Every Thing Learned Has Value

Years ago we worked on a project called Reflections: The American Funeral, this tour was a multi-year undertaking took us across the country to both small and large communities. People often balked at the thought of a funeral tour but enter any museum and what do you find? The funerary artifacts of a culture. We study their lives from how they honored the dead. While at the Nelson Atkins a year ago, what was most striking in a special exhibit on Saudi Arabia were archeological finds from tombs.

Reflections-Washington, DC-3.8-10 (45)

There was once a reporter who, after learning about our work with this project called it one of our less glamorous assignment. I beg to differ, this was actually a very glamorous project. We were special guests in communities, attended conventions with well known public figures, met governors, and had access to countless media resources. Getting this truck noticed was much easier than many others. It makes me thankful that I was involved with it. By taking part in Reflections I gained exposure and experience in many avenues of the event marketing industry.  The owner at the time Harry, was wonderful in his faith that we could manage and represent a project he closely advocated to see created. I gained a trusted relationship with future mentor, made contacts that I would be lost without, and friendships I cherish. Working on Reflections was everything glamorous. The value from this less conventional project was immeasurable.

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The Layover

We recently caught an episodes of Travel Channel’s The Layover. We are both already fans of Anthony Bourdain, although some of his recent project have not been to my taste. As his life and world view have changed, so have the work. The Layover appealed to us because there are so many occasions when we have a limited amount of time, resources, or mobility in cool locations. The Layover is all about finding the thing to do in a place. This is easier when you aren’t traveling every day, we often don’t have the time or inclination to pre-plan. There are certain gems that you must experience. New Orleans is one of those places, no matter how much or little time you have, there is a memory to be made.

This is an oldy but a goody

This is an oldy but a goody

After watching Bourdain’s 48 hours in Nola, it got us both thinking about how much we enjoy that city but not for the obvious reasons. There is no other place in the US with such a unique culture, not always noticeable on Bourbon Street. This is not to say that you shouldn’t take part in that wild time once, but the city offers much more and better places to booze and hear music. Part of living this lifestyle is meeting people from all over and gathering a large network. We have the privilege to know a couple of really cool cats in New Orleans, including a native. Hanging out with a local in the know is truly awesome and has been a large part in formulating our opinion of Nola.

Pippi going Steampunk for the parade

Pippi going Steampunk for the parade

The different cultures and classes live so close together, that they blend and it creates what is uniquely New Orleans. Different interest and world views are mixed together and appreciate to grow what is NoLa. This is very apparent in the food. While there are many traditional Louisiana foods, anything you eat in the city has a bit of the melting pot to it. That is also to say that New Orleans is not the place to start your diet. Next time you are thinking about going to a city as well known as this one consider some options that don’t make the top 10. I assure you that it will still be fun and possibly a more authentic visit.

A fabulous dinner at Three Sister, one of my favs

Make the Most of It – Tips for Starting out On The Road

Being on the road can be very taxing and sometimes isolating but there are many ways to make the most out of your time.  It just takes a little effort and knowhow. This is another post that is focused on new MRA employees.

Yelp: There are all kinds of services you are going to need between visits home.  Yelp is a great resource for finding anything from a hair dresser to a dry-cleaner. You can see rankings, reviews, and get an idea for how their services are prices against others.  I use this site for everything but especially restaurants.  There are ways to use filters and preferences when looking for food that will give you just the right place.  You can choose price, atmosphere, food type, and many others. I love that they also have a category of take-out and delivery.  I know there are other apps out there for those two specific categories but I still use Yelp first (at least right now).

Blogs: Obviously I am a true believer that blogs are a great way to find information, I write a few myself.  A quick google or WordPress search can lead you to someone who is local or has traveled to your destination with the inside scoop.

Other Social Media: Some find that Twitter is a great place to find info, others like looking for Facebook Pages, I use all of these are others like FourSquare.  It’s all what you like to look at.

Travel Apps: There are so many apps to add to your phone that do one or many different functions for travel and making it easier.  I encourage you to try a few, decide what you prefer later.  I can’t live without Google Maps, The Weather Channel, Honors, eBates, Target (tells you the closest store, map programs often send you to a closed location like on near our office), Starbucks, USPS and all other shipping apps, Yelp and Uber.

Staying Fit: Everyone, EVERYONE gains weight their first year on the road.  This is a huge lifestyle change, even for drivers who are coming from OtR.  You will eat all your meals are a restaurant and work odd schedules.  Finding a routine is difficult.  I encourage you to look into an activity tracker app (Fitbit or MyFitnessPal, ext).  Hotels will not consistently have exercise equipment or good equipment.  Josh and I have had great success from committing to exercise programs like Insanity or T25.  Neither of these require extra equipment, just your time.  The last thing you are going to want to do is drag anything else into a hotel at night.  I’m happy to let you try either if you reach out to me.

Staying Connected: Download and use Facebook on your MRA issued smartphone.  There are lots of other apps and sites to stay connected to your family and friends but nothing like Facebook.  A bad day or a lonely one can get much better by connecting to friends.  You will be surprised as you use it how often you “forgot” someone lived in a town you are visiting.  I share a weekly post about where we will be.

