An Extraordinary Journey with Grantourismo

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

I've got the best journey to share with our Wandering Educators today. Lara Dunston and Terence Carter are taking a year-long "Grand Tour" and sharing it on their site, They are traveling for a year, staying in 24 locations around the world while partnering with Homeaway Holiday Rentals. I've been avidly following Lara and Terence - the writing is superb, the recipes make you want to go (and cook), and they just seem to be able to discover the essence of a place and people - and share it so well with us. But they have lots of experience as travel writers...

Dubai-based Australian travel writer-photographer team Lara and Terence have been traveling together for nearly 20 years. During that time they've lived in the United Arab Emirates, Argentina and Italy, and travelled the length and breadth of the Middle East, Europe, Australia, and Latin America. They've experienced 60 countries, including Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Latvia, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Macau, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Russia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, UK, USA and Uruguay. They are currently completing their 54th continuous month on the road.


Lara Dunston and Terence Carter


My favorite features are the ones where Lara and Terence share stories - of a restaurant, or a local chef, or people they meet. Because they truly care about where they are staying, we get an insider's look at how people live there - not as tourists, but as locals. It is one of my very favorite sites. Truly, Grantourismo is the essence of travel. We were lucky enough to sit down and chat with Lara and Terence (look for our feature featuring Terence as our October Photographer of the Month) about slow travel, challenges and rewards, living like locals, giving back, and more. Here's what they had to say...



WE: Please tell us about your project Grantourismo...

LD: We're on a year-long grand tour of the globe, an experiential-cum-local travel experiment. It's a 'contemporary' grand tour because rather than learning to paint or do archery as the old grand tourists did in the 18th-19th centuries, we're learning and doing things that have relevance now. Terence is learning how to cook local dishes and in Paris he did a macaron-cooking class, while I'm learning all sorts of things, from how to make a cocktail from the Ritz Paris' Head Barman to learning about immigration in Paris from an academic who just finished her thesis on the subject.


Terence Carter - Macaron Cooking Class, Paris

Terence Carter - Macaron Cooking Class, Paris


Grantourismo Paris Gallery - food

Food in Paris



WE: What was the genesis of Grantourismo?

LD: It arose out of both our pleasures and frustrations as travel writers. On the one hand, what we loved about guidebook writing was staying in a city for a couple of months and getting under the skin of a place, but we disliked the tedium of checking bus timetables. On the other hand, we loved doing magazine stories because we enjoyed meeting people and did a lot of interviews and profiles last year that were really satisfying, yet we hated flying into a city to do those and moving on a few days later. We wanted to embark on an extended project that allowed us to stay in one destination for a while and really discover the place through its people. Our original idea was 12 months/12 destinations but we ended up with 12/24 (or so).


Seagulls at Essaouira

Seagulls at Essaouira



WE: Who is sponsoring Grantourismo?

LD: HomeAway Holiday-Rentals is our major partner in the project. They've essentially hired us for the year. They had a similar project they wanted to do and advertised for a travel writer team. We responded and suggested Grantourismo as a perfect fit, as we had always intended staying in rentals anyway, because they are really the only option for learning to live like locals and are ideal for doing the things we wanted to do, like learning how to cook local cuisine. We'd used HomeAway Holiday-Rentals before and loved the places we stayed in, so it made sense. From their perspective, our aim is to create content that inspires people to choose a holiday rental instead of a hotel, and to highlight the advantages of holiday rentals: that you can settle in for a while, live as you would at home, cook, do courses, make friends, entertain, etc, but in a foreign destination. We also have other partners, including RailEuropeUK which is providing our European rail travel, as well as Viator and Context - we'd done their tours before and loved them and we think their small group tours and classes are a great way to kickstart an experience of a place, so we invited them to join us. Our Explorer has recently joined us also - we're using their local guides in different places, and you can read an interview with their guide Vesna from Kotor here.


Vesna from Kotor

Vesna from Kotor



WE: You're several months into the year-long Grantourismo venture - what have been some of your challenges and rewards?

