Category Archives: Travel

Departure – London & Berlin 2018

“The engine ingested the bird.”

Thus began my journey from Austin, TX to London, England earlier this afternoon. The plane that was to carry me from Austin to Houston struck a bird on approach into Austin, causing a significant departure delay as mechanics inspected the left engine in search of damage – or, in this case, ingested bird. Their findings prompted the announcement from the gate agent, “I wish I had better news; the engine ingested the bird. We will be delayed as repairs are completed.”

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Airline mechanics inspect engine for bird damage at Austin Bergstrom Airport. 9.19.2018

I always feel bad for inexperienced travelers when these things happen – some panic, some cry, some get angry. I spoke to one lady who absolutely had to be in Kuwait tomorrow. She was upset that United Airlines had ruined her plans, as she only had a one-hour connection in Houston which she would definitely miss.

Rule-of-Thumb #1: Allow more time than you think you will need when making connections, especially when traveling internationally. Things happen; allow time for that. Worst case scenario? You have two-plus hours to explore a world-class airport like IAH. And maybe even enjoy a nice glass of wine!

I talked to a young lady, about my daughter’s age. She asked me if I’ve flown before – this was her first trip, heading to Little Rock via Houston Intercontinental. She was waaaay back in line. I gave her the toll free number to United and suggested she call as she waited in line. She did call; United couldn’t help her over the phone. I assured her she’d get to Little Rock

Rule-of-Thumb #2: Use the airline mobile phone app and have their customer service number stored on your phone, just in case. While I don’t know why United couldn’t assist this young lady, I’ve circumvented many a delay line by calling customer service.

As I looked out the window to see what the mechanics were up to, I heard a man nearby yelling at an airline representative over the phone, as if he or she had special ordered the bird, directed it to this plane, and personally sucked the bird into the engine. As I listened I shook my head. I’ve never understood why some passengers treat airline employees so poorly.

Rule-of-Thumb #3: Airlines don’t cause bird strikes. Airlines don’t create bad weather. Things go wrong sometimes. Their employees are there to help. The employees didn’t create the issue. Trust me, they don’t like these situations any more than we passengers do. I understand being frustrated, even angry, but take a chill pill. Please don’t treat them rudely, and be sure to thank them for their assistance once you’re finished.

Screen Shot 2018-09-19 at 11.49.35 PMAs I type this I’m on my United flight to London. I’m looking forward to visiting this world-class city and Berlin next week. Tonight, as we head across the pond, I’m thankful for the privilege of traveling and for the people that make it happen. And, of course, I’m looking forward to exploring two of the world’s finest cities. I am blessed indeed.

 

2015 Photo-A-Day 2.25.2015

My winter mountain adventure with IMA continues as we’ve relocated to beautiful Breckenridge, Colorado. We spent part of yesterday afternoon at the Grand Lodge on Peak 7, where several in our party arranged for their rental equipment for today’s skiing. I haven’t skied in years, but it sure is tempting, especially considering the fresh snow that awaits! It is breathtakingly beautiful here!

“If you like the outdoors, Colorado is a big adventure playground for adults: it’s great for skiing, cycling, climbing, and hiking.” ~ Tyler Hamilton via BrainyQuote.com

The snow was really coming down in Breckenridge! 2.25.2015

The snow was really coming down in Breckenridge! 2.25.2015

2015 Photo-A-Day 2.24.2015

I have never visited the Rocky Mountains during winter until now. The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful in every direction. This is the view from my balcony at Devil’s Thumb Ranch near Winter Park, Colorado. Looking at this I see evidence of our Creator’s handiwork all around me. Soli Deo Gloria!

Before the mountains were born Or You gave birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. ~ Psalm 90:2

Morning view from my balcony at Devil's Thumb Ranch 2.25.2015

Morning view from my balcony at Devil’s Thumb Ranch 2.24.2015

Risk Manager in Residence

 

IMG_0833The letter from the Spencer Educational Foundation informed me I had been selected by the Katie School of Insurance & Financial Services at Illinois State University to spend two days with their students as Risk Manager in Residence. I was thrilled! Then, as the reality of this commitment settled into my brain, I was humbled.

