Travel Advice

Spotlight on: The Georgia D.O.T.’s HERO unit

August 12, 2013 • By
[box]Today, I wanted to write about one of our unsung heroes. Literally. like the old saying, you never miss your water until the well runs dry; you don’t realize the value of these folks until you need them.[/box]


It is inevitable that you will come across one of these bright yellow vehicles during the course of your rush hour commute if you live in Georgia. They are responsible for moving disabled vehicles from the highway onto the shoulder or clearing wrecks from the highways in order to facilitate a smoother traffic flow.


courtesy 11Alive news

courtesy: 11Alive news


The Georgia DOT Office of Traffic Operations Highway Emergency Response Operators (HERO) patrols Georgia’s highways 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The majority of their time is spent assisting stranded motorists who may:

  • have a flat tire
  • need a jump start
  • need transport
  • need fuel or water
  • need to use a phone

If they happen to see a car on the side of the road, they will pull up behind them to assist (providing that the driver hasn’t already left the vehicle to seek help at an off-ramp).  They are not a wrecker service, so they will not be able to tow you.  They can, however, contact a towing service for you.

There’s something comforting about knowing that should you experience a breakdown while traveling on Georgia’s highways, you can easily summon help by dialing 511, then press 1 to reach a HERO dispatcher. It’s nice to know that you will be taken care of whether you live here, visiting or are just passing through.  Caveat:  For obvious reasons, during major traffic incidents or severe weather, HEROs may not be available for routine motorist assistance.





Since they are Department of Transportation employees, they do not accept any payment or gratuities. The service is completely free. As with anything that attempts to do good in the world, there will always be someone to muck things up. There have been reports of fake HERO scammers who will demand money after performing their ‘service’. Authentic HEROs will have official state issued ID and you can always dial 511 to confirm their legitimacy.

If they are crooks they will probably run before you can dial 51… Additionally, they provide support to first responders and law enforcement agencies during emergencies. Currently, there are 113 HERO operators with the majority covering the Atlanta, Macon and Savannah areas due to high traffic flow in those areas.


highway incident response unit - hero



[box]Corporate sponsors like State Farm help to fund the operations of  The HERO fleet.  They paid the Department of Transportation $1.7 million dollars per year for three years.  In return, their logo is advertised on the exterior of each HERO unit.  All monies received are used specifically to support the HERO program.[/box]

City Views, North America

Travel Photo Friday

August 2, 2013 • By


Party over here!! We were leaving the casino and happened upon this party bus, replete with disco ball and dancing patrons and boy was the music LOUD! But that’s to be expected on a Saturday night in New Orleans. I think it’s a great way to let your hair down, have a few cocktails and party down with your best friends. It’s a pretty safe way to entertain yourself but I would still recommend having a designated driver regardless. Woot!!


How to stop tap dancing for the world and reclaim your sanity

July 29, 2013 • By


Are you at a point in your life where you’re constantly frazzled, burning the candle at both ends and can barely fire two synapses together because you are on emotional overload?  You’re being pulled from all sides….the boss has you on an impossible deadline and so far the only thing that you’ve managed to produce is a case of the heebie jeebies (but who can afford to be out of work in this economy?).  Your kids are convinced that you have tentacles that can extend and retract at will.  Your significant other (an otherwise bright and intelligent person) becomes befuddled when it’s time to load a dishwasher and the mere mention of housework makes them apoplectic.

The irony of it all, is that you are stressing because of someone else.  Don’t get me wrong we all have obligations, both professional and familial.  While your hands may be somewhat tied when it comes to your livelihood, it does not have to be the case anywhere else.  Unless that’s how YOU want it to be.  A lot of the pressures that we feel come from external forces.  We’re supposed to have an immaculate home, perfect robotic children, run the daily car pool like clockwork and fix seven dinners a week that would make Wolfgang Puck jealous.  We are too busy living the life that others expect, in fact, demand of us.

Luckily, there is a way to get off of the crazy train.  By giving yourself permission to orchestrate your life in a way that is meaningful to you, you can reclaim your sanity.  Here are a few tips to get you closer to that goal.


