Paris Lodging, Dining & Travel Tips by Lara Dunston of Grantourismo

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Paris Lodging, Dining & Travel Tips by Lara Dunston of Grantourismo
In 2010, travel writer Lara Dunston and her photographer/writer-husband Terence Carter traded hotels for holiday rentals and embarked on a twelve-month grand tour of the world they called Grantourismo, with the support of HomeAwayUK. Their goal was to learn to live like locals, spending two weeks at a time in a place, avoiding the tourist sights, and focusing instead on figuring out the ebb and flow of the places they temporarily made their “home.” Paris, of course, was on their itinerary. 1. How do you choose where to stay when headed to a city where you don’t have a referral from a trusted source? As a travel writer, I maintain something of a database: I’m always ripping out stories from magazines and papers and bookmarking links to properties on sites. I spend hours scouring sites like HomeAwayUK and Holiday Pad to find the perfect place. We much prefer apartments—especially in a city like Paris. But if we’re staying for less than three nights, we’ll check into a hotel, and for hotels I’ll go to Mr and Mrs Smith and i-escape. 2. What clues do you look for when choosing your apartment in a cyber world full of Craigslist scams? I avoid Craigslist, for starters, and only book on trustworthy sites like HomeAwayUK and VRBO, which allow you to book directly with owners while offering protection against scams. We’ve been using both sites for years (long before we partnered with HomeAwayUK for Grantourismo) and have never had a problem with properties booked on those sites. People should still look for clues, like owners who want all the rent up front deposited directly into a personal offshore bank account or a bank account with an odd or totally unrelated name. A deposit in advance and the rest on arrival is the norm. Be wary if an owner you’ve been emailing suddenly goes quiet once the money is in the bank, is reluctant to provide the property address or their own phone number, or at the last minute has a family emergency overseas they need to attend to or some crazy excuse to never have contact with you again. If at any point you’re feeling nervous, contact the booking site directly. Always book properties that get good reviews or feature testimonials on their site, ask to see more photos, and ask lots of questions. 3. How do you so quickly hone in on just the right neighbourhood merchants, cafés, etc.? The trick is to choose the right neighborhood in the first place. If we haven’t been to the destination before we do lots of research to ensure we’re going to be staying in an area that is off the beaten track, interesting and lively, with plenty of eating and drinking options and good shopping. Once there, we’ll get tips from the owner/manager of the place we’re renting, our neighbors, and people who work in the local restaurants, bars, shops, etc. We’ll also look online for expat blogs or specialist blogs. 4. You pack light (I assume) for months of travel; what are your tips for one-bag, one-week travelers? If we’re doing short trips we’ll pack light—we recently went to Cambodia from our base in Bangkok for two weeks and only took carry-on. But we’ve been on the road for 5.5 years and we’re each carrying around 30 kilos plus carry-on. We each have laptops, Terence has lots of photography gear including a lighting kit, and I have a carry-on full of books and research materials. When we do travel light, we take minimal clothing: one outfit for each set of circumstances, just a couple of pairs of shoes, and few toiletries. The biggest mistake people make is taking too many things, things they’ll never wear/use, when in fact, most travellers find themselves wearing their favorite things again and again. Terence and I prefer to buy what we need once we’re there (clothes and shoes from other countries make great souvenirs) and then send stuff “home” or give things away when we no longer need them. I’m always looking for charity bins or people who need them more than we do. 5. What happens when you arrive and the place isn’t a good fit? It happens less and less these days because we do so much research beforehand. If it does happen, we’ll try to move if we can, because for us a rental property is so much more than just a place to sleep. We work on the road, so we’ll spend a lot of time staying in writing, downloading and editing photos, updating our site, etc. Part of the joy of travel for us is discovering a destination through its food, especially the local produce, the local markets, and specialty shops— especially in cities like Paris! So we look for a place where we can cook what we buy. We also like to make friends and entertain, so we like a nice place that’s spacious enough to have people over. If the problem is with the neighbourhood, then ditto, we’ll try to move, because we tend to spend more time in the local neighbourhood than we do visiting tourist sights. We love to get to know places through their neighbourhoods—again, Paris is a city where doing that is a real delight! 6. What did you find in Paris that you…
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