Planet Vagabond

A Bundle of Tips from Around-the-World Backpackers

VW Bus - Pine Ridge Native American Reservation


| 2 Fellow Backpackers Travel Advice

VW Bus - Pine Ridge Native American Reservation

VW Bus – Pine Ridge Native American Reservation – Katie Holmes 2011

Just a few months ago I stood outside on a friend’s patio staring at myself in the reflection of two perfectly white french doors. My decision was as crystal clear as the glass that mirrored back the person who stood before it. While the glass was fully intact, I felt shattered. Uninspired, heartbroken, and penniless, I thought of every reason why I should leave the country in the Autumn and spend the year working with women in El Gigante, Nicaragua under the wing of an incredible non-profit called Project WOO. Holding one hand up towards the sky I declared out loud-to myself and any tiny or large backyard rodent who would listen- that I would go teach women’s empowerment through CPR, First Aid and peaceful communication skills. The only catch was I had to actually feel empowered again. My mom, on the receiving end, a cell phone that had reception in one spot on the property -in front of the french glass doors- for the first time since the start of my gypsy barn travels, agreed.

Yes, I need to leave. Yes, I should get out of Colorado. Yes, I should travel and YES I should do it as soon as possible.

For the last decade my mom has tried to make amends with the fact that I am a Hungarian Gypsy by DNA default. Ironically on her side of the family and through her mother. She always looked at me as if I came from a different family. I did. Just a past one. We finally saw eye-to-eye on this one mere fact: I came into this world as a nomad and I will leave this world as a nomad.

Colorado was on the cusp of Spring. My break up with my current life seemed to coincide with the perfect season, enhancing the speedy and magical growth that both the land and myself were experiencing. Apples grew along an ancient tree -dangling above my head- while I hop scotched over newly sprouted crocuses. The winter had been beautiful, crisp and full of possibility, but it was also full of mishap. The love of my life decided to leave our respectful, beautiful and loving relationship to pursue a life without me in it. And while I agreed it was the right thing to do- almost subconsciously willing it to happen myself- I was heartbroken to lose the other half of my seemingly everything. I lost the little employment I had and my house was no longer mine to call home.

A few days before I stood looking at my reflection through the white french doors and declaring to the apple tree dwelling squirrels that I would persevere, I was crawling through my friend Laura’s attic looking for some of my beloved 1970’s vinyl records in a recycled beer box. I had decided to loan them to my non-nomadic friend Stephen while I was off roaming in an undeclared village in an undeclared country on an undeclared continent. “They’ve disappeared!” Sweat forming in all crevices of my body, I had called down to him across the opening in the ceiling and the folding stairs. It was a boiling Mothers Day in an attic that felt like the Amazon. I had actually wished that I too could disappear deep inside a local beer box. Or rather an air-conditioned beer box. Nestled in the back of a dark corner, instead of housing books, that box would house me. I decided I could hide out for about a year and then could re-emerge whole, healed and happy again. I decided that was a ridiculous idea because I would probably not re-emerge, but die from heat stroke.

While looking down at my toes, to encourage conscious foot placements, I spotted a vanilla colored piece of paper my grandmother, Gram, always wrote on. I cannot remember a time without her hand written letters that always began with Katie Dear. I can remember my heart racing as I would open the mailbox that stood at the edge of my childhood house. My sister and I would race one another to the edge of the walkway everyday after school. Quickly swooping the letters up in my hands and then jumping over the front stonewall, I would race around back to the hydrangea covered hilltop to read my letter. My heart raced in college at my dorm postal box. My heart raced at the various mailboxes I used over the years in various parts of the world. Even now, some of my most beloved moments is standing before my mail and seeing an envelope addressed to Miss Katherine, Katie, KT, Kit, Kat or just K. Homes. Opening the letter carefully, as to not rip the precious hand written salutation, sitting on whatever stoop, rock or grass patch closest to me, I still totally and completely take pleasure in reading a hand written letter from someone I love.

The thing I miss most about Gram are her letters.

I knelt down to pick up the piece of paper and watched sweat drip off my nose and into the box in front of me. A box I had packed up before I left in 2008 for a trip of unknown magic in Upper Dolpo, Nepal and then returned again to mindlessly rummage through it. Before that moment, the letter was read once and then forgotten. Almost immediately I felt her presence surround me in the thick attic air. “Katie Dear…I have no doubt you will chose a path that only you see fit.” Her beautiful script, highlighted her words. While watching the sky turn shades of pink and purple on the back of my past boyfriends’ parents houseboat, she took her last few breaths in August 2011. As his mom slipped the last of her mother’s ashes into a Californian lake, my grandmother made her way out of this world and into the next. I gazed up at the water-colored sky and knew she was leaving. All that I have left of her are her words of encouragement – now etched in the palm of my hand- stained by the blue ink mixture of sweat and tears.

