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Chapter 1: The Summit

After 4 days of hiking through 4 different ecosystems, I woke up at 11:00 PM on June 1st, 2019 at Base Camp on the tallest free standing mountain in the world: Mt. Kilimanjaro. Today was summit day, and the beginning of the end of the hardest mental and physical challenge I had ever embarked on.

Earlier in the day, our group of 15 had finished up a 7 hour climb through the fog and grey on the upper route of Kilimanjaro. We had hiked through thin air, fog, and hellish terrain in the abyss for a full day. I was tired, mentally drained, and dreading the last stage of the climb. After going to bed at 6:00 PM, we woke up several hours later at the darkest point of night and ate a quick “dinner” of popcorn, cookies, and coffee. We then filled up our water, prepped our daypack, and left the mess tent and walked outside, still very much wishing we were back in our tents sound asleep.

We lined up in formation on our push towards the summit. The mountain air was thin, the night was dark, and it was cold… very cold. We set out up the mountain with nothing but our headlamps lighting the way. Pole Pole… means slowly slowly in Swahili, and was the motto we lived by for that week on Kilimanjaro. It was equally important on that night as the air was getting thinner and we had had almost 4,000 feet to go before the summit. Pace was important.

Hiking through the nighttime was no walk in the park. Every ten steps I had to wake myself up and fight the temptation to not find a rock to curl up behind and fall asleep forever. The combination of the thin air, the lack of sleep, and the blackness of the night made it a challenge to keep your eyes open. For the first time in my life, I felt like I could fall asleep standing up. After several hours of hiking through the night, I was less sure of my ability to reach the top.

But then finally…

The nighttime sky began to get light and day break was upon us. Soon, it was easier to stay awake and morale among our group quickly rose along with the sun. Watching the sun rise over the African Horizon on the way to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro was an awe inspiring experience, and easily the most beautiful sunrise I had ever seen.

While the sun was nothing short of a lifesaver on that day, the hardest part was just beginning. Soon the route became more steep, and the altitude set in. As we climbed closer to 17,000 feet, my lungs began to give. This was the highest altitude by 5,000 feet that I had ever been, and as someone from the low lands of Iowa, I was not ready for the physical challenges at this height. Up until this point, altitude sickness had not yet set in, but my good fortune was quickly diminishing. As we approached 18,000 feet, I was finding it more and more difficult to catch my breath. We started up a steep incline towards Stella point where it only took several feet to quickly feel like I had just ran a line drill. Barely, I made my way up to Stella point where my physical strength was quickly diminishing.

At that point, we only had an hour to climb another 1,000 feet up to the summit. After a brief stop at Stella point, we continued up the mountain along an ever increasingly incline surrounded by the Kilimanjaro glaciers that are unfortunatley diminishing as quickly as my lungs were giving out during my final ascent.

Finally, the summit was in sight. The Tanzania flag and signage taunted me 1,000 yards away as I struggled to take each step. I was so close yet so far away. Luckily, I had the support of my friends on the hike, and the local porters who were in charge of keeping the group safe, while providing climbers with the support and guidance to get able bodied hikers to the summit. Note – I will write much more about my experience with the porters on Mt. Kilimanjaro as these amazing individuals deserve the recognition for the work that they do.

With my lungs giving out and each step more difficult than the previous one, I found myself 100 yards out from the peak. Suddenly, adrenaline kicked in and an amazing thing happened. No longer was I out of breath, rather I felt recharged, and ready to hike the final trek. The altitude did not seem to bother me anymore as I approached the summit, the sign getting closer and closer. I pulled out my phone and put on the most cliche song I could find: Africa by Toto, and approached the summit with a stride.

The greatest feeling of relief and accomplishment rushed over me as I reached the summit. Much to my disbelief, I had accomplished something that never in my life would I thought I could accomplish. I reached the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro at 10:24 am on June 2nd, 2019.

This experience is one that will stay with me forever. It is experience that proved that no matter the challenge, no matter how hard something may be, with mental toughness anything can be accomplished. The hike taught me discipline, perseverance, and the importance of seeing things through. It would’ve been easier throughout the entire journey to turn back, curl up behind a rock and sleep, or not embark on the climb altogether.

Summitting Kilimanjaro was how I capped off my first visit to the African continent. It further solidified my love for travel and my desire to embark on experiences that most wouldn’t. My goal with this blog is to inspire others to take chances and step outside their comfort zone. While it won’t be easy and the journey will be met with challenges of every aspect, it’s important to take the challenges one step at a time. Pole Pole.

5 tips on how to make the most out of your PTO

By Michael Hoffman

I’m very fortunate to work for a company that offers a very generous Paid Time Off package to its full time employees. Nevertheless, given my traveling habits, I’m a little ashamed to admit that after being on the job for less than 6 months, I have burnt almost half of my PTO. Chalk it up to poor planning, impulse decisions and trips, or lack of discipline, but I’ve come to realize that there’s a much smarter way to be spending my PTO. This post includes some of my plans to stretch out the remainder of my PTO, and hopefully it will help any other young professionals/travel seekers out there.

Tip #1 – Use It!

