In this travel blogger chat with Sue from Sue Where? Why? What? UK travel blogger Sue Cockell opens up about the tragedy that prompted her to venture into blogging about travel, plus all about what travel means to her.
It’s been quite a journey for this mature travel blogger, so grab yourself a cuppa to enjoy with Sue’s story.
I’m Sue & I started my blog Sue Where? Why? What? just over 2 years ago.
My life changed dramatically when I lost my husband, Terry back in 2014 & I used my passion for travelling to heal & grieve.
My blog is aimed at all women who may find themselves alone later in life, for whatever reason. I want to provide inspiration & ideas for women to have the confidence to take on the challenge of solo travel. I am from & live in the UK.
Q1. When did you start travelling?
My first big overseas trip was a working holiday in the USA while I was a student, back in 1990. I was employed as a waitress in a girls’ summer camp. I then bought a beaten up old car with some friends & drove down the east coast from Maine to Florida & New Orleans. It was the start of many an adventure & I learnt a lot about the joy of travel!
Q2. Where did you go on your first trip, & why?
My first big travelling experience was in my early 20’s. I had worked hard to save money for a big trip but didn’t have friends who were able to join me, so I booked a tour.
I chose an overland trip for 2 months to discover 9 countries from Nairobi to Harare. It was certainly an interesting place to start! Africa truly gave me so many amazing, wonderful & scary moments. I was hooked!
Q3. How would you describe your travel style?
I travel mainly independently. I join friends if they are available & we are looking for the same things. If not, I go alone. I do sometimes join tours. For example, if I have a limited amount of time, travelling solo may be too much of a challenge or I feel what I want to do will be more fun with others.
My accommodation choices cover the full spectrum! I have stayed on yachts where the toilet was hanging off the back & the shower was jumping in the sea. I have also stayed in luxury all-inclusive resorts. It depends on the situation & which sounds most interesting for my location.
I love Airbnb for a more authentic local feel & if it’s a hotel I try & go for independently owned smaller options. Often I opt for a budget because there is something more fun & adventurous about it. This also enables me to meet more like-minded people.
Q4. What do you love most about travelling and what drives you crazy?
I’m a fairly free spirit so the things I love about travel are the experiences you have & the people that you meet along the way. Location is one thing, but if you are having a miserable time it’s never going to be magical.
I like to say yes to all opportunities where I can, as long as I believe it’s safe. That gets me into a lot of scrapes but to me that’s part of the challenge, particularly travelling alone. It’s those things that make life interesting.
What drives me crazy right now is this focus on the must-see locations, & ideal photo spots. The idea that everything needs to be perfect. In New Zealand this year people were queueing at certain points to get “the perfect photo”. New Zealand is so beautiful to me, everywhere is perfect!
By its nature, travel isn’t blemish-free and that’s why it’s so much fun. Travelling is challenging and hard and can be lonely and hot and sweaty. That’s what makes it special! Life isn’t perfect & travel isn’t either & we just need to appreciate the difficulties & embrace the authenticity. It’s the journey, not the destination!
Q5. How do you most like to travel? (mode of transport)
I prefer using public transport where I can. I believe it’s where you can get a real sense of the culture of a country. I can happily sit on a bus for hours on end watching the people, how they interact & connect. You can learn a lot! I am also a big fan of the road trip and will often hire a car and go off track where the mood takes me.
Q6. Are you a planner or a last-minute traveller?
Generally, I like to plan the big stuff. I like to know where I’m going initially & have a broad idea & rooms booked at the start. Back in 2018, I spent six months travelling alone in the Caribbean and my big lesson was that the less I planned, the more amazing opportunities came my way.
I like to speak to people and get recommendations on the road. If someone has a gem to share, I will often adapt my plan to incorporate it.
Q7. Are you a full-time or part-time traveller?
Nowadays I’m pretty much full time, although things have gone a little awry this year! For the last two years, I’ve spent six months living out of the country. When I got home, I then did a few shorter trips. I’m probably home for about four months in total each year.
Q8. Do you travel differently today to how you did in your 20s and 30s? What’s changed, and why?
Absolutely! In my 20s I was very much a budget backpacker, keen to get the cheapest room I could anywhere I went. My record was in Bukittinggi, Indonesia where my bed cost £1.20 for a night. A beer in the café next door was £1.50 which really messed with my head and my priorities!
