Not all those who wander are lost.


A World of Updates

Nearly four months have come and gone since my last post. I’ve been busy. Very busy. I haven’t been able to make the time to write and now I find myself HORRIBLY backlogged.  So many ideas, so many thoughts, so many observations, and with a new country to call home, my list is growing at a rapid rate.

April flew by. I went home on a surprise visit for my mom’s birthday and took the opportunity to introduce everyone to my favorite Roman. The time passed in the blink of an eye, and I find myself wondering why on earth I thought that 10 days was enough to see everyone I care about, show Eugenio my old stomping ground, and get my fill of all the foods I’ve been missing for the last two years (namely Mexican). It simply wasn’t enough time. To anyone I missed in Portland, and to those I couldn’t see in California: I must say I learned an important lesson. The next visit will be substantially longer, allowing me to spend time with all those I hold near to my heart.

So prior to my Ptown visit, my list of blog topics looked something like this:

  • finish writing and editing photos for Myanmar (trip taken 01/2013)
  • finish writing and editing photos for Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro (trip taken 08/2012)
  • start and finish writing for Morocco (trip taken 04/2012)
  • post ~10 different Italian “Parola del Giorno” posts (wait ’til you hear what the Italian word for ankle socks is!)

At the end of April, I had added an entirely different topic to that list: what it’s like to visit home after being away for over 2 years and how it feels to be a foreigner in a place which you still call “home.” I’m still sorting through that experience and what it means.

Then May came and went. I finished teaching my English lessons in Rome and celebrated my 30th birthday by paintballing with a group of friends. If anyone ever has an opportunity to watch 15 Italians run around pretending to be Rambo, I highly recommend it!

June was a whirlwind of packing, a 6-day tour through Puglia (the heel of Italy’s boot), saying goodbyes, and trying to savor every last bite of my favorite cuisine…all in preparation for the next adventure:

*drum roll please*

New Zealand!!  Eugenio and I both got Working Holiday visas which will enable us to work as we travel through the land of Land of the Maori, Kiwis and Hobbits!!  We arrived on July 11th on a one-way ticket with no plan and no itinerary (as it should be).

So my “to write” list continues to grow.  I am going to do my best to keep on top of my blogging for my experiences in New Zealand…if I’m lucky, I’ll also be able to carve out some time to write about the other things on the list.  So my apologies in advance for the disjointedness of the articles as I play catch up!

Until further notice, I am in New Zealand!


Happy Anniversary to Me!

On March 29, 2011, I packed my bags and boarded a one-way flight…destination: World.

That was the last time I set foot on American soil and I haven’t looked back since. Globetrotter, permanent traveller, expat, vagabond, nomad. These are the shoes that fit me best, and I’m still breaking them in. So tonight I’m celebrating the anniversary of the day I had the courage to break the mold and set off into unfamiliar territory. What an adventure it’s been, and I’m confident that the best has yet to come.

Two years down, a lifetime to go. Onward!


Slowly Answering Questions

Last Thursday marked the 20-month anniversary of the day I left the U.S. on a one way ticket. And I’m now starting to feel pressure from my loved ones across the pond…surely you can’t keep hopping around forever, when are you going to settle down? When are you coming home? Aren’t you interested in finding a job that’s more secure?  You’ll be turning 30 soon, when are you going to start laying a foundation for the family you say you want to raise?

My answer is exactly as it was this time last year – I don’t know. In the past year, I’ve become much more comfortable with the fact that I don’t have an answer. I don’t know what my life looks like in 2 years, 5 years, or even next month. I don’t know where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing. But I do know one thing for certain. The life that exists for me back in the States is not right for me, certainly not now and possibly not ever. I am doing exactly what I’ve always dreamed of doing: wandering this great world of ours, open to anything that comes my way. If I took myself off this course so that I could prepare for the future, I’d be forgetting everything I’ve learned since I left home.