One of the most important aspects during my full-time job hunt was how much PTO I was being offered. Don’t be afraid to ask these questions in a job interview as vacation time is important to anyone’s mental and physical health. (More on this later). A happy worker is a productive worker which is why it is so important to take vacations or take time away from work to focus on the things in life that make you happy. Unfortunately, not everyone takes advantage of their PTO. According to the U.S Travel Association, 52% of American workers didn’t use all of their vacation days in 2017. I’m sure there is plenty of reasons for this. Some worker’s PTO rolls over year by year, some may have their vacation time and sick time combined, or some may just flat out not use it. My advice is to take advantage of your PTO! Go on vacation, stay at home and watch Netflix, or do whatever you feel fit, but it’s important to get out of the office and not to feel bad about it.

Tip #2 – Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate

For any college seniors out there applying for jobs, keep in mind there is a lot more to negotiate with potential employers than just salary. PTO can very much be included in negotiations along with salary and benefits which is why it is important to negotiate here. If you aren’t getting the ask you want when it comes to salary, asking for an extension on the provided PTO package is a very fair request. After all, it doesn’t hurt to ask, keeping in mind if a company isn’t being flexible with you, it might be a good idea to reconsider that particular company. Best case scenario in negotiating, you’ve just landed yourself an extra week or two of PTO to travel or do whatever you see fit.

Tip #3 – Holiday’s are your friend

One of the biggest mistakes I made during the past six months on the job was not using my paid days off around holidays. This was nothing but reckless and wasteful as paid holidays are really just a free day of paid time off. This January, I will be traveling to New York City over Martin Luther King weekend. Instead of having to take two days PTO, because Monday is a federal holiday, I only have to use one. Depending on the number of Holidays that your company recognizes, you can easily stretch your PTO by scheduling travel around these dates. However, you do run the risk of encountering far more tourists and other holiday seekers around these dates, but that’s the price we all pay in the working world. Welcome to real life 🙂

Tip #4 – “Workcations

Workcations are another great option for working professionals who are able to do their jobs remotely. Me personally, who is about to enter into into bare, desolate, and gray Iowa winter months, doing my job remotely from somewhere warm and sunny seems like a much better option. Of course Workcations may be a little harder to negotiate with your employer, but if you can guarantee reliable access to the internet, complete your daily tasks, and stay online for the entirety of your shift, they may just go for it. In fact, you may just find yourself more productive from a warm beach house in Miami than in your office.

Tip #5 – Make a Plan and Stick to It

To avoid implusivity, make vacation plan each quarter. While the location and details are certainly subject to change, having a general idea of when and where you might take a vacation throughout the year will help you save those precious vacation days. I may be on the extreme end of this plan as I already have my vacations scheduled out for 2020. Unfortunately as I’ve learned, this tip requires a fair amount of discipline. If friends make plans on a random Friday to take a long weekend, it may be tempting to burn a day of PTO. If you are like me and plan out vacations well in advanced, it would be a good idea to save a few days as “Flex Days” to go on these impulse trips. Otherwise, it is important to learn how to say no and overcome FOMO because if not, those planned adventures later in the year may not occur because of your lack of discipline.

Work Hard, Travel Harder

There is no better feeling after securing a full-time job than having the resources and time to do the things you enjoy or to travel as you see fit. Booking plane tickets is by far and away one of my favorite activities now that I’m employed and have the cash flow to do so. But a life of exploration comes a life of hard work for many. Most of us will not quit our jobs to embark on a life of vegabonding. Instead, we are chained to our desk job, working hard to seek adventure, and doing so in the smartest and most fulfilling way. So use that PTO, go out into the world, and use these tips that will allow you do to do it far more often.

About me

How do you become a citizen of the world? How do you travel the world while maintaining a job, relationships, and financial responsibilities? How do you travel the world in a sustainable way? These are the questions I hope to find answers to as I embark on this journey in creating Hoffman Travels.

My name is Michael Hoffman, and I am a 23 year Project Manager from Iowa. I recently found out that there is more to the world than the cornfields and hogs that my state is famous for, and therefore, I’ve decided that I am going to travel the world. For those of you who haven’t visited, in reality, Iowa isn’t all that bad (But it’s not great either). I work for a company as a Project Manager that specializes in cyber-security and information privacy. As a project manager, not only am I responsible for managing the different engagements that our team is working on, I have somehow been entrusted to travel around the state and give talks on the importance of cyber-security. (Seriously its important… change your password). In addition, I’m fortunate enough to live in the only part of Iowa that is bearable, Iowa City, Iowa (Go Hawks). I live here with my awesome friends and even better girlfriend, Haley.

In the past 12 months, I have come to discover my true passion: Traveling. Throughout my childhood, high school years, and even college, I never realized the importance of traveling in my life. That all changed just a few months ago when I took my first trip to Africa. While I won’t get too in-depth on my travels in Africa since I will be writing about it quite a lot in this blog, I will say it was the most eye-opening, humbling, and life-changing three weeks of my life.

My experience in Africa opened a Pandora’s box of desire to go out into the world and see all that there is to see which is my inspiration behind this website. My goal is to write thoughtfully about my travels and inspire anyone out there who has the same itch to see the world and live life with purpose. Not only will this blog be focused on traveling, I will also touch on my other true passions: Music, Food, and whatever else pops into my head.

Thank you for reading, and welcome to Hoffman Travels.