LD: We're really having to apply our journalistic skills and hit the ground running. We have two weeks in each place so we have to work quickly to do research, make contacts, meet people, set up things to do, do those things, photograph them, and then write up the stories, edit the photos, upload the posts, etc. It's a lot of work but we need to make it look like it isn't!! Most travellers with two weeks in a place wouldn't have that content creation task so in effect they'd have more time for the actual experience of meeting people and making friends, doing courses and walks and so on. The reward is meeting some amazing people and really discovering destinations in a far deeper way. We're getting very attached to places by the end of the two-week period and each time we're getting rather sad about moving on, and that doesn't normally happen. A lot of people we've worked with, like Sebastian in Jerez and Carl in Perpignan have essentially become our friends. And ultimately our greatest reward is going to be knowing that people are choosing rentals over hotels and opting to stay longer in places.


Lights at dusk in Kotor, Montenegro

Lights at dusk in Kotor, Montenegro



WE: Why should travelers choose slow travel/experiential travel?

LD: We really believe that staying in one place longer or a few places over a longer period of time, rather than that "if it's Tuesday it must be Barcelona" kind of travel where you move every couple of days, is just so much more rewarding. Rather than experiencing a little bit of a lot of places we think that digger deeper into one or a few destinations is a far more enriching way to travel. You also learn so much more by doing classes and courses and meeting people and making friends than you do by ticking off sights and flitting through a bunch of museums and attractions. Those skills and that knowledge will stay with you for a lot longer than a visit to a museum you're not really interested in, unless of course you go to that museum with someone who has a PhD in the subject, as we did when we did a small-group Viator after-hours tour of the Vatican Museums last year with a local guide from Rome who had spent four years doing research there - she cried as she was telling us about the Sistine Chapel!


Paris shopping list

From Price Check: A Paris shopping list



WE: How can travelers learn to live like the locals, while abroad?

LD: Do as the locals do! Sit in a cafe and instead of writing postcards watch how the locals interact and move about the town so you can understand the the ebb and flow of their daily life and start to do things when they do them rather than do as you do at home. Go to the bakers when they do, watch where and when they shop, eat your meals where and when they do. Go to the local markets and buy produce that is fresh and regional - watch the old ladies and buy what they do. Try to learn the basic greetings of the language - learn more if you can - and take the first step to say "buenas dias" or "buena sera" - simple things like that make a huge difference. Finding a good local cafe or bar is a great way to meet locals; when you find a place you like, keep returning to it. When the guy at the bar places your espresso or favorite beer on the counter before you even order it then you know you've finally made it - you've been accepted! - and it's a nice feeling.


cafe life in Perpignon

Cafe life in Perpignon



WE: How do you suggest people give back, while traveling?

LD: The easiest things people can do is to buy and eat and drink and use local or regional products, to shop locally, in small businesses 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 or Facebook pages etc. But volunteering is another way. 'Giving back' is one of our aims and that can take many forms - what we're mainly doing is seeking out and raising awareness of opportunities to promote 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 agency in Montenegro. We're also 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 that has probably been one of our greatest challenges so far cause 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 or 3-month (or one year!) experience, and it's been a challenge finding experiences we can actually *do* as we want to get a taste of these things before we write about them. If anyone has any ideas we'd love to hear from them.


Coralie from Ceret

Coralie from Ceret



WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

LD: We are running a monthly travel writing competition to raise awareness of our project and our mission. Each month there's a different theme, last month's was 'food and travel' and June's is 'the perfect vistal'. To enter, you have to write 500-words and a post that and a compelling photo to your blog. Monthly prizes include a HomeAway Holiday-Rentals stay to the value of UK£500/US$750 (which can get you 10 nights in really gorgeous places in countries like Mexico, Morocco and Thailand), plus there are vouchers for tours with Viator and Context, use of a private guide with Our Explorer, subscriptions to experiential travel magazine, AFAR, and we have different prizes each month - last month we gave away two Rail Europe UK passes worth £1000 and this month, an Olympus camera. What we want people to do is to think about what they write and incorporate our themes of slow travel, local travel, sustainable travel, etc, into their blog posts to help us spread our messages, and we also want to create a bit of a community of like-minded travel bloggers/writers, people for whom travel is about so much more than ticking off sights, people who want travel to be more meaningful and more memorable.


Pad Thai - for travel blogging competition, May

Pad Thai - for travel blogging competition, May - food and travel



WE: Thanks so much, Lara! We love and highly recommend Grantourismo to our readers.

For more information, please see:


All photos courtesy and copyright Terence Carter.