Though Susan Whitson has always had a love for travel and adventure, her career path went in several directions before she became a luxury travel advisor. Susan graduated from Auburn University (where she met current business partner Martha King) and then worked as a high school teacher before diving into the world of politics. As White House press secretary to Laura Bush, Susan traveled the world on Air Force One, making friends and learning about cultures around the world. From learning calligraphy in Kyoto to playing soccer with children in Guatemala to painting a cup and saucer at the Imperial Porcelain Factor in St. Petersburg, Susan gained a deep understand of how travel and authentic experiences can change a person’s life.
After her political career, Susan teamed up with Martha to create King & Whitson Travel and joined the Brownell Mentoring Program in Class 11. We caught up with Susan and she answers 7 questions below.
1. What is the best travel advice you have ever received?
“Go now!” My mom always told me to travel whenever I got the chance, as I might not get the chance again. As I have grown older, I have found that time is harder to come by, so traveling now is more important than ever.
2. What was the best meal you’ve had while traveling?
I remember food not only for the food itself, but also for the person I was with and the experience we shared together.
Marcona salted almonds and olives and good red wine everywhere my husband and I went in Spain on our honeymoon.
Giraffe potjie (stew) cooked over hot coals in the South African bush with my mom on our first trip to Africa.
Grilled meats at an asado at a private estancia in Argentina with friends.
Steaming bowls of pho for breakfast in Vietnam with my husband on our first trip to Asia together.
Sharing Dole Whip with my children on our first trip to Disney!
3. What popular destination lives up to the hype?
French Polynesia. The beauty of the place with the aqua blue lagoon waters, white sand beaches, and dramatic mountains is mind blowing. But, for me, the people are the real jewels. Some of the most open, kind, and sincerely hospitable people I have met anywhere.
4. What is your travel motto?
Travel light! I travel with a carry-on Samsonite suitcase and matching work bag whether I am gone for 2 days or 2 weeks or 2 months. Everything I need, I always have with me.
5. What is your travel extravagance?
I like travel to be a departure from my normal life, so having a guide and/or driver is really important. When left to handle on my own, I get so caught up in the logistics that the experience and magic of the moment gets lost. I find I experience so much more when someone else is leading.
6. What is the up-and-coming destination right now?
For me, Myanmar. It’s a lovely country that is changing fast, but there are so many unexplored areas to see. I recently planned my first trip there for a client, and I fell in love with the place just through my research, the photos, and the people I worked with.
7. What has been the most inspirational destination?
Rwanda. I was there 10 years after the genocide when the healing was still happening. We met with young orphans who lived in villages together because their parents had either died in the genocide or died of HIV following the genocide. There was tragedy, beauty, and a palpable spirituality like I have never experienced. The resilience and hopefulness of the people, especially the women who survived and their children, are something I will never forget.