For the last “Hot Chocolate with a local” of the season (it will return in December), we catch up with the lovely Ellen Trotochaud.
Ellen was kind enough to sit down and chat with me over a piping hot virtual cup of hot chocolate. It was cold and rainy in New York when we had our chat, so it was the perfect pick me up for such a day. Ellen has 30 years of experience in the travel industry and is a big fan of Imported Chocolate. She has truly inspired me to travel to more places and have a happy open mind when I do. Now let’s meet Ellen!
Imported Chocolate: Thank you for sitting down and having a virtual cup of hot chocolate with me, Ellen!
Ellen Trotochaud: It is great to talk with someone who has a wanderlust—my favorite expression.
Imported Chocolate: It’s my favorite expression too! Yes, wanderlust is something that can only be understood among other people who suffer from it. Lol!
Ellen Trotochaud: I prefer to say we inspire others with it.
Imported Chocolate: True, true. And it is a joy to pass the inspiration along. Where are you now? Are you here in New York?
Ellen Trotochaud: No, I live in the Chicago area.
Imported Chocolate: How do you like Chicago?
Ellen Trotochaud: I love Chicago – born and bred. As much as I love NYC, Chicago has so many of the benefits of NYC but I find it more livable and the people have that Midwest friendly feeling.
Imported Chocolate: That sounds wonderful! I’ve heard so many great things about Chicago. I actually thought about moving there when I was 22, after I got back from Buenos Aires. I was scared off by how cold everyone said it gets there. Is it true it gets colder than New York?
Ellen Trotochaud: I don’t think there is a big difference—although I am biased. I like the cold. I think the East gets more snow and we get more cold, but it really is only a few days of winter. And when it gets too cold I travel!
Imported Chocolate: Ha! Smart! How old were you when you first started traveling?
Ellen Trotochaud: Oh. Very, very, young. My family has always loved travel. However, I remember when I was quite young my older brothers would go on a trip abroad and I would stay behind. Now that I am an adult, I am not happy about that. I wish I had started going to other countries when I was younger.
Imported Chocolate: Now you can make up for all the times they left you behind. Where have you traveled to?
Ellen Trotochaud: Many places around the world. I have been to many places in Europe, France, UK, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, Copenhagen, Switzerland, Prauge, Czech Republic and Italy. I love South America and would like to explore further. I have been to Rio, Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Australia and just returned from a SE Asia trip. South Africa is on my list along with so many others. Now that I am an empty-nester, I am trying to do two big trips a year to check off the list.
Imported Chocolate: Wow!!! At the risk of sounding 90’s—you go girl! You inspire me to get with it and add some more countries to my list. How many times a year do you travel?
Ellen Trotochaud: I try to do a big trip (overseas) 1-2 times a year. I also do Jamaica every year with my son. It is our special place.
We started going when he was four and he is turning 21 next week there! I do a lot of long weekend trips to places like NYC, Phoenix, Cape Cod/Boston (family). I also have a girls group made up of about 20 travel industry professionals where we plan one trip a year. We alternate between East and West locations.
Imported Chocolate: I think it’s incredibly sweet that you travel with your son every year. I’m trying to plan a trip with my mom to Barbados this year; she was born there. I think that’s the best way to do it: 1-2 trips a year. Do you work in the travel industry?
Ellen Trotochaud: I spent almost 30 years in the travel industry. I was so lucky to start young and have experiences seeing the world. I left 4 years ago to join a software company that still touches the travel industry. We offer travel and expense software.
Imported Chocolate: That’s great! Where was the first place you traveled to? Do you remember?
Ellen Trotochaud: I spent summers going to Boston and Cape Cod where my family lived. I still go every year a couple of times. I also used to go to NYC with my Dad a lot. He was there for work all the time and even stayed in a corporate apartment from time to time. His best friend, from grammar school, was a playwright that had some shows on Broadway. So I remember going to the theatre a lot when I was little. It was always special to spend time with my dad in new york.