To look at life as a question to be answered or a goal to be achieved is missing the point of living. Life is about finding your passion and pursuing your dreams, wherever that may take you. And that is precisely what I’m doing. So if living paycheck-to-paycheck with a free spirit and a happy heart today means that I might struggle more in the future, so be it. Onward!!

On ignorance, culture, and technology

I don’t usually write about current events, nor do I like to express my political and religious views outside of dinnertime conversations.  My writings are focused more on my experiences and observations as I dive into other cultures. That said I refuse to stand in silence as the Middle East erupts in anti-American riots and attacks US Embassies. I am disgusted by this anti-Muslim film and I’m incredibly saddened that it has prompted violence which will only add to the Western fear of Muslims and of Islam.

Look, the debate between free speech and incitement of imminent lawless action is nothing new. There are numerous U.S. Supreme Courts cases in which we’ve established limits to the extent of one’s ability to speak freely.  Fear, intolerance, and hatred of another person’s beliefs are also nothing new. We’ve seen the Inquisition, witch-hunts, the Holocaust, and the recent genocide in the Balkans. What is new is the ability of an individual to broadcast their views to all corners of the earth in a matter of seconds. The fact that a low-budget, poorly made and little known film in California can spark riots halfway across the world is unprecedented.

We are more connected now than ever before. Not just with friends on Facebook or to our families via Skype while we travel, but as a people across languages and nations, technology has brought us closer together. We have gained an incredible ability to share ideas and learn from one another; we also have the means to share our experiences with loved ones back home who don’t have the ability to travel themselves.  However, in an effort to become connected as one global people, we are losing our own individual cultures. The McDonaldization of the world means that any capital city in any country around the world feels less foreign. Rome feels more and more like Paris, New York, Beijing or Dubai every day.

Walking along the boardwalk in Split, Croatia, my boyfriend and I saw a group of elderly Croatian men and women sitting together, sharing wine, strumming a few mandolins and singing classic Croatian folk songs.  We sat and listened for the better part of an hour, taking in the beauty of their song.  Eugenio commented that Romans used to do that in Rome too, but it hasn’t been around for decades.  Sadly, it’s a dying tradition in Italy and likely in Croatia as well.  There are so many trades, crafts, songs, and traditions that will die with the passing away of a generation. And these customs are being replaced by a desire to have an iPhone in one hand and a Starbucks coffee in the other regardless of whether you’re in Istanbul, Singapore, or San Francisco.

The beauty of humanity is in our differences; they are to be celebrated, not feared. The Taj Mahal, Pyramids of Egypt, Coliseum, and Angkor Wat wouldn’t be as majestic if they were all built by the same hand in the same style.  And that’s what we’re risking here. By seeking the familiar and fearing the unknown, we’re turning into a homogenous, boring society.  And that is nothing short of tragic.

We have to try harder to go off the beaten path. We have to seek out uncomfortable conversations with those who don’t share our ideas. And we must do so with an open heart and an open mind, ready to accept our differences and respect each other.

Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque, Sarajevo

I have encountered numerous American travelers who’ve told me of their fear of Muslims. A friend of mine even dared to say that it wasn’t his fault, that he didn’t know any better; he said the U.S. media was to blame for his fear. Anyone who knows me can imagine my outrage at that statement. It’s one thing to be ignorant and unaware of your ignorance. But if you’re ignorant, you acknowledge your ignorance, and then you proceed to blame the media for giving you a bias, then that’s just being lazy and stupid. It’s this laziness that is perpetuating the American fear of Muslims, and it makes me sick.

With regard to the film and subsequent riots across the Middle East, I have no immediate solution to offer.  Clearly the film was founded in hatred and was produced with the intent of inciting rage. It worked. Further, the film is protected by the first amendment, as are numerous other forms of distasteful and hateful ideas. It’s not the first video of its kind, it certainly won’t be the last, and we can’t expect or allow the government to censor every piece of information circulating the internet to determine whether or not it may spark riots.

