Travel Tales: Sue Elliot

Age: 52

Current job?: Founder of Sue Elliot Online & Digital Marketing Manager

Where are you now?: Wherever I can see waves break from my office! I have worked successfully off-site for 15 years now, and while it doesn’t suit everyone, for me it means I can get a lot more work done without office distractions and with flexible hours I can be on-call for my clients.

Favourite travel destination?:Hawaii holds a special place in my heart, but one of the best trips I ever did was to the Marquesas Islands. Situated northeast of Tahiti in the southern Pacific Ocean, these spectacular and isolated islands offer a rare insight into Polynesian culture. To reach the islands we took an Aranui Cruise, which doubles as a cargo ship carrying local supplies, so the journey itself was truly amazing. The Marquesas are rugged volcanic islands – some with dramatic jagged peaks rising up out of lush green slopes and others with arid rolling hills resembling the coast of Scotland. There has been minimal development on the islands, so this Pacific paradise remains wild and relatively untouched. The people are welcoming, cheeky and happy to help you know more about their rich heritage. While there are some palm-fringed black sand beaches and a few good places for swimming, it’s not really a beach holiday destination. For those wanting to float in azure blue seas, the Aranui also stops at Tuamotu Islands on the way to and from the Marquesas, so this is where you can get your fix of white sandy beaches and great snorkelling.F

Sue in the Marquesas Islands

Best meal ever while travelling?: There was an incredible fresh seafood platter in Bicheno, Tasmania, that was hard to beat. Then there was a decadent lunch at LeVel 33 in Singapore, where you simply have to try the Layered Honey Cake, but I think my stand out meal has to be in Pokhara, Nepal. I can’t recall the restaurant name or even the dish, but it was the first meal after trekking the Annapurna region and white water rafting on the Trisuli River. Not only was it a celebration for surviving the adventure and the first time I’d had a proper shower in two weeks, but the delicious food was accompanied by the best cold beer!

One food/drink people should avoid at all costs?: When you’re a guest, sometimes it can lead to awkward food moments. I’ll never forget my agony as my Tibetan host eagerly watched while I tried my first sip of Yak Butter Tea. It’s hard to avoid the horror of the salty, sweet, bitter, oily, rancid taste not showing in your facial expressions. 

Best kiss?: It was a warm autumn afternoon and as he gently touched my cheek it felt like we were the only two at SeaWorld. Yep, nothing can match a soppy snog from a 3300 lb walrus!

Best/scariest/funniest drive?: My 30+ years in the travel industry have led to many amazing work trips, but along with the incredible experiences have been all the crazy road trips where I’ve been white-knuckling the armrests and thinking that I don’t get paid enough danger money. In India my driver in Agra ran over a sacred cow when he mounted a round-about – a chase ensued with locals on foot shouting what I could only assume were obscenities while they tried to flag down the car. In Beijing we blew a tyre on a crowded freeway and after spinning out of control came to an abrupt, but safe, stop in the clearway, and on a narrow, wet, mountain road in Tibet our bus lost control on a sharp bend. We all had to exit carefully and calmly while the rear wheel hung precariously over the edge – and the worst thing was having to get back on that same bus to continue the journey once it was towed back on to the road.

Best/weirdest/worst place you’ve stayed?: There have been plenty of quirky hostels where I’ve had to scale walls after curfew or cope with over-crowded rooms (I remember one in London had a bath in the wardrobe), but in recent years I’ve opted for more creature comforts. St Regis Princeville, on the Hawaiian island of Kaui, is a very impressive ocean-front property and here I was treated to my first butler experience, but my favourite hotels are always grand old properties with historic flair, such as the Victoria Falls Hotel, Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco, or Moana Surfrider on Waikiki Beach.

Sue at Machu Picchu

Biggest ‘wow’ moment in your travelling life?: Some of the greatest travel moments seem to come from unexpected experiences, so when you know you are going to a big bucket list place that you’ve seen in pictures as long as you can remember, it can put a whole heap of pressure on that site. One such place that still hit me with a massive ‘wow’ was Machu Picchu. Approaching the site and seeing it for the first time was breathtaking. Remarkable to think of the history, its surprising discovery and extraordinary preservation. It was far less crowded than I expected and being able to wander between the stone structures, touching the hand-cut rocks to connect with the past and gazing out over the spectacular mountains was an experience that I will always treasure.

Number one travel tip?: Don’t skimp on the important things. We rarely have the luxury of a no-budget holiday, but my advice even when you’re trying to do it on the cheap is don’t cut back on what will make a big difference to your trip. Work out what you value most and then go with it. Stay in the best possible location (it will make getting around easier and the destination more enjoyable if you’re staying somewhere safe and comfortable). Get a direct flight (the time you save in airports will be much better spent on holiday). If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, try to have the extra cash to make it happen. You don’t want to regret missing out on High Tea at Claridges Hotel in London or taking a helicopter ride over Victoria Falls and if you’re in doubt, remember it’s going to be more expensive in the long run if you have to come back again.

How important is learning the local language?: It’s not essential, but you’ll notice the difference in the welcome you receive if you do take the time to learn at least some of the local lingo. Let’s face it, when English is your first language, you have the luxury of being lazy because most people can talk to you, but when you go somewhere where English isn’t widely spoken then you know how much people appreciate you making an effort. 

One thing you’d never leave home without?: When asked this in the past I would say camera, sunglasses or sarong. Nowadays it’s the iPhone. For starters it’s my camera on many trips, then there’s the added advantage of being able to stay in contact via email and social, plus you’ve always got a torch at the ready.

Next destination?: Hawaii – even though I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count how many times I have already visited! Each time we go we do it a bit differently by staying somewhere new, visiting another island or planning the trip to coincide with an event. I’m totally enamoured with the aloha spirit and love going on hunts for the best happy hour Mai Tai.

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