Awesome Tips Traveler's Toolbox
Anne Sutherland-Smith took her first plane ride when she was 7 years old, and she wasn’t headed to grandma’s house or Disney World. The plane landed in Kenya, where Anne and her family lived for the next three years.
Since that first (very long) trip, she’s been a travel fanatic and an expert on making the most of all types of travel — from weekend excursions near her home in Sydney to huge adventures with her husband and kids.
Anne documents her travel excursions and practical travel planning tips on her Pretraveller blog — for which her husband Tony does most of the photography (including the photos in this interview). But on top of giving expert travel advice, she’s an aeronautical engineer, a mother of three and an inspiration for anyone who doesn’t think they have, “enough time to travel.”
We were able to catch Anne Sutherland-Smith for a few minutes of her time — on a rare instance that she wasn’t out exploring with her family or grinding away at work — to find out a little more about her travel lifestyle.
LR: What advice would you give wanna-be travelers who feel too tied down to go?
AS: Travelling is a decision about your life priorities. Even if you are finding it difficult to go you may find that even planning a staycation can be a great option to just get out of your normal routine for a few days on a tight budget. Do some homework on your local area, and look for events and activities — it always amazes me how many free and cheap activities are out there. Just going for a walk in a local park or foreshore area can be a very energising experience.
If you want to do something bigger, do some homework to work out how much the activity will cost, then work out how much you could save each pay period. Make the commitment to save the money, and once it is there, the pleasure of achieving your goal will inspire you to do more. Start small and build from there.
LR: Is there a weird travel item that you, or your kids, can’t travel without?
AS: As Australians we usually take Vegemite with us on our travels, which people from other nations definitely regard as weird. I guess it is an acquired taste that is usually unavailable in other countries.
LR: Who do you miss most when you travel?
AS: I periodically travel for work, and I definitely miss my husband and children on those trips.
I recently did a one-week work trip to the U.S., which was brutal. I had to fly for roughly 19 hours to get to my first stop, and had a single rest day, which was my only chance on the whole trip to play tourist. I then had full-on meetings and evening get-togethers, then flew to my second destination — for yet more meetings — and then I flew home, which took about another 20 hours. I was utterly wasted for two weeks afterwards even with having business class flights.
LR: Kids or pets?
AS: We have three children aged 9, 7 and 5 years old. No pets, although in the past, we have had both cats and fish. No more pets, as they cause a significant restriction or extra cost if we want to travel.
LR: Where are you dying to go that you haven’t been?
AS: I recently published a series of articles called Awesome Australian 2WD Road Trips: Darwin to Uluru (Ayers Rock) to assist people who plan to drive the 1964-kilometer /1221-mile road trip from Darwin to Uluru in Australia. As a result of my research, I am very keen to visit the central Australian region in the near future.
The other parts of the trip are also of interest; however, I have already visited Darwin, Kakadu and Katherine Gorge. Although, I would definitely like to revisit this area in the future. My ideal trip is to spend approximately two weeks exploring the Alice Springs and Uluru region with my family. I was so surprised to find out the sheer number of amazing things to do and see in the area, including King’s Canyon and the West and East MacDonnell Ranges. The area definitely warrants a longer visit than I first realized.
LR: What’s the nearest you’ve come to death?
AS: I was in a sailing boat with my sister and brother-in-law on the Broadwater, which is at the Gold Coast, Australia. It was dusk and we were motoring at slow speed to our planned anchorage point for the night. I was sitting at the front of the boat just enjoying the evening and keeping a watch for other boats. I recall calling out to my sister — who was at the helm — that another boat was approaching, and at the time, it was several hundred meters away.
I looked away for a few seconds, and when I went to look again for the boat, it was literally traveling at high speed directly towards us and was only about 20-30 meters away. I remember saying, “F…,” and thinking that we were going to have a high speed head on collision and that there was no chance I could survive.
Luckily, at the last minute they finally saw us and veered to their right. As a result, they still hit us at speed but as a sideswipe rather than a head-on. The force of the impact was such that I was thrown overboard. I can distinctly remember time slowing down as a result of my adrenaline rush, and as I went over the railing, I was trying to decide whether to grab for it or just go into the water. By the time I hit the water the other boat had already passed by as it was going so quickly.
LR: What travel app can’t you live without?
AS: I really appreciate Skype if I am away on a work trip. Being able to do a video call is a great way to stay in touch. I also love the internet – I can look things up on the go (or where there is free Wifi) on my smartphone, so I don’t really need a guidebook.
LR: Writing or photography?
AS: I prefer to write while my husband is a keen amateur photographer. As a result, many of the photos I use on the Pretraveller blog have been taken by him, which is fortunate because my photos are fine, but I am more of a happy snapper.
LR: Cash or credit?
AS: Credit where possible, but cash if I have to. We only spend money on travel that we have already saved, so we never borrow money for a trip. Therefore, while we may use a credit or debit card, it is always our money we are spending.
LR: What is the weirdest thing you have ever done on an airplane?
AS: By profession I am an aeronautical engineer, and a few years ago, I was doing a post-graduate university course where one of the subjects was, “Airworthiness.” I had to fly to do a residential week at university for the subject, and on the way there on the airplane, I was trying to finish off my course pre-reading.
My pre-reading included reviews of a number of accident investigation reports for real aircraft accidents. I plowed through it all before realizing that perhaps it wasn’t the best material to be reading in flight, and I hoped that the man sitting beside me hadn’t been reading my material over my shoulder.
LR: Coffee or tea?
AS: Tea is my drink of choice. I love the smell of freshly-brewed coffee, but unfortunately the taste lets me down.
LR: Luggage or backpack?
AS: I prefer a backpack and still have my original small backpack which has survived many trips. Since we have had children, I have become more of a suitcase user, but once our children are old enough, I expect we may be able to transition back to backpacks again.
LR: Being a spreadsheet queen, what’s your best tip for travel planning?
AS: My best tip for trip planning is to first come up with a concept of a trip or trips you may be interested in doing. It is important to translate that concept into something a bit more structured, so you have a reasonable understanding of how much each trip option will cost.
I find spreadsheets to be a great option to quickly put together the rough cost of a trip – but I am also an aeronautical engineer so I use spreadsheets at work on a regular basis – my husband just laughs at me. In my family, we have a very tight travel budget, but we are careful to stay within the budget, so we do not compromise our other savings goals.
LR: Where was the most beautiful sunset you’ve seen?
AS: The most memorable sunset I have ever seen was a few years ago when I visited Perth in Australia for a work trip. I had the opportunity one evening to go to a restaurant which was on stilts over Cottesloe Beach. It was a perfect evening and watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean was just divine.