I was obsessed with the story of Eloise. She lived in the Plaza Hotel and they even had a room made up to show the character of the children’s book. I think that story made me a Francophile because they often had Eloise in Paris stories.
I still dream of living in Paris someday. I came close a couple of years ago. There is something about Paris that is so rich in culture and it stimulates the senses. I have yet to find anything that matches – well maybe Italy.
Imported Chocolate: I know what you mean! I am a huuuge Francophile! For me, it was the children’s book “Madeline” that turned me into one. Paris was the first place I ever traveled to. Ah, memories. Lol! What stopped you from moving to Paris?
Ellen Trotochaud: It was the year that my son was going off to college in Colorado and he was just not comfortable with me leaving yet. I think he wanted the comfort of knowing he could come back to his home. I think it is hard enough to go off to school without your mom moving across the ocean. We have always been close since I was a single mom when he was 2 1/2. I also had a new project at work come up, so working from the office in Paris didn’t make sense. It was timing.
The one regret I have as a mom is that I didn’t bring my son, Nick, traveling around the world when he was young. He doesn’t have the same Wanderlust I do, although he loves Jamaica!
Imported Chocolate: Maybe his wanderlust will become stronger when he gets older. Hey, you never know. He has a great mom and travel role model! :0)
Where was the first place you traveled abroad?
Ellen Trotochaud: I hope – he sure loves Snow. Other than Jamaica at 17, I first went to Germany when I was 20. I loved it. Then I went to Rio soon after that.
When I started in the travel industry I was 19 and we had great travel benefits: Air for $25 in the US and $100 International. Free hotel rooms. I sure was spoiled—wish it was like that again now. The thing I like to splurge on most is travel!
Imported Chocolate: What?! I wish it was like that now too! Free hotel rooms?! Lucky you!!! I think travel is one of the best things to splurge on. You get so much more for your money.
Ellen Trotochaud: You get experience and understanding of many cultures. That is priceless.
Imported Chocolate: Priceless indeed! Out of all the places you’ve traveled to, what was your favorite and most memorable?
Ellen Trotochaud: There are so many wonderful experiences. It is so hard to pick. I loved my trip to the Amalfi coast in Italy. Capri was amazing—the scenery, the food, the smells – amazing. We did a great cooking class in Ravello with Mama Agata and ate dinner on a cliff over looking the water with bourgainvilla (sp) surrounding the table.
I try to do a cooking class where ever I travel.
It is a fun memory of each place. I loved Rio but it was so long ago. I have been to Paris seven times. I still love Paris most. I also loved Mendoza in Argentina. Did you go there when you were in Buenos Aires? The view of the vineyards against the Andes Mountains was so beautiful. I also did a very fun cooking class there. The food is so good in Argentina. Did you love it there?
Imported Chocolate: Nope. I didn’t get to go to Mendoza. :0( I went to iguazu falls. I loved the spicy foods. Chimichuri is my all time favorite sauce and churipan was my favorite snack! I’d travel back just to buy churipan!
Ellen Trotochaud: I am not sure I tried that. What is it?
Imported Chocolate: GASP! Lol! It’s chimichuri sauce on bread with chorizo sausages. It’s so good! You take one bite and your eyes roll back. Well, I think it’s that good, at least.
Ellen Trotochaud: Next time! There is so much to see in Argentina that I didn’t get to see; Igazu Falls, Bariloche. Isn’t it funny how food can enhance the travel experience?! I just got back from Vietnam and Cambodia. The best part of the trip was the food. I wasn’t sure if I would like the food there but it was excellent.
Imported Chocolate: It is so funny! And I think it’s such a great idea to take cooking classes when you travel. It’s such a great way to learn about a culture’s food! I’m going to try it one day. Thanks for inspiring me to do so. What was your favorite dish in Vietnam and Cambodia?