Boycott work




Ok, maybe it’s not as dramatic as it sounds, but some of us give our undying devotion to a job that will easily be given to another drone as soon as you’re gone.  Sometimes, we sacrifice so much to get ahead without much thought as to where that might lead.

It may be worth the trouble to take a step back and decide what it is that you truly want or need from your employer or employment.  Is it really worth working 15 hour days when you can’t even find the time to enjoy your earnings?  There’s a reason why it’s lonely at the top; most people realize the price that you have to pay to get there.


Let go of control




No one likes to feel as if they are puppets and have no say regarding matters that directly impact them.  But sometimes, to coin a phrase, you have to pick your battles.  You have to decide what is worth fighting for and what you must let go because you can no longer allow it to have power over you.

You can’t go through life getting pissed off about everything that doesn’t happen to go your way.  If you do, you will end up spending years, literally, being angry at the world because guess what?  Not everything is within the realm of your control.  Stuff happens.  Deal with it or it will deal with you and not in a healthy way either.


A little dirt can wait until tomorrow, it will not cause the world to end




Oh, I remember it well.  I used to pride myself in having a spotless home.  My greatest avocation was in keeping it clean and immaculate.  In retrospect, I believe that I did it for others more than myself.  My ears would delight in hearing the various compliments from friends and family who would rave about my Suzy Homemaker skills.  I would never go to bed with anything out of place.  Can you imagine what a barrel of laughs I must have been to live with?

Eventually, I learned that a little dirt never hurt anyone.  My house looks more lived in these days.  It is no longer a museum for germaphobes, it’s a home…a well used home that serves me…not the other way around.


Stop being a people pleaser and give up your disease to please



If I could recapture the years that I’ve spent worrying about what others thought of me and added them to the end of my life expectancy, it would be extended by a few decades.  I won’t go into all of the useless meanderings about how stupid I was to care about people who probably wouldn’t spit on me if I were on fire, I will just say, if you are doing it now.  Stop.  It never leads to anything good.  You are wasting precious time, that could extrapolate into years, if you let it.

Truth be told, people are probably too busy trying to live their own lives to care about what you are doing with yours.  So, spending inordinate amounts of time ruminating, worrying or wondering what they think about you is such an exercise in futility.  Focus on rebuilding or start to build self-esteem.  The more you care about yourself, the less you care about how others perceive you and you will suddenly find that you have more time to be concerned about things that actually matter.  Perhaps, you will begin to stop trying to live up to the expectations of others.


You want to be an artist in a village of doctors



Family expectations can be a %&@!*.  If there is a historical lineage that traces your bloodline back to several generations of the same profession, don’t be surprised that the folks will be expecting you to follow suit.

If you share a similar goal…….Yay!  But if your heart isn’t in it, don’t fake it just to appease others.  The worst thing that you can do with your life is to allow yourself to become a carbon copy of someone else.   Now, I can understand how declaring your independence could literally start another world war in the family, but ask yourself what sense it would make to utilize your higher ed to prepare for something you have no desire to do?

Even if it means that you will have to fund your education yourself, it will be money well spent it if means you get to determine your own fate. Remember: you don’t have to stifle your dreams to please others.


Discover the life-saving  properties of the word, “No”



Contrary to popular belief, saying the word ‘no’ will not condemn your screaming soul into the bowels of hell.  Whenever someone attempts to use guilt to get you to give in, they are playing dirty.  That means all bets are off.  You have the right to decide what is worthy of your time and attention and there is no shame in deciding to limit the number of activities or causes to get involved in.  We all get the same 24 hours and good news for you, you get to decide how to spend it.

Now, it’s your turn.  What sticky situations have you gotten yourself out of in order to reclaim your life?  Please share your travails in the comment section.


Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide to using the TripIt! Application

July 8, 2013 • By

Screen shot 2013-07-07 at 1.35.36 PM I’m a planner. I’m not the type A, OCD type of planner, but I like to keep things organized and in its place. Never is this more apparent than when I am planning the details of my vacation.

I like to have all of my flight, hotel and activity confirmations in one place where I can access them at any time.

