – although it’s impossible to put them in order!
1. Cape Town – where we did a lot of tours into the townships with sustainable travel companies, and met some extraordinarily inspiring people for whom life is very hard and the only way to make it easier is through their own initiative and creativity. Sustainable tourism is also helping.
2. Kenya – while our accommodation at Diani Beach was disappointing, it made a great base for doing safaris and visiting villages. Once again, the highlight of the trip was the people we met in the villages as much as the phenomenal amount of wildlife we saw on the game drives.
3. Austin, Texas – where we really immersed ourselves in the live music scene. We met lots of musicians who gave us great tips on where to go and what to see and went to see live music every night. It’s a very laidback city and the people are super-friendly and that was very appealing. The Tex-Mex and Mexican food is also terrific.
6) Your top 3 accommodations you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
Again, so many, so we’ll focus on this year…
1. Costa Rica – where we had two spectacular houses at Manuel Antonio – one open house (and by that we mean there were few walls!) overlooking the jungle canopy – families monkeys would literally troop through our home every day! – and house another down on the ocean, where we literally stepped out of our garden and we were on the sand and the national park which was just a short stroll along the beach.
2. Bali – where we lived in a beautiful villa in a traditional Balinese style, with swimming pool, on the edge of a small village surrounded by lush green rice fields. We would walk into the village and it would take just seconds before people were saying hello, introducing themselves, and even strolling with us. It was also a great location from which to do trips to Ubud, or go to the beach, just 10 minutes away.
3. Puglia – a traditional conical-shaped trullo in the countryside outside of Alberobello, which was not great in terms of working (the best internet access was in an olive grove!) but was a wonderful experience – it was very charming and rustic, we had our own pizza oven outside the house, and we rode bikes down country lanes.
7) Your top 3 most memorable food / wine experiences to date and why?
1. Tokyo – where we lived in a local neighbourhood with several brilliant eating areas on our doorstep and countless others a short train ride away, so we were able to try everything and anything we could devour. We realised that there is so much more to Japanese cuisine than sushi, which, surprisingly, we only had once during the two weeks.
2. Venice – which for us is one of the finest eating cities in Italy, although Venetian cuisine is greatly misunderstood and most visitors to Venice don’t enjoy the food because they succumb to the temptation of eating at a tourist restaurant on the Grand Canal. In Venice, we always get our tips from chefs, so every meal is a great one. We got to shop at the Rialto markets or organic markets every day, we did a cooking course with a Countess, and we learned about Veneto wines on a wine-bar hop with a sommelier.
3. Barcelona – which is one of the world’s great gastronomic capitals. There we stayed in the (very local) Gracia neighbourhood, which is surrounded by so many of the cities best restaurants. We probably only ate tapas a few times, because for us what makes Barcelona special are these tiny restaurants called bistronomics that are producing some of the most creative contemporary cuisine on the planet.
8) Your 3 worst destination/ accommodation /food experiences to date and why?
1. DESTINATION: Zell Am See, Austria – it was wonderful for Terence who was snowboarding every day, but it’s not a great winter destination for someone who doesn’t do winter sports. I was determined to find things for the non-skier/snowboarder to do in winter but it was difficult. There’s so much more available in summer.
2. FOOD: Costa Rica – while we loved our accommodation, the scenery, the wildlife, and the people, the food was disappointing – not a lot of variety, bland, and expensive to eat out.
3. ACCOMMODATION: Diani Beach, Kenya – again, we absolutely love the people and the wildlife, and, better managed, our accommodation could have been wonderful, but it wasn’t. We stayed in a traditional-style ‘cottage’ in sweltering heat and humidity, with a broken fan, a mosquito net with holes in it, a toilet that didn’t flush properly, and an unhygienic kitchen.
9) Can you offer the readers 3 destination/ food / accomodation / things to do tips about the city you are currently living in?
I’m writing this from Krakow, Poland.
1. DESTINATION: Walk – walk everywhere and all over! It’s a wonderful city for walking. Walk the Old Town, walk around Wawel Castle, walk the Jewish quarter, and walk along the waterside.
2. FOOD: Eat pierogi – everywhere and every kind. My favourite – the Russian style – is at Chlopskie Jadlo which is decorated like grandma’s cottage.
3. ACCOMMODATION: Rent a big old apartment – make sure it has creaky floorboards and lofty windows in a grand old building to get the full Krakow experience, as well as a decent kitchen so you can buy fresh pierogi and cook it at home too!
10) Any Question(s) you’d expected me to ask that you would like to answer?
What next, after you complete the Grantourismo trip?
We’ll finish our yearlong grand tour at the end of January – just one month to go! We’ve already been invited to speak about the project as it relates to wine tourism, in Porto. After that we’ll return to Australia via Dubai where we’ll take a short break before write a book about the experience. Grantourismo, as a site and project, will continue in a slightly different form. No more yearlong trips but we’ll continue to do shorter trips, experiences and activities, to continue to promote local travel, slow and sustainable travel, experiential travel, and voluntourism – as the project was as much about making our work as travel writers, as well as travel, more enriching and more meaningful.
Glad to have you again Lara! Curious to see your take on Tnooz and to see the take of HomeAway on this experiment. If not skiing in Zell am See, I would have left Terence there and visited Salzburg or Munich for two days:-)