Traveling Abroad – Firefighter Style!

I’d like to introduce you to Michaela Hall, a fabulous Travel Blogger of color that is doing remarkable things with her travel abilities. Read on about her travel escapes and let me know what you think about them in the comments!

1. You spent four months traveling across the South/SouthCentral US on a wildland firefighting crew. How did you get involved in that? 


I’m still pinching myself in disbelief that I actually spent time fighting fire!

I work for the USDA Forest Service and wildland firefighting is one of the many careers offered at my Agency. In fact, a huge portion of our budget goes towards activities dealing with wildland fire. Because it’s such an important part of our mission, I wanted to get a closer look at what happens “on the ground.”

The chance to join a wildland firefighting crew offered professional and personal growth: a better understanding of the work I do and the chance to see more of the country in a unique way.


2. What training was involved in being part of that? 


Training involves a week of classroom study on fire behavior, weather, equipment use and best practices. Then, there is a day of hands-on training to practice and reinforce classroom training.

After testing, trainees must pass the Work Capacity Test, commonly known as the pack test. You have to complete a three mile walk in 45 minutes carrying a 45 lb. backpack. Honestly, it was one of the most challenging things I’d done in my life!

The hardest part of wildland firefighting is getting a permanent position. Because the majority of fires are seasonal, many wildland firefighters have temporary positions into which they must be rehired yearly.

3. What places did you go and how many fires did you put out? 

I traveled to Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky on fire assignments. As a crew we worked on 9 wildfires and 43 prescribed fires. Prescribed fires are fires that we set to burn debris from the forest floor. It decreases the chance of large wildfires by clearing the forest of burnable material. So if a fire starts, it grows much slower because it has little to burn.


Fun Fact: Our most famous icon, Smokey Bear, used to say, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” We changed his message to, “Only you can prevent wildfires,” because of the prescribed fires we set in the forest!

In all, our crew managed 46,000 acres of fire equal to about 34,500 football fields!

4.  You spent a week in Costa Rica living in a tree house, why? 


In more than one way, lodging is a big part of travel. Not only is it a chunk of the budget, you also spend quite a bit of time in your home away from home.

After my first few international trips, I grew bored of staying at hotels. Lodging is what sets a culture apart, and so to experience travel in a new way, I needed to shake up my accommodations.

The truth is that I chose to travel to Costa Rica because of this tree house.


5. How did you find the tree house and how would you describe the overall experience? 

Airbnb is jammed with interesting and unique places across the world. On a whim, I searched for tree houses and fell in love.

Mountain Climbing

Staying in the tree house was an amazing experience. A colony of curious Howler Monkeys lived in the trees on the property and they would make all kinds of crazy sounds into the night.

It was refreshing to lie in the hammocks in the morning, surrounded by nature and pretending to be only people in the world. The place was far enough away that we didn’t have to be bothered with anyone, but close enough to civilization that we could find restaurants and activities within minutes.

Added bonus: there was a pool onsite!

6. You took a train ride from Portland, Oregon to New York, New York with a spectacular group of Millennial Leaders. Can you explain what Millennial Leaders are? 

20140807_165048[1]Have you ever heard that quote, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room”?

I can say proudly that I was definitely in the right room on this train ride full of Millennials – those born between 1980 and 200.

The Millennial Trains Project takes innovative and entrepreneurial minded Millennials across the Country to explore challenges and opportunities in America’s communities while advancing a project that benefits others.


My project focused on getting young people outside and enjoying their natural spaces. Other projects targeted a variety of issues including food sustainability, racial healing and child labor.

Five Fulbright Scholars also took the train ride; so now I have friends from Russia, Columbia, Pakistan, Yemen and Indonesia. And those friendships come with open invitations for personalized tours of their countries!

7. What made you all take a train ride and not a plane? 

The Millennial Trains Project chose the train as representative of the pioneer spirit of the United States and Millennials. The trains were chartered Pullman cars from the 1950s, including a dome car with 360 degree views.

There were also sleeper cars, a dining car and a hacker’s space. The hacker’s space was a place to think creatively and release creative energy.


This train became our home for the ten days that we traveled across the United States with stops in Portland, OR; Seattle, WA; Whitefish, MT; St. Paul, MN; Milwaukee, WI; Chicago, IL and New York, NY.

An airplane wouldn’t have offered the same level of mobility during travel or the awesome views.


8. You were recently in South Africa. Why did you choose to travel there and how did that trip change your perspective? 


It was in Morocco that I first fell in love with travel. In South Africa, I reignited that love affair.

On my blog, I often talk about the importance of being in travel group. My travel group takes trips several times each year and last year South Africa was one of the locations visited.

South Africa took my breath away. We spent our time split between Johannesburg and Cape Town – cities that are relatively close, but seem to be worlds apart.

Our trip took place at the peak of the Ebola media hype and we faced concern and ridicule from others. During that trip, it was reaffirmed just how massive Africa is, how ridiculous mainstream media can be and how important it is having support from others who share your love for travel.

9. What are some of the misconseptions you think some have about SA that you saw aren’t true? 

Accurate visuals of South Africa aren’t always shared. There are small villages in South Africa. But, there are also skyscrapers, subway systems and highways. Some people have a generalized way of looking at African countries that’s wrong. It’s like believing that the entire United States resembles New York City. Can you see how that would be grossly inaccurate?

I also learned that while I took the internet for granted, it was too expensive for the average person to use in Johannesburg! I was chatting with a guy who was interested in learning more about videography and I started rambling off all these places to go online to get free training. After an eye roll from others in the room, he gave me a well-appreciated lesson about his difficulties in accessing the “world wide web”.


10. Why is travel and experiencing different types of travel an important part of your life? 

I am so curious about the world I live in and I want to see it all.

I want to touch an elephant and I want to throw paint at Holi and I have to dive the Great Barrier Reef.

I’m pulled to do all the cool things that I hear about from other travelers and those stories are constant motivation to keep moving and exploring.

I find it sad when I stumble across a travel blogger who has become burned out on travel or who thinks traveling has grown “old.” I think that by mixing up your travel modes, lengths, locations, companions, purpose and activities, you can keep travel from becoming stale. I put effort into being whimsical when I travel because I know that humans are creatures of habit. If I do too much planning, all of my trips will resemble one another. And where’s the fun in that?


Michaela Hall wakes up early hoping to change the world and stays up late looking for fare mistakes.  On her blog, Awe Inclusive, she shows new and aspiring tripsters how to create the travel life of their dreams.  Join her adventures on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Pinterest.

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  1. Great article, Roni and Michaela!

    Michaela, you and I seem to share a passion for the outdoors!
    AND for trains!

    I look forward to meeting you some day!!

    Kudos for the amazing contributions you’re making to the Forest Service!!


  2. Ladies, I started my Federal career with the Forest Service out on the Oregon Coast in 1999. I was one of the only female firefighters on my forest and the only African American for miles and miles. It’s so nice to see that a new generation is forging their own way and making further inroads. The glass ceiling needs to be smashed. Strong work!

  3. Hi Ladies, thank you for sharing this wonderful interview/story!

    I am currently a WFSS for the State of Oregon and I am proud to say we have 5 badass ladies on our 12 person crew 😀

    Michaela, I do have a question for you! How exactly did you get international fire assignments? I am in love with wildland firefighting and would like to find a way to split my time between the hemispheres. I know the Forest Service has an international partnership but I have no idea how/where I can apply for a position like that? If you have the time, a little direction would be much appreciated 🙂 Thank you for being an inspiration!

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