I started out using the calendar feature of Microsoft Outlook. I could easily record all of my confirmations by keying them in on the appropriate dates; then the day before departure, I would print out each day’s activities and have them ready to go.

I really didn’t have an issue with preparing my itinerary this way. That is, until I found a quicker and easier way to do it. Enter the app, TripIt.   I found it while searching through apps on Linked-In, of all places.

It allows your linkedin connections to see where you are headed to next. This can be a bad and a good thing, I chose to disable this feature since I didn’t necessarily want everyone of my connections to know my complete schedule in real time.

However, you can input all of your information via their website by opening an account at TripIt . You can even give TripIt permission to auto import travel plans from your email inbox (this can be rescinded at any time). When you receive confirmations of your airline, hotel and tour bookings via email, TripIt will automatically scan your inbox and capture those bookings into your TripIt account. Each screen shot that you see below was automatically scanned into my account when TripIt discovered it in my gmail account.

The only time you will have to actually key in data is when you make a direct reservation over the phone and get a verbal confirmation. I use the free version of TripIt because it does pretty much everything that I require and I’m…um….budget minded.

Once you have created an account, you can begin to start inputting your itinerary (assuming that you will do it manually the first time around).  At the top right of the page, you will see a menu bar.

Click on “Add a trip”.  You can key in your destination city and your trip dates.  You may decide to assign a name to your trip or indicate if you want this trip to remain private or if you want to share it with your previously selected connections (like Linked-In, or even the people who will be traveling with you).

Lastly, you can select if it’s a business or leisure trip then you can click the “Create Trip” button.

Your new trip itinerary page will show a calendar of the dates of the trip.  You may click on a date and select a category for each activity whether it’s flight, hotel, restaurant or activity reservations.  Continue until you have captured all of the pertinent information for your trip from your confirmation emails.  You may copy/paste everything just to be sure, but I can’t recommend highly enough that you allow TripIt access to your email and let them plug in the info for you.

Screen shot 2013-06-30 at 1.28.59 PM

I decided to stay at an airport hotel since our flight was early in the morning. I know…you’re asking why would I spend $106.00 on a hotel when I didn’t have to. Here’s why: It was close to the airport, we didn’t have to fight through rush hour traffic, we got a free breakfast and free airport shuttle before heading out. The best part was that with that “Park, Sleep and Fly” reservation, we got up to two weeks free parking on site. When you compare that to what the park and fly lots charge for 10 days we made the right decision.

I like to detail the hotel’s checkout time too. It allows a smooth transition from the hotel to the airport so that I can get to my gate in a timely fashion.  We were able to enjoy a nice breakfast before taking the shuttle to our American Airlines gate.

Screen shot 2013-06-30 at 1.30.08 PM

TripIt left no stone unturned when copying my confirmation email to the itinerary. I used miles to get from ATL – MIA, hence the small fare which really was the airline fee.  We had a six hour layover in Miami, we chose to spend our downtime in the Delta Airlines Crown room (we got a free pass for opening an AMEX Delta Gold card) surfing the net, eating and having a cocktail or two.

We arrived at the first leg of our trip, Lima, Peru, early the next morning.  All of our itinerary info for Lima was ‘automagically’ inserted into TripIt for us.

Screen shot 2013-06-30 at 1.31.04 PM

TripIt will offer maps to get you from point A to point B. Since we were meeting our driver at ground transportation, there was no need to utilize it.

We would be arriving way before check in but I made sure to notify them via email that I would be coming in the wee hours of the morning.  They were ok with it since there is always someone at the front desk.  I booked the reservation via Expedia (after reading great reviews on and when the confirmation email was sent, TripIt was to the rescue again, plugging in all of the itinerary info into my account.

Screen shot 2013-06-30 at 1.31.37 PM

Once again, in our attempt to travel cheaply we settled on a hostel for Lima. It was nice, we got free breakfast and coffee too. The front desk clerks and housekeeping were exceptional….even when we were locked inside our room for two hours! That’s a long story that I will have to write about sometime.

I had booked two tours before leaving home and those tours were entered into TripIt.  I decided to leave one day free in between where we could just spend the day getting to know the city.