By my 30s I had met & married my husband. Then we only had 25 days’ vacation a year. It was our goal to maximise every single hour of it! Our holidays consisted mainly of cities & beaches. Terry wasn’t that keen on wildlife or mountains or countryside. That was fine by me & I loved every second of our time away together.
Unfortunately, 5 years ago I tragically lost Terry. That’s what has prompted my huge change in lifestyle & reinvention as a solo traveller & blogger.
Cities can be the loneliest places, so I now avoid them. I created a Life List of all the things I wanted to do and see & it has served as a roadmap for the last few years. I search out interesting experiences & activities. Now my trips include learning languages, climbing mountains, sailing & volunteering with animals. Although I’m still very partial to a day or 2 spent just lying on a beach! I have compiled a list of 21 Amazing Ideas For Women Travelling Solo which includes all of these and many more.
Q9. Has Coronavirus made you think differently about your future travels?
Yes, definitely! I am thinking more about taking breaks closer to home, spending more time in the UK & Europe. I also don’t find travelling by air as appealing. It’s made me rethink my priorities & if I can avoid flying I will. This is something I was already reconsidering on an environmental level as much for the health risk.
Q10. Tell us about the most memorable place you’ve visited so far
I have so many it’s very hard to single this down! From my recent adventures, most memorable was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. I left for Tanzania the day after I turned 50. It is without a doubt the biggest mental & physical challenge I have ever taken on. The memory of reaching the summit & turning to see the sunrise from the roof of Africa is a moment I will cherish & remember forever.
Q11. Is there anywhere you wouldn’t go, or a type of travel/experience you wouldn’t be comfortable with?
Going on a cruise is something that has never held any appeal to me. I may make exceptions for the fjords of Norway or exploring Alaska, but I would be looking for something a bit different from those. Having spent six months of last year living in Antigua, I can see how challenging cruises can be for the local economy. There is a huge influx of people to a small selection of places. Very little money is actually spent & benefitting the local businesses.
Q12. If you could live in one other country, here would you choose, & why?
I can never imagine myself losing my base in the UK. There are too many conveniences & it’s where all my friends are. However, one thing I do miss about my current lifestyle choice is having a community. I’ve dipped into a few on my travels & I always feel enriched by the opportunity to surround myself with like-minded people.
Antigua was my home for six months of last year & I loved it. I had visions of buying a property & starting a guest house. I even put an offer down. However, it was not to be but who knows what may happen in the future…!
Q13. What’s the worst travel mistake/regret you’ll admit to?
I don’t believe in regrets. I don’t find they are positive for my mental health. I believe in making mistakes (sometimes numerous times!) & learning from them. Every bad choice leads to a story for me & sometimes a more positive outcome, even if that’s realising what you may have done wrong & not doing it again.
Q14. What do you do first when you arrive somewhere new?
I check out the view & unpack! I’m not a particularly tidy or organised person but I like to have all the things I need in place & easy reach.
Basically, if I arrive & open my bag it immediately looks like a bomb has gone off! If I am by the sea, I take my shoes off & go for a paddle. Then I like to find a bar & order the local beer.
Q15. How do you stay healthy when travelling?
I am slightly obsessed with healthy eating. So, I will always make sure I eat plenty of healthy meals while I’m away. When eating out, I focus on making good choices. I buy plenty of fruit & make sure I cater for a nutritious breakfast.
I try to stay physically fit but formal exercise is often my nemesis while travelling. I include activities like hiking, running, kayaking & then walk as much as possible while sightseeing.
Q16. What wouldn’t you leave home without in your cabin bag?
I am obsessive about my skin routine & am never far from home without my full selection of face creams! Looking after my skin was drilled into me by my Mum & means I struggle to pare this down, especially now I’m 50!
Q17. Which movie(s) or book(s) have inspired your travels?
I love the ‘Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ which for me showcases the adventure, spirit & enrichment that travel can bring to your life. ‘Out of Africa’ made me want to visit this amazing continent & was probably integral to me choosing here to start my journey. I cannot watch ‘Mamma Mia’ without wanting to book another Greek Island-hopping trip. So far, I’ve been 6 times & am easily tempted to return again!
Q18. What are the best & the worst things you’ve eaten on your travels?
I love my food, so this is a hard one! My favourite meal is Doyle’s in Watsons Bay, Sydney. My family live there & it is a tradition that every visit we have a lunch overlooking the sea & order a hot & cold platter. I have so many memories of lunches through the years with my Mum, Dad & Terry, all of whom are no longer with us. Each time we raise a glass of wine & share stories.
