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I’m Maureen. I’ve loved traveling ever since I was a child. I grew up riding “shotgun” with my parents when we used to drive cross-country in their campers. I took command of the road atlas, telling them where to turn, thus the name of this blog.
When I was brainstorming for a name, my dentist, Dr. Rudy, told me that the ‘Atlas’ is the first vertebra between your head and your spine. Who knew? But it resonated on so many levels.
My first International Living Experience
The best experience of my life thus far was when I was 20. I moved to Italy to study for a year. Having come from a small town in Wisconsin, I set out to study in a land unfamiliar to me in a language not my own, for a year. I don’t even have Italian roots! Any rate, my stomach made the decision. I thought about the food. What could I eat for 12 months? Ummm…Italian! So that was it! I crammed 2 years worth of language courses into one and said, ‘arrivaderci!’ My life was changed forever. In 12 months, I visited most of Europe, met many lovely Italians, came away with fluent Italian skills, lost 20 pounds – you read that correctly – and developed a wicked independent spirit. I returned to the US kicking and screaming, and finished college with a double major in Journalism and Italian. I knew that living in Europe was my dream. But how?
Hospitality Career – Hyatt Hotels
I moved up the ladder in Minneapolis, New York City and Chicago, as you do. The funnest gig was working for Hyatt Hotels Corporation as their Marketing/Brand Manager, and Manager of Gold Passport, Hyatt’s Frequent Guest Program. I art directed more than 40 hotel photoshoots, which allowed me to travel the US, Canada, Hawaii and the Caribbean – doing what I loved – photographing and showcasing what is best about a hotel. I wrote brochure copy for probably double that!
I’m a Property and Service Junkie
It wasn’t only bricks and mortar, but the golf courses, spas, boutique amenities, swim-up bars, event spaces and exemplary services at your fingertips. And I worked with some of the funnest and best Architectural Digest photographers out there. Hyatt is an excellent brand, but I have stayed in numerous Hiltons, Sheratons, Marriotts, Sofitels, Raffles, W Hotels’, you name it, and they are all extraordinary and unique in their own way. I have to admit I like chain hotels and reward points. Being a brand guru and a loyalty program junkie, I love to see how they differentiate themselves and provide offers to their members. I am often just popping in to see what’s new. But I also won’t miss an opportunity to experience a delicious luxury boutique property if budget permits. If you haven’t seen the film with George Clooney, Up in the Air, take a look at the hilarious clip below talking about Elite Status.
International Ed and Student Housing Development – Blackstone Group
I then moved into International Education. Strange switch, I know. I became AVP of Communications (more ladder climbing) in an industry I loved due to my experience in Italy. I’m all for studying abroad and encourage people to do it every chance I get. Ironically, the company was building a student dorm in London and needed someone to market their beds for a month to local universities. They asked me to go given my Hyatt experience. Wow! Are you joking? Dream come true, even if it was going to be short-lived!
What was to be a 4-week stint turned into a 3-month experience and I went back to Chicago thinking, “Either I get a permanent position in London or I’m going to have to move on.” Within two weeks, I was back on a plane to London with a work permit in hand.
A few years later, I was headhunted by The Blackstone Group to develop and operate a portfolio of student dorms. In all, we built 2500 beds, in what was considered the best, luxurious accommodations for students. Kind of like Hyatt for students. I had even worked on a project in Barcelona where I was on a plane every other week to meet with the architects! Can you imagine saying, “Yeah, I flew to Spain for the day.” Surreal …
Regaining Balance in my Life
Fast forward… like many, I became dismayed with corporate life. I was one of a few women at my level. While I traveled the world, work left me exhausted, lonely and void. There were too many direct-reports, and my friends were my staff. My forte was marketing, not yield management, reservations or Ops. I migrated into that role and did it well, but didn’t love it. I longed for the weeks of vacation. I longed for the sun. I longed for something that didn’t constantly remind me of the work that was paying the bills. I had moved so far away from the things I enjoyed, like travel and music. So I eventually bought a place in the sun and finally got a spine. I resigned.
Now, I consult on my own terms for student housing clients, do voice work for eLearning clients, this blog, and lots of photography. I split my time between London, France and the world. Travel is a much greater part of my life now, and as a solo traveler I can easily hop a plane if the price is right and destination interesting.
Business travel is a huge part of people’s lives today. If it wasn’t for the travel I was required to do, I would not have had the opportunity to visit nearly 50 countries, and for that, I am thankful! But I’ve also perfected building in a few extra days while on the road to recharge, explore, taste and experience a bit more, and so can you.
I used to work for Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida as a Disney Character, like Chip and Dale, the 7 Dwarfs, Cinderella’s Mice, and King Louie, and was a folk dancer at Epcot Center. My feet still pay the price! I was also a tour guide at the Land Pavilion at Epcot. And, I used to be a huge musician. My parents owned a music store selling instruments. I started with the flute, then piano, sax and bass guitar. I loved playing but never thought I could ever make a living at it. I now play none of those instruments and it annoys me, to say the least!
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