Screen shot 2013-06-30 at 1.32.35 PM

Next, we detailed the hostel departure date and time.  Also, the second leg of our trip from Lima to Santiago, Chile is detailed here along with info on the apartment that we decided to rent in the heart of Santiago.  Again, we had a driver so directions to the apartment were unnecessary.

Screen shot 2013-06-30 at 1.33.22 PM

We got there fairly late in the day, so we went next door to the grocery store and bought food for the week.  We had a tour early the next morning so we spent the day getting to know the city.  We took a daytrip to Valparaiso the following day.  I decided to copy/paste info about the city that I found on lonely planet into the itinerary.

Screen shot 2013-06-30 at 1.34.45 PM

Note that next to the date, the weather forecast is indicated for that particular day.

I had to determine when I needed to leave the apartment in order to catch the third leg of my trip to Easter Island.  The flight was rather early and  since only there was only two flights a week, we could not miss it.  This is where TripIt really comes in handy because it allows you see how your reservations impact one another at a single glance.

Screen shot 2013-06-30 at 2.20.43 PM

Finally, the departure from the hostel is posted along with the first leg of the return to our hometown of Atlanta.

Screen shot 2013-06-30 at 2.21.52 PM

You can download a free app version for android, iPhone, Blackberry, Windows 7 and iPad here:  TripIt on Mobile

If you think you might want more features and are willing to pay for them, there are several premium options available to you as a TripIt Pro ($49.00 per year) user that you might find useful like:

Screen shot 2013-06-30 at 7.35.32 PM

Travel Advice

Google Reader dies in t – minus six hours….

June 30, 2013 • By


Hi Dear Reader,

As you may know by now, Google has decided to stop providing a way for all of us to read our collection of blog feeds.  If you are a subscriber and read my blog posts via Google Reader, you won’t be able to after midnight tonight.

So, do me a favor.  Take a second to go here to select another type of reader to use so that you won’t miss any critical posts of mine in the future:

OR….USA Today has a review of five alternative readers that you can quickly switch to.  Personally, I settled on using Feedly, but you are free to choose whatever you desire.  Just don’t wait too long…….it will be gone before you can say, “July 1st”.

Hope to see you soon on the other side!


Europe, Reviews, Travel Advice

The 8 things that surprised me during my trip to Rome, Italy

June 25, 2013 • By


Rome, Italy was my second sojourn into Europe. Having visited Paris the year prior, I thought myself very fortunate to be going back so quickly. I had been intrigued with Rome for awhile, mostly through the lens of a movie camera.

There were so many great films like “Three Coins in the fountain” and “Roman Holiday” that set the tone for my romanticized (pun intended) and lofty expectations.

As wonderful as the city is, when I finally got the chance to visit this beautiful country, some things were were not as I expected.  Not everything one envisions matches the fantasy, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t have a fantastic time anyway.

Here are a few surprises that greeted me as walked around this beautiful city:

  • Limoncello is a very popular Italian liqueur that is made from lemons. It is produced in southern Italy in places like the isle of Capri which is where I got my first taste of this’delicacy’. I realize that there are many fans of this drink, but personally, I found it to be just awful and hated it. I think what turned me off what the extreme thick and gooey viscosity of the drink that made me feel as though I was drinking lemon-flavored motor oil. Perhaps, my palate isn’t refined enough to appreciate it and you, dear reader may end up enjoying it.


  • You can take an excavations (or Scavi) tour underneath the Vatican’s Basilica.  The almost two hour tour allows you access to the Vatican Necropolis where you can view the final resting place of St. Peter,who was martyred circa 64 and buried outside the walls of the city of Rome.


  • Like many people who have seen The Trevi Fountain in travel photos or online, subconsciously, you get the impression that the fountain is massive and larger than the mind can conceive.  However, standing in front of it in the flesh, leaves a lot of be desired.  You can literally step right up to it and practically kiss the statues. It felt like a bait and switch or maybe I have a faulty depth perception and I’m getting ornery in my old age.


  • You can literally walk anywhere because the city is very pedestrian friendly. The shops are in close proximity and very centrally located because I never had to use public transportation once.  I did pine for the opportunity to ride one of the ubiquitous Vespas that were jetting around the city. Our visit was at the height of the gas crisis, so this idea was appealing in more ways than one.



