Is THIS The Hardest Job In Politics?

In the last year, we've seen presidential candidates do the following: get grilled by Congress, call for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S., defend their email practices, and admit that the sitting president was born in the U.S. TL;DR: The 2016 presidential election has not been short on drama or intrigue. These stories dominate our Facebook and Twitter feeds. They fuel endless takedowns and think pieces. They even spark debate at home. But so much of the factual information we get about these candidates, and what they've said and done in the last year, comes from the journalists on the ground. Campaign embeds are tasked with following candidates anywhere and everywhere. That means lots of flights, long bus rides, and stays in hotels — plus constantly being ready to capture a moment that could be game-changing for the election or for political history. We wanted to get the perspective of the young reporters who are out there every day with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. So we spoke to two NBC News embeds: Alexandra "Ali" Vitali and Monica Alba. Vitali has spent the last year on the trail with the Trump campaign, while Alba has followed the Clinton camp. We asked them in email interviews what they learned about the election, their candidates, and themselves in the last year. Here are their answers:

So today was cool. Going to miss you, Iowa! (? by @aseitzwald)

A photo posted by Monica Alba (@albamonica) on

What does a typical day for you look like?
Monica Alba: "No two days are alike on the campaign trail. That’s part of what makes it such a unique experience. Everywhere Hillary Clinton goes, I go. "Here’s a recent example from Labor Day: 6 a.m.: start time to get the first glimpse of the new Clinton campaign plane; 10 a.m.: inaugural flight to Cleveland; 2 p.m.: campaign rally; 4 p.m.: plane gaggle with Clinton; 6 p.m.: Quad Cities picnic event [on the Illinois-Iowa border]."

Ali Vitali
: "Every day is different, especially with the election in full swing now. We’re sometimes in three or four states a day and sleeping in a new city every night. I'm up late and awake early. We pile into the press bus, roll to a rally or a campaign stop, talk to voters, and listen to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speak while we furiously type notes. Then we pack it all up, pile back into the press bus, and roll back to the airport to fly to the next one. Repeat two to four times per day."
What's been the best part of following each candidate on the trail for the past year?
MA: "Not to reveal my Hamilton obsession or anything, but just being in 'the room where it happens' every day is thrilling. After spending more than a year on the road, I can quote sections of Clinton’s stump speech and oftentimes predict what she’s going to say on a certain subject. (Side note: This also makes for a great party trick.) "People often ask me about being at the most historic moments (the Benghazi hearing, clinching the nomination), but it’s really the smaller moments that have been the most memorable. "For example, I was in the room for Clinton’s tense confrontation with a coal miner in West Virginia, and I was also there for her 'basket of deplorables' comment at a Manhattan fundraiser. These were supposed to be relatively straightforward moments that ended up turning into news that drove headlines and coverage for days." AV: "I continuously strive to understand what’s driving the Trump movement. Last summer, everyone was trying to figure out what was motivating people to come out by the thousands for Donald Trump — especially since he was not a traditional politician. I have the opportunity to explain that that was why people were supporting his campaign. I feel the responsibility in tapping into this massive, nation-spanning group of supporters and explaining their gravitation toward Trump."

Meet The Embeds #tbt #fromtuesday ??

A photo posted by Monica Alba (@albamonica) on

Can you talk about the relationships you have developed with other embeds?
MA: "It’s hard for me to imagine this experience with any other group of people. That’s how much the campaign trail bonds you. (Well, that and spending 16 hours a day together in a Secret Service bubble.) I can confidently say that they will be a part of my life for years to come." AV: "Here’s the best illustration of our relationship: I was carpooling through Florida with two embeds (one from CNN and one from The Associated Press) when I got a request to be on MSNBC. We have an app on our phones allowing us be live from anywhere, and within minutes, I was on the air with Tamron Hall, live from the passenger’s seat, as CNN’s digital reporter held my iPhone to shoot the interview. "We help each other on the campaign trail; we ask each other if someone misses a line in Trump’s speech; we save each other seats; we steal each other’s MiFi signals; we remind each other what city we’re in (which is easy to forget when you average about three per day); we keep each other sharp on what Trump has said before, and we debate points of ambiguity. "We really have become a family. We directly compete, but we do so with the utmost respect for each other. I know that my colleagues’ successes only push me to be better."

Were you prepared to do work on camera — and was that daunting?
MA: "Yes and yes, but being mentored by pros like NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell and Kristen Welker made it far less daunting."

What do you wish you knew before going on air?
AV: "Eyeliner is key. It’s something so little and so simple but it makes all the difference —especially when you’re feeling (and looking) tired."

You're constantly traveling — what three items do you always have on the trail?
MA: "Layers, chargers, and nuts."

: "Hair straightener, iPhone charger, and a camera (all NBC embeds are equipped with Canons)!"
If you could ask your candidate any one question — and they had to answer honestly — what would it be?
"College sexual assault is an extremely important issue, one that Trump has not addressed. I’d like to know his plan to try to curb the really harrowing statistics."

"Oh man. It’s hard to pick one, so here are two: At the start of this race, did you think Donald Trump could be the Republican nominee for president?; If you could, would you ban selfies?"

What's the hardest part about being embedded in a campaign?
AV: "The daily grind: We’re flying multiple times per day and fielding what seems like a million emails, so we’re constantly buried in our phones. It can all be a blur. I try to take stock once a day and find a moment of stillness that I can remember because this experience flies by so quickly.

"Being insulated can have its challenges. Whenever I had the chance to attend another candidate’s event during the primary season, I took advantage of it. "I remember a particularly snowy down day in Iowa where I went to two Trump events. The second one turned out to be the rally where the 'surprise guest' was Sarah Palin. It really helped me better understand what was driving his movement and his supporters."

What did you learn about politics in the last year?
MA: "Nothing is predictable."

"It’s imperative to talk to voters and really listen to what matters to them and why they’re voting as they are. It helps me to offer an informed explanation about trends on the ground."
What did you learn about yourself in the last year?
AV: "I have learned to have more confidence in myself. Now, more than ever, I feel the importance of honest, accurate reporting that holds candidates accountable."

"I never thought I would be into hotel and airline points as much as I am now. People warned me this would happen. I thought they were exaggerating. Nope. They were right."

What's the one piece of advice you would have given yourself before you started last year?
MA: "Take more pictures. I wish I had taken one photo every day on the trail that captured a particular place, person, or moment I wanted to remember."

"Trust yourself. Sometimes the answers to otherwise complex questions come easier because, as embeds, we are living and breathing this information daily. I often remind myself to trust my instincts. That doesn’t mean you don’t do the research, but you must trust what you know."

What kind of advice would you give to young women who want to pursue careers in political reporting?
MA: "Find a good mentor, and then remember to return the favor when a young person asks you for advice down the line. I’m so grateful to those who have guided me, and I look forward to paying it forward."

"Ask questions and get out there, then go find some mentors. I am lucky because NBC News has a rock star cast of female reporters covering this election: smart women whom I aspire to be like and respect."

Why is it so important that women pay attention to politics and to this election?
MA: "I think it’s important for everyone to pay attention to the political process, gender aside."

"Every election has the potential to impact your life in a very real way. 'Women’s issues' aren’t just reproductive rights and equal pay, but include national security, veterans’ care, and immigration reform: critical topics approached very differently by the two candidates. All of these topics matter to women I meet on the trail — regardless of whom they’re voting for."

More from US News

R29 Original Series