My ISU "home" for two days: The State Farm Hall of Business.

My ISU “home” for two days: The State Farm Hall of Business.

I have enjoyed a very fulfilling career, and the opportunity to share some of my experiences and wisdom with my industry’s future was quite an honor. Over two days I was to lecture in three courses, two sessions apiece. Tuesday evening I would deliver a presentation to which all students of the Katie School were invited. I wanted the content to be meaningful to the students, and the Katie School faculty was extremely helpful in sharing information on class size, majors represented, and course content thus far in the term.

I began preparing my material a few weeks before departure. My aspirations were grand: I wanted to teach, encourage and inspire these students. As I began preparing my first course outline, my brain froze. “Who am I to stand before these students,” I began to ask myself. “What if my content is too basic? Or too advanced? What if I’m boring? What if we don’t connect? What if…”

I hate self-doubt. Self-doubt is one of the greatest barriers to success that we place before ourselves. Looking back in hindsight, however, I realize this wasn’t really a case of self-doubt. It was more an acknowledgement of how important this program is to the schools and students who participate. I would tailor a message with content specific to each class I would address. And I would deliver a presentation Tuesday evening that would be informative, entertaining, and inspiring. I prayed to God that He would give me the words to say, and He did.

As I write this, I am sitting in the Central Illinois Regional Airport awaiting my flight home. I’ve received lots of positive feedback from the Katie School. I’m pleased that my offerings were well received and added value. Over my two days at the Katie School, I was given a glimpse into my industry’s future. The students I met were bright, engaging, articulate, and excited for their futures. They asked many insightful questions. They each have much to offer. The future for my industry is very bright, indeed!

As I think back over the last two days, I’m betting that, in many respects, I gained more from this experience than the students did. I leave Illinois State inspired and refreshed. I have a renewed vigor for my career, and I have a new set of young friends to keep me on my toes. I thank God for this experience, and I will continue to seek to honor Him with my work.

If you are a risk management professional, I strongly encourage you to consider volunteering your time and expertise to the Risk Manager in Residence program. Trust me: you will be blessed.

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The Art of Vacation 2 (Sequel to “The Art of Vacation” posted 3/25/2014)

“Aaahhhhh!” That utterance, offered by yours truly this morning, is the essence of having achieved a clean and refreshing break from routine through the Art of Vacation. And what a vacation it was!

A Celebration of True Love

Our family vacation commenced with a two-day drive to beautiful Ouray, Colorado where we would join with family from all over the country in celebrating the nuptials of my niece, Jenny.

Panoramic taken from outside our room at the Box Canyon Lodge and Hot Springs

Panoramic taken from outside our room at the Box Canyon Lodge and Hot Springs

A Celebration of True Friendship

Upon returning from Colorado June 30, we prepared for the arrival of our friends from Roanoke, Virginia the next day. When they arrived at DFW Airport we hit the ground running, spending lots of time catching up on each other’s families while we played tourist in my home town.

Dealey Plaza, the site of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, was our first tourist stop. Offering an audio tour through the events of that fateful day, the museum on the sixth floor of the old Texas Book Depository is extremely well done. If you live in the Metroplex or find yourself visiting here you must put this on your bucket list.

We lightened the mood on July 3 by visiting downtown Grapevine, Texas. This historical area features several Texas wineries along with cool shops offering everything from fine chocolates to antiques to Texas apparel & souvenirs. Grapevine also offers several fine restaurants to suit any taste. We were apparently so caught up in the excitement that none of us took any pictures!

Independence Day, July 4, found us in the historical Fort Worth Stockyards, one of my favorite places to visit. We took in the sights and sounds of this beautiful historical district and celebrated our freedom at the Stockyards Rodeo – you can’t get much more Americana than that!

Our friends departed for home Saturday afternoon, and we spent the remainder of the day relaxing at home as we recharged the proverbial batteries.