  • The Vatican has it’s own post office where you can mail postcards/letters and get a nifty Vatican postmark in the process.  I bought a postcard and wrote a short synopsis of the day’s activities at the Vatican and mailed it back home.  It’s a nice souvenir keepsake that’s meaningful yet costs very little.


  • The last two days of my trip to Rome I was really ill.  So much so, that I had to have help getting ready to catch our flight back home.  I got sick courtesy of a woman who joined us on a group tour to Capri, Sorrento and Naples.  I had the misfortune of sitting right behind her so I caught every germ that she had.  I knew that I needed something serious to combat what was to come.  Stat!  I decided to visit one of the pharmacies that is literally on every block (or so it seems) and decided to tell the pharmacist exactly what had happened and could he recommend an over the counter elixir for me.

It was difficult to discern what was what since most of the medication was written in Italian.   The pharmacist actually mixed me his own concoction…something that would never happen in the states given our strict drug regulations/laws.  He explained what it was and when and in what dosage that I should take it.   I was happy that the laws are a bit different in Italy, even though a day had passed before I could really attack my impending sickness, I do believe that his cold medicine made my suffering a little more bearable.


  • I’ve written about this before, but I think it bears repeating.  Be wary of Romans bearing gifts!  You will see these faux Roman soldiers milling around the Coliseum which is a great photo op, but it will cost you if you want to take a pic with them or even if they ‘catch’ you taking a pic of them (like this one!) one may approach you for money.  Not the most pleasant experience to have, so be aware.


  • While planning my trip to Rome, I learned about a wonderful concoction called “Gelato”. It seemed everywhere I turned, people were extolling the virtues of overdosing on gelato, the more flavors the better! The best way to describe this sensational dessert is to say it’s a cross between ice cream and sherbet. The texture is light; not as dense as ice cream and the flavors are more vibrant. It reminds you of a chunky sorbet because if you are eating a pineapple gelato, you will find chunks of pineapple in it.


City Views, North America


June 14, 2013 • By


Today’s photo proves that you can find opportunities anywhere without really trying. We were on our way back to our rental in Honolulu, Hawaii when we happened upon five men who were kayak racing down a canal.

The canal just happened to be parallel to Pinky’s Pupu Bar where we were enjoying an Aloha plate, which is a traditional Hawaiian plate meal that consisted of pork wrapped in taro leaves, salmon, bbq pork, rice, & macaroni salad. But I digress…..

You could tell that they were having a lot of fun because we could hear their boisterous taunts as they tried to best each other. It was a brilliant scene watching them sail with glee between palm trees and native flora oblivious to two strangers who would capture them forever through the lens of a camera.


City Views, North America, Travel Advice, Trip Reports

Enjoying a Rainy Day in Van Dusen Botanical Gardens in Vancouver

June 10, 2013 • By

vandusen cover

The rain brought with it silence and solitude as we walked along the massive pathways that guided us past a menagerie of trees, shrubs and perennials.


It was the cusp of late winter dawning in to early spring and the gardens took on an interesting profile.

The deciduous trees had long been bare and there was some evidence that flowers were awakening from their deep slumber. The sky was overcast and provided a grey backdrop to the illustrious palette that lay before us.




When carving your path in life, make sure that you’re the sculptor

May 1, 2013 • By

change road

Everybody has a story.  Each story is a mix of varying parts of happiness, sadness, hope and regret.  It’s rare to find anyone who is completely happy with their lot in life, but the smart ones know that complaining never helps nor does it make anything better.  If they are dissatisfied with the path they’re on, they’ll strive to make changes that will take them on a different route. But some folks worry about what others might say in response to the new attitude that seems counter the way that they’ve always known them to be.

For the same reason that pencils have erasers, you can decide to change anything about your life that doesn’t mesh with the person that you presently see yourself as…..or even want to be. Even though a pencil can erase, you can still see the vestiges of what was underneath.

It doesn’t negate what has gone on before; it just allows you to move beyond it….to clean the slate… redirect your path.  You can change the storyline; remembering that just because it happened doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve a rewrite.