The tears on my face matched the sweat on my t-shirt. I folded the letter and tucked it into my pocket as I stood up into the heat above my head. I climbed down the ladder and knew the only thing I could do now was to do the only thing that I ever really felt comfortable doing. Leave. To leave all that I know -all who I’ve been- in order to arrive to all the places I wasn’t quite sure existed just yet was in fact, my most favorite thing to do. To where and when that would be, I had no idea. First, it was Nicaragua. Or what I thought would be Nicaragua. Autumn in Latin America, I had hummed it as if I’d actually said, Ah, Spring in Paris. Perfect. I’d surf, or rather, really learn how to surf, eat, surf, do yoga, surf, teach,write, surf, work with medicinal plants, surf and learn Spanish. But after putting the intention out there, that I would in fact leave a place in which I had called home for almost a decade, it wasn’t to go surf and do all of the above in Nicaragua. It was to land my feet and reside in Indonesia.

“You are going to have your very own Eat, Pray, Love” many, including my ex-boyfriend, repeatedly told me as I told them of my upcoming transition. I’d respond in a, no I’m not, smile and change the subject. Eat: obviously. Pray: to something. Love? I’d rather pass. The only love I was interested in was the kind that was strictly dedicated to myself and myself only. I would spend the remainder of 2012 and all of 2013 following my independent heart. The funny thing about my heart is that it’s also found on the soles of both of my feet. So, to whatever corner of Earth they itch to explore, I vowed I would be heading in that direction.

Why do some of us feel the desire to pick up, pack up and fly up in order to place our feet exactly where they came from? On the ground. Although this time, on foreign ground. I do both to be perfectly honest. I run and I stay. I often oscillate between the two. I’ll stay because I love the challenge. I want to grow. To be prodded, poked and jostled around. I want to explore, discover and move into personal growth. But I’ll also run. Ironically, for the exact same reasons that propel me to stay. Because I’m not very happy staying in one spot for very long, the best thing I can do on the brink of transition is choose the path less traveled. So I jumped. That’s not true. I threw myself of the highest cliff I could think of and on the way down I prayed to something bigger then what I could imagine, hoping that this bigger thing would help me create a parachute out of thin air.

There are many- understatement- times I’ve wanted to bail out. For instance, the time I was peeing down the side of a sacred mountain high in the Himalayan Mountains and I was sick from lack of sleep. Sick of the raw and black smoke nestled deep into every stitch of my clothes and skin from every kitchen in every village we roamed through. Sick of my legs hurting, my head pounding, and the emotional tidal waves that came up every time I saw something that broke through the walls to my heart. I couldn’t really depart, unless it was on a military helicopter. But I chose to stay. I stayed when I wanted to pick up everything I owned and leave my relationships with my lovers so I could find one with myself again. I’ve stayed so many times. But now I am leaving. I am leaving what I already know. I’m leaving what I can physically and emotionally navigate with my eyes closed so that I can explore and find, what I can not.

It gets easier, I said to a friend the other night. He too is coming out of a relationship, is without a home and contemplating a new career shift. Everything is unknown to him. I lifted up one bare tanned foot -enclosed in cheap bright pink flip flops- and pointed it like the ballerina that I am not, to the grass in front of us. I said in a silly and mysterious voice, this here is the hardest part. That first step. That first unbelievably frightening step. I wiggled my toes. From there it get’s easier. I don’t know how, but once you decide, everything else kind of just rises up and meets you. I lost my balance, fell over onto the other side and just as I predicted the ground did rise up to meet me. I didn’t need a parachute after-all. I needed longer legs.

Challenge the challenges that lie presently and that lie ahead. Understand that your current experience is exactly what you need to continue to grow. The challenge is not to run or to stay, the challenge is to find peace in the unknown. Maybe that’s why I’m leaving. Not because I’m escaping but because I’m growing. Like the crocuses I dodged so I wouldn’t smash their growth or the bitter green apples that precariously hung above my head.

I’ve been asked this question so many times before: Why are you leaving?

And to everyone who asks:

Because I only want to live a life that feels right.

Because I’ll listen to Gram and take her advice; to live a life that only I see fit.

Because lucky for me, the unknown is exactly where I want to be.

I’m leaving – because- I love to arrive.

Vagabond: Katie

At only 7 months old I embarked on my first plane ride. It is no wonder international airports are some of my favorite places to navigate. Eager for adventure and equipped with a built in quest for knowledge, I feel more at home capturing the magically diverse landscapes in which I traverse then staying in one beautiful spot. Over the last decade I have made tipi dwellings, Tibetan carpets and gypsy vans my home. But throughout the years, while I roamed through others "homes" I found that the greatest home isn't an actual, physical home at all. It's found somewhere between late night rain drops on tin roofs, early morning cups of tea with sticky children's hands and non-verbal conversations with strangers in distant lands. I'm obviously itching for more. Next stop? A nine month stay in Indonesia.


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