On both sides, I believe it all comes down to ignorance. Ignorance on the part of the West for failing to study and appreciate the Muslim culture; for all the Muslims I’ve met, whether they were Egyptian, Moroccan, Bosnian, Turkish or American, have been the most generous and humble people on earth. Ignorance on the part of the Muslims for failing to study the principles on which America was founded; if they learned about the sacrifices made by our Founding Fathers in order to give us the gift of free speech, no matter what our beliefs may be, perhaps they could understand why this film is protected speech.

If the problem is ignorance, then the answer is education.  Don’t simply buy into what the mainstream media portrays.  Dig around a bit, do some fact checking of your own.  As Malcom X warned, “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”  Whether it’s reading, watching, listening, or debating, we have a duty to seek information to destroy our own bias and prejudice.  Exercise that brilliant organ residing in your skull. Rather than devolve into a world of fear and hatred of all that is different, let us use the technology at our fingertips as a means to learn about one another so that we can love, preserve and appreciate those differences.

~Rant of a Wanderer, 9/18/2012

Mi dispiace – I’m sorry

Today is March 15th, the Ides of March, and it has been well over a month since my last post. The hiatus this time around is not due to writer’s block, it’s simply that there are not enough hours in the day. I’ve been dividing my time between teaching (score update…Miss Katie: 12, Italian 3rd Graders: 4), showing my sister around (yay for visitors!!!), keeping my New Year’s Resolution (read 1 book in English & 1 in Italian every month), and trying to speak more Italian than English every day.

However, the biggest culprit for my lack of updates is the fact that spring has sprung in Rome. Trees are blossoming, the snow has melted, the markets have strawberries on sale, roof-tanning has commenced, the flea market vendors have started selling pastel-colored clothing, and this Wanderer is twitterpated (editor’s note: if you don’t know what that means, it’s time to watch “Bambi” again). Long story short, I’ve been distracted.

However, I am still a list-maker; I have a mile-long list of topics I want to write about. They include:

  • the origin of the words “cappuccino” and “graffiti”
  • the Italian Grandmother
  • a Carbonara recipe, courtesy of one of my students
  • creative ways to make money in a down economy
  • dreaming and sleep-talking in a foreign language
  • the benefits of living with Art Historians
  • la bella/brutta figura
  • the derby
  • Ostia Antica, Viterbo, Cesano, and Spoleto day trips
  • International Women’s Day – Italian style
  • Roman pollution control
  • traffic violations & fines
  • heating & gas bills
  • ………….and the list grows every day

I’m not lacking in inspiration, I’m simply lacking in time. I live in one of the most spectacular cities in the world, rich with art, history, architecture, mythology…and it’s sunny and 72 degrees outside. Can you blame me for not writing?  Anyway, I’ll try to be better about writing more frequently. But for now, take a look at one of the best-preserved bathrooms of ancient Rome (in Ostia Antica):

Ciao 2011 – it’s been an adventure

It’s 5pm on New Year’s Eve, and I am relaxing, just trying to conserve energy in preparation for tonight’s antics: multi-course dinner at home with my moglie – wife – and her boyfriend (yes, you read that right), followed by drinks with friends and wandering to the ancient Imperial Forum for the Negramaro – italian rock band – concert and fireworks. I hope I survive, something tells me that Romans, alcohol, and fireworks don’t mix.

Anyway, I am laying in my roman bed, in my roman apartment, texting in Italian on my ghetto roman phone, and thinking about how much my world has changed. This time last year, my world was Portland – a gorgeous city with my incredible family and amazing friends. My world was NCAA and NFL football games, summer barbecues, road trips, workout buddies, and line dancing. It was a world of comfort, support, and unconditional love. It was a life that I adored.

