Boarding Pass – Lara Dunston of Grantourismo
last trip taken:
A yearlong, contemporary grand tour around the globe, that we called Grantourismo. The trip was launched in Dubai and London in February 2010, and took us to Marrakech, all over Europe, to Bali and Tokyo, the Americas (North, Central and South), Cape Town, Kenya, Istanbul, and then back to Europe again, where we finished in Edinburgh and London in February. It was one year of wonderfully exhausting, non-stop travel, staying in holiday rentals (the trip was sponsored by HomeAway Holiday-Rentals who essentially paid us to do our dream project!) and moving every two weeks – and we absolutely loved it! But then you could say the last five years of our lives have been one big trip. We put our things in storage in Dubai in January 2006 and we haven’t really stopped travelling since.
next trip on deck:
We’ve recently arrived in Bangkok where we’re working on the first edition of a guidebook and iPhone app for Hedonist’s Guides, a web guide for Simon Seeks, and doing stories for a handful of magazines, however, already we’re off to Saigon in a week! We might be in Bangkok for a month or two. We’ve had an offer to go to Myanmar after that, we’ve got a rather exciting project waiting for us back in Dubai, and we’re also working on a book of Grantourismo, which we’re eager to return to Australia to do from my uncle’s home in Victoria, which is a wonderful place to be creative. I don’t usually get homesick, but I’m missing my family.
one place you would go back to again and again:
Venice, because while it’s a city that’s so exotic and enigmatic, I know it intimately and feel very much at home there. Probably because we mostly stay in apartments – last time it was a palazzo apartment on the Grand Canal! We shop at the Rialto markets every morning for fresh seafood and fruit and vegetables, and we cook in once a day. We have our favourite restaurants and know local chefs and know all the best places to eat – Venetian food is my favourite of all Italy’s many different types of cuisines. We have our favourite bars we go to – we prefer the student spots on Piazza Santa Margarita rather than tourist places like Harry’s, and I much prefer an Aperol to a Bellini! And yet no matter how many times I’ve been to Venice it’s a city that continues to intrigue me and reveal itself more and more each time. I love that despite it being one of the planet’s most popular tourist destinations, it’s still a city where it’s still possible to ‘go local’, meet Venetians, and get off the beaten track.
place you’d most likely recommend a friend go visit:
Tokyo, because it’s more of an assault upon the senses than most people expect it to be: the bold colours, the neon lights, the gritty alleyways, the smoky aromas of yakitori sizzling on a grill…the food is reason enough alone to visit! The sushi is sublime but there is so much more than sushi; there’s a seemingly endless array of sub-genres of Japanese cuisine to discover, along with rituals that go with eating. And then there’s the drinking! As equally as fun as tasting all the different kinds of sake is trying out the bars, from secret spots we can’t reveal (sorry) to the bohemian bars of the Golden Gai in Shinjuku. If you’re a lover of art, fashion, design and pop culture you’ll never get bored in Tokyo – there’s so much to devour, whether it’s elegant, minimalist design (from fashion to furniture) or all the kooky, quirky and idiosyncratic stuff that makes up Tokyo’s unique pop culture. And Tokyo’s locals are so friendly and far less conservative than their reputation. We met a lot of people and we’d return to meet more in a heart beat.
preferred method of transportation:
My feet, then bikes, planes, trains, and automobiles, but not in any particular order. My conscience tells me I should fly less and as proponents of slow travel we really do try to, but it’s difficult with the kind of work we do. At times over the last year, we were on a flight every two weeks! That’s not the way I prefer to travel, but sometimes we just need to get there to do the project.
place you’ve never been but dying to go:
Just one again? I’m desperate to visit Yemen, Iran, Zanzibar, and Ethiopia. We’ve been based in the Middle East, in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, since 1998 and we’ve been trying to go to Yemen and Iran ever since we arrived but every time we started to plan a trip something would happen…people would get kidnapped or there’d be protests and arrests… I’m dreaming of peace in the Middle East. Next choices would be Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, so I’m excited that we’re heading to Saigon next week. Oh, but you only asked for one, right?
place you’d never go back to:
I can’t think of a place I disliked so much that I swore I’d never return to, but if I was forced to choose one, I’d probably say Cyprus. And that’s only because we’ve been so many times to update and author guidebooks and write stories on the country that I probably don’t need to go again.
most memorable trip in 2 sentences or less:
The grand tour of the globe that we’ve just completed, which was an experiment in slow and sustainable travel, local travel and experiential travel, and a chance for us to explore enriching ways to travel. We felt it was a success in that we proved that for us we need to be living like locals, engaging with people, doing and learning things, and (wherever possible) giving something back to places, for our travels to be truly meaningful and more memorable, and that kind of travel doesn’t suit everyone – some people just want to lie on a beach and that’s fine, because sometimes I want nothing more than to lie on the sand too.
how do you prepare for a trip?