Staying Entertained: There are lots of ways to fill your time with fun activities instead of vegging on the hotel bed all night.

Overdrive: This is an online lending program sponsored by your local library.  You check out books just like at the library but they are electronic.  I read an insane amount and listen to audiobooks checked out from the library.  All you need is a library card and the account is really easy to set up.  Your taxes already pay for this service so use it.

Netflix: Stream videos right to your MRA issues laptop or tablet.  Most hotel’s wifi is strong enough these days to stream.

Amazon Prime: This is a two-part program I encourage you to purchase.  For $100 a year you get access to a huge library of TV and movies along with free two-day shipping.  That last part will save your life out here.  There are just so many times you don’t have time of a way to get something you need and prime shipped to a hotel is just the ticket to stay happy.  I often use it for items that I need for the tour.  This annual fee is not reimbursable from MRA but can be included in your taxes.

 

These are just a few of the options you have, try things see what you like.

 

***This is part of a series of posts called “Travel Tuesday“, each covering topics unique to our lifestyle***

Sign Up – Tips for Starting out On The Road

I am going to share a short series on here aimed at new employees of my firm MRA.  Learning how to make the most out of road life is hard.  Most of this we figured out the hard way.  While these posts are focused on how my fellow employees can maximize benefits any one can take a little of this away.  The way our budgets works makes some of this proprietary.

 

Hotels:

The first and biggest tip is to sign up for every hotel rewards program, this is easily done the first time you book at a particular chain. Don’t let any points pass you by. When you sign up (can be done during the reservation process) you will either be given the option to create a username and password then or sent an email with instructions. We are all issued smartphones and a very effective way to keep track of these member numbers, usernames, and passwords is in the notes application on your phone.

Example:

Hilton Honors – 4181749, user@gomra.com, MRAru1es

Many of these rewards programs offer special bonuses throughout the year. Signing up to receive these emails and making sure you activate the offer can skyrocket your rewards.

Example: Hilton Honors offered 2000 bonus points for all weekend stays.

While there are great benefits to using one brand over another, gaining status at certain brands includes upgrades and freebies, seeking to only stay at one brand is against company policy. Don’t make a habit of going off route of staying far from event sites just to make Diamond status, that will lead to reprimand.

MRA has discount rates with some chains, you can find that information in your employee handbook.

If you have AARP, AAA or any other discount program yourself, use them. It could be the difference between a 2-star and 3-star stay. You are not reimbursed for these memberships but the cost can be viewed as gaining a more comfortable lifestyle.

The reward points can often be used for more than hotel stays. Choice Privileges allows you to purchase gift cards with your points. It would be good to take some time and note what you can use and what expires.

Lastly you can make the decision about what points you earn.  For exaplme I want my Hilton Honors points but my Best Western Rewards go to airline miles.  We don’t stay at enough Best Westerns for them to add up but the Airline points help with vacations.

 

Having status gets you upgrade, bigger room and bigger beds

Having status gets you upgrade, bigger room and bigger beds

Airlines:

The same goes for signing up for reward program, however you will not get the same benefits.

Airline reward points expire more often and are harder to use on “other” items. Try to be proactive in checking and find ways to spend your points. Think outside the box, like using points to purchase a magazine subscription for someone as a thank you or even donating them to charity. I give my in-laws magazine renewals for all the little things they help us with.

Yes Pippi, it would be terrible to miss out on some points.

Yes Pippi, it would be terrible to miss out on some points.

 

Rental Cars:

While many rental car firms have membership programs, they do not all offer reward points. These are simply ease of use programs. While this does not seam like a huge benefit, being about to pull up receipts quickly is.

 

Other Programs:

Signing up for Staples and Best Buy Rewards can also be another way to see a little extra money in your pocket. Keep an eye out for things like this when making purchases for your tours.

 

So much to think about, it can be exhausting

So much to think about, it can be exhausting

Pass-through sites:

The biggest kept secret to gaining extra benefits on the road is using a pass-through site like eBates or Fatwallet. These sites give you a cash percentage of the money spent just by shopping through them. While this is an extra step in all your bookings it pays. Get in the habit of looking at the pass through site before you make a purchase. Hotels, cars, airlines and retail outlets all offer a percentage back. It can really add up. With hotels you will need to do the entire reservation from the pass through but with many retail stores you can shop, fill a cart and then go to the pass though before the final purchase.  Feel free to sign up with this link.

http://www.ebates.com/rf.do?referrerid=pRmHzixCLA%2F1CfdYKn13yw%3D%3D&eeid=26471

Credit Cards:

You will now be making a larger number of daily purchases, think about the amount spent on food. These are personal expenses. Look into a personal credit card that can give you cash back, reward points or some other kind of advantage. Paying it off monthly will give you the rewards and keep you with a good credit score, something a bit tough when you are moving.

Overview – the main benefit for signing up for reward programs is to gain some sort of financial benefit but you also get ease of use. Having a username with saved info saves you time and effort.

***This is part of a series of posts called “Travel Tuesday“, each covering topics unique to our lifestyle***