The Art of Vacation

As I prepared to leave the office for vacation I put the wheels in motion by letting my coworkers know that they will hear from me when I return to the office on Monday, July 7. I updated my voice mail greeting to state clearly that I am not checking it, and my email auto-reply clearly states the same. And I kept my word. Today I returned to work reenergized, refreshed, and ready.

Have you lost the Art of Vacation? If so, find it. Reclaim it. Live it. I promise you won’t regret it.

#roadwarriorprobs

I credit my good friend John Adams with coining the hashtag #roadwarriorprobs. He uses it frequently, and I’ve adopted it as one of my favorites. We use it to describe the good, the bad, and even the ugly that we who travel frequently face from time to time. I like it so much, that I’m bound and determined to grow its use in the vast, wonderful realm of social media.

#roadwarriorprobs – the business trip that takes an unexpected turn as the flight home on Thursday is replaced at the last minute by a drive to the next destination to address an urgent situation that has just come up. When this happens, is your glass half full or is it half empty?

 

Relaxing in the Executive Lounge at the Hilton Hotel in Oak Lawn, IL. 5.22.2014

Relaxing in the Executive Lounge at the Hilton Hotel in Oak Lawn, IL. 5.22.2014

#roadwarriorprobs – that moment when you’re sitting up in bed at the local Hampton Inn watching the Duck Dynasty clan, knowing that many of your friends and family envision you enjoying a lavish dinner or a night out on the town.

 

My view at the Hampton Inn. Living large! 3.21.2014

My view at the Hampton Inn. Living large! 5.21.2014

#roadwarriorprobs – speaking of that lavish dinner, there are perks to business travel. One of my favorites comes in the form of relationships, and enjoying a fine meal in the company of people who I’ve come to genuinely like over the years to the point of considering them true friends.

 

The Cowboy Ribeye at St Elmo Steakhouse, Indianapolis, IN. 5.21.2014

The Cowboy Ribeye at St Elmo Steakhouse, Indianapolis, IN. 5.21.2014

#roadwarriorprobs – the snowstorm that wreaks havoc on your travel schedule as it transforms a major US city into a beautiful winter wonderland. Do you stay inside and fret or do you get out and enjoy the beauty?

 

Original image taken on Broad Street, just north of the Doubletree, looking at City Hall just a few blocks up. 1.1.2014

Original image taken on Broad Street, just north of the Doubletree, looking at City Hall just a few blocks up.  Philadelphia, PA 1.1.2014

#roadwarriorprobs – that sigh of relief that comes when the wheels go up, you’re in the air, and you are finally able to unwind as you look forward to seeing your family upon arriving home.

 

Blogging at 30,000 feet

Blogging at 30,000 feet

And last but not least…

#roadwarriorprobs – sharing the fun with the one you love.

My wife and me enjoying the beautiful pool at the Ritz Carlton Beach Resort, Naples, FL. 2.15.2014

My wife and me enjoying the beautiful pool at the Ritz Carlton Beach Resort, Naples, FL. 2.15.2014

None of these are problems per se. They are the little curve balls life throws us, sometimes when we are least expecting it. Life is what you make it, and I’ve learned over the years to appreciate these times. And when God blesses me with an unexpected moment while I’m away from home you’re likely to see me share it on social media with my favorite hashtag. Fellow road warriors, feel free to join me!

The Art of Vacation

When is the last time you took a vacation? I’m not necessarily talking about an expensive trip to an exotic destination; I’m talking about a simple break from your daily routine. Merriam-Webster defines vacation as, “a period of time that a person spends away from home, school, or business usually in order to relax or travel” (Merriam-webster.com). Speaking strictly from personal experience, we all need to retreat from routine once in awhile to reenergize ourselves. Our minds need a break and our bodies need rest.

We work in an age of immediacy. People send email and expect a (sometimes unreasonably) quick reply. Instant messaging, a means of communication even more immediate than email, is becoming more popular at work. I’ve heard of 2-hour voice mail standards in some work places. Pile these communications on top of increasing workloads and multiple projects and we have created for ourselves a stressful work environment that leaves us exhausted at the end of the day. Multiply that day by weeks and then by months and, at some point, our minds and our bodies say, “Enough already!”