It depends on the kind of trip it is and how much time I have. Before we became travel writers, I’d read a guidebook back to front, maybe a tome on the history or politics of the place, and book or two of travel literature written on or from the place, and then we’d buy books when we got there and read more. Ironically, now that I’m a professional writer, and need to do even more research than I did when I simply travelled for pleasure, most of the time I don’t have time for much prep. We have back-to-back projects so we’re simply too busy and any spare time in a place is spent writing up a book or story from the place before. It’s weird because often my headspace is in a different place to the space my body is in.
how do you record your travels when you’re traveling?
I take endless notes, collect business cards and brochures, and takes hundreds of photos. My camera is my memory, which is not as good as it once was – I suffer from information overload! – so I need the photos to make sense of the notes and vice-versa. When someone attempted to steal my bag last year in Buenos Aires, the things I was most worried about, rather than the money inside, was my notebook and camera! Without those, I don’t feel I can create quality content, and the content is our source of ongoing income.
what is your favorite thing to photograph in a new place?
It depends on the place, what we’re doing there, and what inspires me. If I’m in a souq, say in Marrakech or Damascus, and I’m doing research for a shopping section of a book or story I’ll take countless close-ups of whatever gorgeous goods catch my attention. If we’re writing about food, then I’m photographing every meal we’re eating. If it’s hotels, then I’m snapping everything, from the kitchen sink to the toilet. Terence takes the pictures to be published, mine are just memory shots. It’s rare these days that I photograph for pure pleasure. When I’m not photographing for work I tend to just want to walk and not actually do anything.
On an average, how many pictures to you take on a trip?
It varies wildly depending on what kind of projects we’re working on, from several hundred to a thousand or two I guess.
what’s in your “travel kit” ?
My MacBook, iPod, iPhone, a few spare phones, and my Olympus Pen camera and lenses. My husband Terence, a pro-photographer, carts around all the professional camera gear. I also have a carry-on that is jam-packed with books, dozens of notebooks, research materials, business cards, articles I’ve cut out to inspire me…it must weigh around 15 or so kilos but whenever I heave it up on to the x-ray machine belts I pretend it’s as light as a feather and then have Terence help me get the thing into the overhead. If only they knew!
what do you do after a trip? how long after a trip does this happen?
I can’t remember! Our trips never end. We’ve been on the road for more than five years now. And the way our lives are going at the moment, I don’t know if it’s ever going to end. How about I get back to you on that one?!
favorite souvenir/thing to bring back?
We don’t have any place to bring things ‘back’ to! Our ‘home’ is wherever Terence and I are together at any given time – one reason we love holiday rentals so much, because we can ‘play house’. Our worldly possessions are stored in two storage units, one in Sydney and one in Dubai. If I’m really smitten with something I’ll send it to my uncle and aunt’s house in Australia, as they have a colossal place – my uncle tells me that the spare room holding all our stuff currently looks like a post office mail sorting room! Terence and I will buy art occasionally, especially if we’ve met the artist. I’ll often buy jewellery or clothes, such as one-of-a-kind t-shirts – we bought some very cool t-shirts in Austin and in Cape Town – because that way I can keep them with me and wear them. I’ll buy books too, especially literature by local writers that you can’t always get outside that destination. I also love anything bespoke and handmade: crafts, handbound books, that kind of thing – anything that tells a story. But regardless, we’ll inject our own stories and travel memories into the mementos we discover and take ‘back’. We all do that, don’t we?
- website: grantourismotravels.com
- blog: cooltravelguide.blogspot.com
- on 10Answers
- on twitter: @laradunston @gran_tourismo
Boarding Pass is a weekly column exploring the creative ways people travel.