Grantourismo, A Contemporary Grand Tour Focused on Slow, Local and Experiential Travel

Grantourismo launched on the 1st January 2010 – after a year in the planning – with an epic, year-long, contemporary grand tour of the world focused on slow, local and experiential travel. A decade later, Grantourismo, the life-long project of travel and food writer and photographer, Lara Dunston and Terence Carter, continues to inspire its readers to travel in ways that are more authentic, enriching, meaningful and memorable.

Our mission since we first conceived our Grantourismo project, which we launched with our contemporary grand tour of the world in 2010, has been to help you make your travels more meaningful and memorable by inspiring you to undertake more authentic and enriching ways of encountering the planet and its people through slow, local and experiential travel.

We believe that slow travel and the idea of travelling more slowly and immersing yourself in places is to travel more sustainably and responsibly; that local travel and the notion of ‘going local’, engaging with locals, and settling into places to live like locals when possible makes for a far more immersive experience of a place; and that experiential travel, which is essentially educational travel and is all about doing and learning things provides a deeper experience of a place. All of these are more responsible forms of travel, enabling you to give back to places in ways you never dreamed.

During our contemporary grand tour of the world we documented our experiences here. Now that our grand tour has ended, we’ll continue to use Grantourismo as a space where we share stories about our slow, local and experiential travels, the places we settle into and the people we meet along the way. We see it as somewhere you can come to be inspired to travel, to gain insight and information to plan your trips, and to find the tools to book your own meaningful and memorable experiences.

Grantourismo, A Contemporary Grand Tour Focused on Slow, Local and Experiential Travel

What does Grantourismo mean?

Grantourismo is a playful corruption of the Italian word for ‘grand touring’, granturismo.

We define it as a form of travelling inspired by the original grand tour that was popularised between the 17th and 19th centuries. The grand tour was a slow educational journey that was aimed at becoming cosmopolitan by knowing the world; a journey that was all about settling into places for extended periods of time to engage with locals and learn new things, from the local language to water-colour painting to playing petanque.

Grantourismo is the style of travelling we’ve always favoured, mostly unknowingly, but which we began doing consciously back in January 2006, when, with a slew of guidebooks and travel articles under our belts and a year’s worth of writing projects lined up, we embarked on a one-year travel experiment.

Putting our worldly possessions into storage in Dubai where we’d been living as expats for seven and a half years, we took to the road to attempt to live out of our suitcases, bouncing around the planet from project to project, settling into places for months at a time, and learning things along the way. One year turned into seven, and we were still travelling.

While we’re now settled in Southeast Asia, we take to the road frequently, exploring the region deeply, occasionally returning to Australia to do the same, and from time to time jetting off to some other far-flung part of the globe from our home in Siem Reap.

The Grand Tour and Experiential Travel

The original idea of The Grand Tour, an long leisurely journey aimed at learning about the local culture, arts, language, and people of the places the grand tourists travelled to, has always appealed to us. Like the early grand tourists, our kind of travel is a more experiential style of extended travel.

Terence has a passion for cooking and there are still a few musical instruments he hasn’t yet mastered. Lara has dabbled in everything from bellydancing to badminton. We’re up for anything and have tried our hands at all kinds of things from learning how to train elephants in Thailand to Terry playing at Master Chef in a Michelin-starred restaurant kitchen in Mallorca. At each place we visit, we endeavour to learn a little of the language.

Our original plan for the yearlong grand tour we embarked upon in partnership with HomeAwayUK in 2010, involved a month in each place within which time we would attempt to learn as much of the language that we could and a number of skills unique to the place — and then write a book about the experience. While we scaled back our ambitions for the HomeAwayUK project, only spending two weeks in each place, our aims and interests were the same, and our passion for experiential travel and immersive experiences won’t be going away.

Slow Travel and Sustainable Travel

Over the years, we have called thousands of hotel rooms around the world our home, often checking in and out of new hotels every day or two as we’ve bounced around the planet from one magazine assignment to another. Nobody knows hotels like we do. But while we love the luxury and attentive service of a fine five-star, the charm and character of a unique boutique place, and the chance to unwind at a laidback beach resort, at every opportunity, we have been quick to trade our swipe cards for door keys and check into a rental property for a month or two.

Independent boutique hotels can offer a slower style of travel than big brash brand hotels, but the contrast between cookie-cutter hotels and holiday rental accommodation couldn’t be greater. The chance to really slow down and kick back at a holiday rental is the obvious advantage. There are no breakfast buffet times to wake for, no need to lay your towel down on a sun bed at dawn, and no need to worry about when the kitchen closes. In a holiday rental you can do your own thing anytime, anywhere and take your time about it.

By travelling more slowly, travellers are also travelling more sustainably — from taking the time to discover local markets and small neighbourhood businesses to shop at instead of the first tourist trap spotted on the street, to choosing to buy and cook local produce instead of expensive imported products. Not only is this kind of slow travel more sustainable, travellers are able to gain an insight into local life and learn how to live like locals.

Local Travel and Living like Locals

One of the things that we love most about renting properties when we travel is the opportunity they afford to travel more authentically by meeting local people and gaining an insight into how they live their lives. Whether it’s the regular exchange of greetings with neighbours in the corridor or small talk each day with the owner of the corner grocery shop that develops into meaningful conversation, there’s a sense of community to be tasted from such small interactions and special insights into places and their people that can rarely be experienced when staying at a hotel.

Such encounters enable travellers to befriend local people or at the very least get great local recommendations, enabling travellers to learn to live like locals — a wonderful thing at a time when so many travel experiences are manufactured and mass produced, and globalisation has meant that hotels, attractions, restaurants, and even food and drink, are starting to look, feel and taste the same all around the world.

At each destination we visit we try to learn to live like locals. Our aim is always to identify the most ‘local’ places we can, from the bars and restaurants locals frequent to the markets where locals do their shopping. We share these experiences on Grantourismo and always welcome readers’ tips.

Giving Back: Charitable Deeds and Altruism

Travel, especially holidays, can often be very self-indulgent, focused on unwinding and relaxing, sleeping and reading, eating and drinking, and, increasingly, pampering at a retreat or spa. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We all travel differently at different times and sometimes need nothing more than relaxation and restorative time in the countryside or by the beach with some good books.

However, in recent years, a growing travel trend has been voluntourism, a form of volunteerism, focused on travelling to a place to volunteer your time and energy, skills and labour, to help out at a charity, school, NGO, environmental organisation, and so on. The intention is to give something back, rather than just take away. Not all volunteer opportunities are good, however — indeed some take jobs away from locals and volunteering in orphanages does more harm than good — but those that empower the people you’re working with are the experiences we like to encourage skilled travellers to do.

Unfortunately so many of the volunteer experiences around are long term, from six weeks to six months to year, yet not everyone is able to commit to such a lengthy period of time. Whenever we can, we like to seek out the best short experiences, from one day to one week, that travellers can undertake as part of their holidays and we like to get a taste of those to highlight on Grantourismo.

Suggestions as to charities and organisations we can visit and write about are always welcome. They must be responsible operators that have adopted Child Safe practices.

Altruistic travellers can give back to the places they visit in many other ways too, from shopping at Fair Trade businesses, eating at restaurants that use local produce, to staying in hotels that donate a percentage of their rates to a cause. Small gestures that can make a big difference.

If you’d like to learn more about Grantourismo, discuss a project idea or how we can inspire travellers to explore your destination in more authentic and enriching ways, read about how you can work with us and contact us for a chat.