The most amazing cooking I’ve experienced is the awe-inspiring chefs on both Kilimanjaro & the Inca Trail. The food they produce with the resources they have which blows my mind. Each meal has been delicious. On the Inca Trail one morning the chef was up at 3 am to produce 2 birthday cakes for my fellow hikers. They were both different flavours & iced with their names. We had them for a pre-hike breakfast! Another day we ate jelly for lunch. How do you set jelly on a hike?
The worst would be guinea pig in Peru. It was all splayed out with head, feet & teeth still attached. It tasted like Chinese crispy duck to me but on a plate, it looked like roadkill!
Q19. When choosing somewhere to visit, what’s most important to you?
The experience & the journey. Where sounds interesting & could give me a little adventure? What is left on my Life List & what could I combine it with? Last year I was lucky enough to visit the Galapagos Islands which was a life-long dream. However, why just head to the islands when I hadn’t been to Ecuador before? I spent a month there in the end to see more of the country.
Q20. Tell us about three midlife bloggers you follow & why their blogs inspire you
- I discovered Julie from A Not So Young Woman Abroad early in my blogging journey. She also writes to inspire older women to travel solo. She has created an incredible group on Facebook. Julie is very protective of the group & the ladies are really supportive. I enjoy reading about their latest adventures & hearing their thoughts on my own.
- Life Part 2 is an adventure travel blog for Baby Boomers, written by Sarah & John. They are a couple who travelled alone before meeting while overseas after retirement. I love their attitude & energy.
- Finally, I would say Heather from Heather Begins. She is a New Yorker who during lockdown decided to stay put in New Zealand. I have really enjoyed reading her accounts of life in slow lane, negotiating the pandemic from afar.
Q21. What’s #1 on your travel bucket list & why?
I have a couple of priorities at the moment for the next few years. First is Antarctica which will mark my final continent & I am incredibly excited about visiting. In addition, I have never seen the Northern Lights. I would love to head to Norway but I’m keen to learn more about photography first. I really want to make the most of the opportunity & gain greater skill at the same time.
Q22. Where are you planning to visit next?
I’m cautiously planning to relaunch myself into travel. I’m going to start with organising some short trips around the UK when I feel comfortable to do so. There is so much of my beautiful home that I still need to discover! Following that, hopefully back to the Caribbean.
Another place that is calling me right now is Columbia. At the start of the year, I was planning to go & improve my Spanish. Doing an immersion course & living in Columbia for a month before heading off travelling sounds appealing. However, all of this could change if I get an idea that appeals elsewhere around the globe!
A Little More Travel Chat with Sue from Where? Why? What?
Sue’s Top 3 Travel Tips:
1. Top packing tip
I discovered travel cubes recently & they are amazing! I can fit all my clothes in a big one & it fills a surprisingly small space. Fold & roll your clothes first. You can also see everything at once which makes finding an outfit much easier.
2. How to survive long-haul flying
Watch films & drink wine is my usual strategy! It’s amazing how both can knock you out & enables sleep!
3. How to stay safe when travelling
This is a huge subject & I could go on for ages!
- Trust your gut, it is rarely wrong. If something doesn’t feel right, stop.
- Walk everywhere like you own the place, even if you know you’re going in the wrong direction. Then unobtrusively check & walk back equally confidently!
- Don’t take anything with you that’s valuable, either in monetary or sentiment terms.
- Respect & observe local customs, especially for women.
- Don’t drink too much or take drugs.
- Don’t stay out too late at night, I usually have a 9.30 curfew for myself for being back in my room. I often eat my dinner early to make sure I’m not stuck out late. The list goes on…
Final Quick Words for this Travel Chat with Sue Where? Why? What?
Self-guided travel or join a tour? Self-guided.
Window seat or aisle? Window for short-haul, Aisle for long haul…it’s all about toilet access!
Favourite thing to wear for travelling? My favourite denim shorts come everywhere with me.
Favourite Country? Cuba. The country, not the resorts. I’ve been 3 times now & always leave feeling re-energised.
Checked bags or carry on only? I would love to be a carry-on girl but it’s usually checked bags.
Book or Kindle? Kindle…purely for weight & space reasons.
Best travel resource? Lonely Planet for big plans, travel blogs for details, Sunday Times Travel magazine for inspiration.
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If you have any feedback or suggestions for other mature travel bloggers to interview, please let me know in the comments box below! If you have any questions, feel free to ask too.
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