Sometimes, you will have to ask yourself how much of your life is genuine versus how much is simply living up to other’s expectations?  Who’s really pulling the strings? How many times have we caved into the pressures of society, family and friends?  How many times have we pushed down into obscurity our heart’s true desires to appease others? I think one of the main reasons we fail to pursue what we truly want is that we don’t want to be perceived as acting out of character.  People are usually uncomfortable when you hit them with aspects of your personality that they may not have been privy to.  Some do not do well with change and prefer the familiar. Ask any brave soul who has come out of the closet if the task was easy?


Or it can be something as simple as changing course when it comes to your career.  Take Myron Rolle, a former All-American at Florida State who was by-passed by many teams during the draft in 2010.  Why?  Probably because he decided to delay participating in the draft in order to attend Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.

One would wonder why a football team would eschew a player simply because he placed a higher value on education? My guess is that from a corporate point of view, not much currency is placed on the lives of men who aspire to do more than just kicking around a pigskin.

His reality didn’t match up to their perception of who he should be; maybe their concern was that he wouldn’t stick around to make them money like the others. I will never forget comedian Chris Rock’s stern observation about the perceived ‘wealth’ of such ballplayers by young men who are striving to make it big on the field:

[quote] Shaq is rich; the white man that signs his check is wealthy. Here you go Shaq, go buy yourself a bouncing car. Bling-Bling . . . . I ain’t talking bout Oprah, I’m talking about Bill Gates. OK!.  If Bill Gates woke up tomorrow with Oprah’s money, he would jump out a …window.  I’m not talking about rich, I’m talking about wealthy.  [/quote]

There is a big difference between the two.  A. Big.  Difference.  If the team owner can afford to pay each player millions, you’d better believe it’s because he can afford to.

I suppose that the now twenty-six year old, Mr. Rolle  has proven them right after all.  He’s retiring from football to attend medical school.   It’s to his credit that his desire to want more out of life wasn’t dampened, especially since these young men aren’t usually encouraged to succeed beyond athletic aspirations.

The ‘lucky’ few who do manage to make a career out of it will find out quickly that they will need a Plan B as many are forced to retire due to severe injuries and few are left financially solvent when they do.


In the end, we are all given lives to live as we so desire.  The trick is to be brave enough to have a heart to heart with your conscience and decide what it is that you want and then set about achieving it.  Just remember…..what may be best for someone else may not be best for you.  It’s up to each of us to find what our passions are and to pursue it abundantly, without apology.

Usually, the best way to deal with people who aren’t on board with your plans is to surround yourself with others who can lend support and encouragement.  Ultimately, that will help you to pursue realistic goals that will lead to you achieving your dream.

Budget Tips, Travel Advice

How does spending the night in an Igloo sound?

April 15, 2013 • By



If you are a true nature lover at heart and can think of nothing being more exhilarating than spending your time surrounded by the snowy white chills of winter, then you should listen up.

Whether you are into snowboarding, back country or alpine skiing, sledding, snowshoe-ing or ice-fishing, nothing is quite as novel as winding down your day by spending your nights camping out in a genuine Igloo!

This unique form of lodging is the perfect way to top off your trip to the snowy mountains of Quebec, Canada.

For more information, check out: Parqcs Quebec’s Sepaq Igloo Accommodations!

”Spending the night in an igloo is a one-of-a-kind winter experience! Spend part of your evening under the starry sky, in front of the campfire, and then enjoy a good night’s sleep nestled in your sleeping bag. Igloos can hold 2-4 people. All necessary equipment is available for rent on-site.”

Now what will the pleasure of such an experience cost you?  Would you believe that the prices start at only $24.25 (before taxes) per night, per person?  If you will be camping on the grounds of a national park, please factor in the price of admission too.

You can place your reservations now by calling 1-800-665-6527.

More info:

*  An outdoor fire pit with firewood is provided, and a pit toilet is located nearby.

* A minimum of 2 adults per igloo is required for safety purposes.

* Igloos may be scattered throughout the campground, or be more or less close to the activities and services available. They are accessible on foot, skis or by snowshoes.