For McCool Travel’s 38th travel profile, I am happy to present Suzanne Wolko. Suzanne and I have been Twitter chat mates for like fuh-evah. We finally met earlier this summer in her hometown of Philadelphia.
Suzanne is “PhilaTravelGirl” everywhere. That is her user name on every social media site and appropriately describes her essence.
“I’ve worked in the investment management industry for over twenty years in corporate finance. I’ve combined accounting and travel into a corporate travel management position in addition to my Operations Finance role at the firm. I belong to both the Global Business Travel Association as well as the Philadelphia Business Travel Association. My day job provides me ample vacation time (as well as trips to London). Traveling provides the opportunity for me to connect with people around the world—to reset my mind, world view, my body and my soul. I started my blog to share my stories and photos hoping to inspire others to explore near and far. Using points/miles helps lessen the costs to allow me to upgrade my travel experiences with a bit of luxury.”
I’m a Philly girl – born and raised. My entire family is here so despite the pull of so many international cities, I chose to make my home here. I love the city and it’s a great base for traveling as I have so many airport options – PHL, EWR, JFK and IAD which connect me to the world.
Always in my luggage…
I always bring my backpack (my friends call it my Mary Poppins bag full of everything) for the plane and it contains:
- Bose Headsets (worth every penny!),
- Tissue Cashmere Scarf from Nordstrom (planes are cold and also can use as head covering)
- Fleece Pullover
- Reusable Bag
- My Camera
- A book and magazines to read and give away to other travelers or flight attendants
- My snack bag (with a food issue, I always bring a sandwich, cookies, chocolate, cashews, sliced apples and packets of almond butter and bottled water)
3 favorite home-away-from-home places…
I rarely repeat destinations as there are so many amazing places yet to see, however, a few cities come to mind as I’ve been multiple times
- London – I work for a UK firm so visit the city at least once a year and easily slip into being a local commuting to work each day. I no longer need a map and love when people stop me for directions as I can provide answers but their faces are always of disbelief “oh you’re American, sorry.”
- Seattle – I have family here and over the years, I’ve been able to explore more. I love the ferries, the vibe and the stunning beauty. The Pacific Northwest just relaxes me.
- Paris – I’ve had some interesting love/hate issues with Paris as any relationship would. In the past year, I’ve been twice – once at Thanksgiving staying at a friends flat and once in June with my niece. At Thanksgiving, I easily slipped into living the ex-pat life and enjoyed it, I fell back in like with Paris.
A favorite travel memory is…
Deciding to go on a Baltic Cruise solo – this was my first cruise solo and it surprised me so much that I’ve taken a few other cruises solo. I met a group of travelers last minute on cruisecritic and we put together a custom St. Petersburg 2 day private tour itinerary that was fantastic. Visiting Russia, wow! Something I never thought I’d be able to do – what an amazing trip that was!
3 favorite travel brands…
As a points travelers, my credit cards are aligned with Starwood and British Airways to earn from spend.
- Starwood offers a range of hotel options (I prefer Westin and W) with no blackout dates which is fantastic.
- British Airways has a good business class product and a Club Kitchen that you can help yourself to extra dessert which is a bonus! Their points program has provided me many redemption opportunities on OneWorld partners in business class which has been amazing.
- Firmdale Hotels – a UK boutique hotel chain with one NYC location. The hotels are small properties with fantastic style, outstanding service and luxury. I feel at home (if only my house looked like their hotels!) at their hotels in London knowing that I can relax in the drawing room, am welcomed with handwritten notes and gifts and have an addiction to their Miller Harris toiletries.
3 money-saving travel tactics I use are…
- Loyalty points/miles – this can be as easy as Panera points for a free coffee/cookie, Nordstrom spend can earn you free shoes (you need comfy travel shoes!) or travel loyal points for hotel and air savings. There are many facets of travel savings that you can participate in.
- Conservative Travel Hacking: I sometimes sign up for a new credit card and use the bonus immediately for travel – an example is a trip to Toronto that would have cost $600, a credit card sign-up provided 40,000 points and I only needed 20,000 for the Toronto ticket. I only advocate this if you have good credit, pay off credit cards in full each month and can handle credit. This method isn’t for everyone and has many rules to research in advance. It works well for me as a solo traveler looking for one ticket, one room with a flexible schedule.
- Use Kayak to double check hotel prices and then, where applicable, price match a hotel directly.
- I need to add a 4th – one simple travel savings plan I employ is the change in the water bottle method. Laugh if you will but this simple “empty my heavy purse of change” resulted in $1,000 in less than a year! It does involve manual labor though as you cart the coins to the bank.
3 ways that I have fun while traveling are…
Traveling Solo, fun is an interesting word.
I like to try new adventures way, way outside this city girl’s comfort zone. Glacier hiking, ziplining and kayaking immediately come to mind where I was scared and then it morphed into a good (fun?) experience.
Less scary fun things – trying new wines, chocolates and desserts around the world.
Learning tours – street art around the world, behind the scenes in Paris patisserie and boulangerie.
To relax from all the fun, I love to book a spa treatment
8 word (or less) travel mantra…
“Don’t wait for the perfect anything (person, deal, etc) – just GO!”
My favorite non-travel website…
Instagram – I love photos! I love to see how people are living each day traveling or not. I follow my niece who posts all her shopping finds, following many foodie friends (thankfully there are no calories in just drooling over the food photos) and follow travel bloggers who give you a glimpse into their hometowns when they are at home.
most memorable souvenir …
I try to support local artists and buy jewelry and/or perishable goods (cupcakes, chocolates, etc.). There is a funny story though in Milan with friends in August (when the city is essentially closed for vacations) after a film festival in Locarno, Switzerland. We ended up in Gucci and my friends (in their 60’s at the time, I was late 20’s) wanted me to buy a naughty item as I was visiting a friend in London on the way home. My inner Catholic schoolgirl opted for a lovely green pendant necklace instead. Every time I wear it, I laugh at my naviete and the fun we had that day at Gucci.
favorite cheap eat …
French baguettes in Paris – find some wine and picnic in the park.
recent discovery …
Street Art around the world – from my first tour in Melbourne, then to Paris and recently to London, I am energized to see the cities in a new way. The art is of the moment – it doesn’t get any more real that that in expressive form. There are so many forms of street art (graffiti, paste-ups, stickers, yarn bombing, etc) that I love to learn more about and see how it differs throughout the world.
I am fortunate to have met …
So many amazing travelers who have adopted me around the world for short times on my travels. A UK couple (Justin & Jess) saved my Easter Island trip, an 83 year old Kiwi lady named Helen was a fun companion in Zimbabwe and I hit the seatmate jackpot in Lima when I met Noah. A few others have turned into friends that I’ve traveled with or just meet for dinner/drinks when I pass through. My life is enriched by their generosity along the way.
I would like to meet …
Everyone! Everyone has an amazing story in them (whether they travel or not) – I love to learn about their journey and share mine. We all want the same things – to be loved, to live a good life, to provide for our families….to be happy. How we get there is where the story get interesting…..
Check out McCool Travel’s previous profiles. McCool Travel presents tips from travel experts in our 5 Minutes interview series—featuring travel industry giants, super frequent travelers, and adventurous persons. Previous 5 Minutes post: Amy Truong.