Recently, at the launch of Airbnb‘s latest campaign, ‘That’s Why we Airbnb’, we caught up with celebrity chef, macaroon connoisseur and owner of dessert chain Le15 Patisserie, Pooja Dhingra, where she shared her travel tales with us. By Tara Choudhary
What makes you choose Airbnb over hotel stays?
The first experience I had with Airbnb was about five years ago on a trip to Croatia. It was more about feeling like a traveller than a tourist. It kind of gave us this community, where eight of us were living in one big apartment and cooking breakfast every day, just lounging around in the living room and feeling like we were a part of that city and were actual residents, which is what I look forward to when I travel.
Your best Airbnb experience so far?
I stayed in a two-floor small house in Boston around three-and-a-half-year ago for a cooking competition. On my first trip to Boston, I was lucky to get a beautiful location right next to a park. It was incredible because jet lag was super bad, and I was always up at 4:30 or 5 am. We would go to jog around the neighbourhood, or to the local café for breakfast and I started feeling like I identified with the place so much more this way, it became more like home. We managed to find out about the local delivery service, and one night after the competition we were so tired and didn’t want to go out for dinner, so we ordered food—the dirtiest food ever, nachos, fries and everything — it was great. I think it was that whole week-long experience of staying there and how it started to feel like home that made me love it so much.
Your most memorable destination outside India?
Paris would be the most obvious choice, but I’ve also lived there for a year, so I won’t say Paris. I would definitely say Tokyo though. I think Japan for me has been life-changing. I’ve been there twice during cherry blossom and I’m going again next year. There is nothing like actually being in Tokyo or Kyoto during that (cherry blossom) time seeing the fish markets, the food markets and the amazing people. I think everyone has this misconception about Japanese food being a certain kind and then you go there to realise it is facing the same stereotype as the Indian food. Everyone thinks Indian food is only curry and Japanese food is only sushi. But, when you go there and find a bevy of options, you realise every meal in Japan is amazing. I got this pork cutlet from a 7/11 during my trip and I still remember the taste of it, it was that good. It was probably just a dollar but it was so good.
What do you always carry with you when you travel?
I have a full travel ritual, like a full travel look. So, I’ll always wear this one jacket and I always carry it because I like to hug myself and sleep in the plane. And I have a pair of sneakers I always take, so I have like a full outfit basically. I also have this backpack with many compartments, where one will have the Kindle, the other a charger and like that, so that routine is set. I also have this one travel bag I always carry and since I almost take a flight a week, I’m really good at last minute or overnight packing and being on the go. I think, as you grow it just becomes about taking things off, so I always think about what I can take out or leave behind. Earlier, I used to carry really big, heavy bags, and now its like one small bag and I’m ready to go.
What kind of traveller are you?
See, I plan the travel to get to a destination, so I’ll be very methodical in the actual booking of the tickets, the seat I want, the check-in process and all that; but once I reach the destination, I like to go with the flow. I don’t think I’ve seen a museum in any city, I’ve lived in Paris and I’ve been to the Louvre maybe once. But, I can tell you every little bar or restaurant because obviously for me food is more important than anything else.
Do you remember your first independent trip?
Yes. I moved to Switzerland when I was about 17-and-a-half for studies and the first trip was with my friends, so it wasn’t like ‘solo’ but it was still my first independent trip outside home. My roommate was Brazilian and we went to Greece, which was a crazy trip with just the two of us. When we came back, I flew with her to Brazil for a month and it was a long trip. Instead of coming back home at that time, I stayed with her and her family in Brazil, and I think for a month we just travelled around Brazil with her family. No one spoke English, so I learnt a lot of Portuguese. I think that’s why I’m super close to Brazilians and the Brazilian culture. But yes, that was a great trip.
How many countries you’ve visited so far?
There’s a lot! Actually I have no idea how many, not at all. Because, I lived in Europe for five years, I think I’ve covered most of that. I’ve travelled extensively in Asia, and South America. I haven’t been to Portugal and I think I’d really like to go there. Oh, and South Korea!, that’s on my list. I would definitely like to go there.
What does travel mean to you?
Freedom. I think travel is something that frees your mind completely, it changes you in ways that you can’t imagine, and I think for me to travel is to have the freedom to live.