Ellen Trotochaud: The fresh spring rolls and the Pho which is a noodle soup. There are lots of spices: the lemongrass, Thai basil, chili, etc.
Imported Chocolate: Sounds yummy! Do you have any culture shock moments to share?
Ellen Trotochaud: Hmmm. That is a hard one. I am not sure that they are quite culture shock but there are two things that popped into my mind.
First was in Santorini Greece. It was such a funny experience. I was going to a meeting in Athens in February. My friend and I decided to go see Santorini for the weekend. We knew it was winter but still had visions of pretty blue and white buildings, great food and wine. We got there and the whole town was boarded up. Everything was closed!
We ended up going back to Athens just in time to see the Chicago Bears play in the Super bowl, watching until 4:30 in the morning. The biggest culture shock was Australia. I had it on the top of my list for 20 years. And I was disappointed. It felt like being in San Francisco and Miami! I had expected such a different experience.
Imported Chocolate: Wow! Lol! The Santorini story was crazy! Did the whole town leave because it was winter? For some reason the movie “30 Days of Night” popped into my head! Hee, hee. I have Australia on my list too. I haven’t been to San Fran or Miami yet, but it’s so funny to hear Australia seemed like both places.
Ellen Trotochaud: I think I had built up my expectations of Australia so much that I was disappointed. I also need to get back to Greece since I only saw it in winter.
Imported Chocolate: Ah, OK. That happens sometimes. Yes, Greece seems like it’s the most beautiful in summer. Have you ever traveled solo before? If so, what safety tips would you give women traveling solo?
Ellen Trotochaud: I have, especially with business. I think it is really important to do research before you go anywhere. I always look at the map and get an understanding of the surroundings. I read about the best transportation and what things should cost. I read comments about restaurants. I also check out communications such as the best way to make calls, get Internet, etc. Most of all, I think you just keep your head up and stay aware of your surroundings.
Imported Chocolate: I co sign this advice!
Ellen Trotochaud: Another important travel tip – write down the color, make, model and plate for your car rental. Have you ever come out to the valet and completely forgot which car you rented?! And always get a room by the elevator.
Imported Chocolate: These are helpful tips I wouldn’t have thought of. Ha! Thanks!
What advice would you give women who are afraid to travel?
Ellen Trotochaud: It is hard for me to understand a fear of travel. I can’t even comprehend it. However, I think the same tips about research apply. Being prepared will help ease anxiety. Also, having stuff that is familiar to you such as that great travel pillow or wrap, a great book or magazines and of course, music.
Also, get to know the culture you are visiting so things unfamiliar to you won’t rattle you. The book “Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands” was something I discovered several years ago. It is really helpful. “1000 Places to See before you Die” is a great book too.
Imported Chocolate: I will have to look both of those up. Thanks for recommending them!
Ellen Trotochaud: With the Internet, there is so much information out there. I could talk travel all night. I am probably taking up your whole evening!
Imported Chocolate: Lol! No worries. Now last, but certainly not least, Why do you love travel and where are you going next?
Ellen Trotochaud: So many reasons! I love to travel to experience the flavor of new places – culture, architecture, food and art – just the vibe of new places. I have met some wonderful people. I think the next place I am going is Croatia.
Imported Chocolate: I’m sure all of us with or without wanderlust would agree with all the reasons you love to travel! Is there anything else you would like to add as we take our last sip of hot chocolate?
Ellen Trotochaud: Like I said, I could talk travel for hours. I really appreciate you taking time with me. I am a big fan and appreciate the honor of joining you for some hot chocolate!
Imported Chocolate: Aaaaw! Thanks, Ellen! And it was an honor to sit down and chat with you as well! You truly inspire me to keep traveling and get more places under my belt! :0)
Ellen Trotochaud: Ditto!
Imported Chocolate: I hope you have a wonderful night! Ciao!
Ellen Trotochaud: Good night!