Sadly, along with the convenience and immediacy of modern forms of communications comes what I call The Fear of Disconnecting. Many of us cannot or will not disconnect from work, even when supposedly on vacation, because we suffer from The Fear. Seriously? Are any of us really so important that our workplace would collapse if we disappeared for a week or two? Unfortunately, I know many colleagues who, by their actions, seem to take that notion to heart. I’m asking you to consider otherwise.

After years of vacationing with my laptop and smart phone as travel companions, I wondered why I returned from vacation pretty much as stressed as when I departed. Then it hit me: I never really disconnected. I checked email once or twice each day and replied to most messages. I checked voice mail one or more times daily and returned or forwarded important calls. I found that I was spending an hour or more of each vacation day – working! No wonder I couldn’t relax! No wonder I was stressed! “But this is what’s expected; this is what is necessary these days,” I thought.

Two years ago, I decided to conduct a personal experiment by adopting my own personal vacation policy centered on a complete disconnection from my work routine. While the benefits of such a policy are numerous, here are three benefits that should resonate with most of us:

  1. When I disconnect completely I truly enjoy the vacation experience. Whether visiting an exotic location or doing yard work at the lake (yes, that is R&R for me) the experience receives my full attention. My mind is focused on something other than routine. That’s the point.
  2. When I disconnect completely I am a better travel companion for my family. They get all of me for those few days.
  3. When I disconnect completely I return to work from vacation feeling refreshed and rejuvenated – a win for my coworkers and a win for me.

That all sounds great, but how do we pull this off in today’s world of immediate communication? How do we disconnect while respecting the expectation that we be immediately available? Friends, it’s all in the planning. Two to three weeks before my scheduled vacation, I let my boss, my coworkers, and my direct reports know of my plans. I give them the dates of my vacation and remind them that I will not check email or voice mail while I’m away. This gives them ample time to request things from me before I leave, thus mitigating the possibility of somebody needing something while I’m away and feeling frustrated because I’m not there to deliver it. I give similar notification to important business partners outside my company – in my case those include our insurance broker, our claims representatives, and our outside law firms. I give my first notice three weeks ahead of time if possible, and I repeat the notice at least once each week leading up to my scheduled vacation.

Before leaving the office, I update my voice mail greeting and my email auto-reply to clearly state that I am unavailable while offering a means of reaching a qualified coworker. If you email me today, for example, this is the message you will receive: “I am out of the office on vacation. I will not be checking email while I’m away. I will return to the office on Friday, March 28 and I will receive and reply to your email after my return. Should you require assistance before then, please contact…” Similarly, if you call my work number today, you will receive this voice mail greeting: “This is Jeff Strege with CEC Entertainment. I am on vacation. You may press zero now to be transferred to another member of the risk management team. If you’d prefer to leave a message you may do so at the tone, but I will not receive your message until I return to the office on Friday, March 28.” My goal is to clearly state that I will not receive the message until my return while giving the sender or caller a means by which they can reach somebody else for assistance.

I offer this side comment on out of office messaging: If you say you’re out, you’re out. If you set your out of office message to say you’re out, but then reply to emails or return phone calls your Out of Office Credibility is shot. When you try to disconnect for vacation, people who know you well may expect a reply anyway. Set the message and let it be.

This system has worked beautifully for me. Fortunately, I work with people who understand the needs and benefits of a real vacation – and I bet most of those reading this do as well. I dare you to try it. If it’s a scary proposition for you, take a Friday off and allow yourself to disconnect completely for the 3-day weekend. If you haven’t tried it before, you may be surprised at how refreshed you feel when you return to work on Monday.

P.S. I am not a psychologist or a human behavior expert, nor is this piece intended to persuade anybody to behave in a manner not consistent with company policy or procedure. This piece is based solely on my personal experience. Good luck!

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