Portland is amazing. But as one of my best friends said, “For you, Portland is a cage. And no matter how beautiful the cage, at some point every bird needs to fly.” This time last year, I found my wings. I flew from Portland to Istanbul to Olympos to London to Lucca to Dubrovnik to Mostar to Rome on a one way journey. I allowed myself to dream beyond the beauty of Portland, beyond the comfort of home. As a result, my world is larger than it has ever been.

It now consists of Islamic mosques and Renaissance cathedrals, of paragliding and cliff jumping, of Olympos and Butterfly Valley, of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and riots in San Giovanni, of Lucchese dialect and Roman slang, of stargazing and kaifing. In my world, I am now a foreigner, a wanderer, a bartender, a nanny, and an English teacher. In my world, I drink Turkish tea in the afternoon and Grappa or Limoncello after dinner, I eat menemen and carbonara, I dream in two languages. In my world, I am an aunt or a sister in the Gelli and Pierallini families.

Without a doubt, my world has grown and will continue to grow at an exponential rate. It has truly been an extraordinary year and I’m excited to see what curveballs 2012 decides to throw.

Buon Anno – Happy New Year!

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Know Thyself

I envy people who know exactly what they want in life. You know the type. They said at age 10, “I want to be a ________”, and 20 years later they’re doing just that. It may be a Grass is Greener syndrome, but I feel like life must be so much easier that way. At least one of the major questions in life is sorted out, reliable, consistent, stable.

Everything in my life is a question these days. Everything. And I have very few answers. It’s really irritating to be 28 years old and know so little about what you want. I set out on this journey 8 months ago to figure everything (anything) out. I’ve found that the longer I stay away from home, the less I know.

Where do you want to settle down? I don’t know.

Do you even want to settle down? I don’t know.

What do you want to do as a career? I don’t know.

Do you want a family? In theory, yes.

When do you want to start a family? I don’t know.

When will you go home? I don’t know. Not any time soon.

Do you miss home? Nope. Everyone I love has found a way to still be part of my life abroad.

How long will you stay in Rome? I don’t know.

Where will you go next? East. But I don’t know where.

Do you like teaching English? I don’t know (yet). It’s difficult to determine when it’s simply a means to an end right now.


Despite the constant aggravation of not having any answers, there is at least one thing I know to be true: I am following my heart, pursuing my passions, and living my dream. It is what I am most proud of, and I’m frequently told that it’s more than most people have the courage to do. I wish that weren’t the case.

I stumbled across this poster and re-read it for the umpteenth time. Though today, it moved me more than it normally does. It’s a simple message: Do what makes you happy. Whatever that may be, wherever it may take you, regardless of how much “sense” it makes, do it. Life is too short and too precious to be spent following someone else’s dream. Live YOUR dream, share your passion, and love each other.

Writer’s Block

When a city defines itself as “eternal”…where does one begin?

I have been living in Rome for nearly two months, and I have fallen victim to what many call a writer’s block. I have had plenty of time to write, but when I actually sit down in front of my computer, my mind goes blank and nothing flows. Surely Rome is not lacking in inspiration. So what gives?

I initially thought my paralysis was due to the distraction of “setting up shop.”  I arrived in mid-August and had countless items to attend to: networking, setting up my room, finding work, determining my “budget,” scouting out the best gelateria, etc. But true to Katie Wax form, I had all the aforementioned items completed by the first week of September.

So nearly a month has passed since I “settled” into Rome, and I still can’t write. At least this week I think I finally figured out why: I am simply too overwhelmed by the immensity of this city, I don’t know where to begin. Rome is unlike any other – layers upon layers of history, art, architecture, religion, and culture – it is baffling.

Ancient Rome alone covers nearly 1,000 years of history – this is the age of Caesar & the Senate, business in the Forum, and triumphal arches. This is the age of unfathomable perfection in architecture and the incredible power of aqueducts to alleviate the city’s thirsty people. This is the age of gladiators and the Colosseum. This is the age of temples to the Pagan gods and the persecution (and later acceptance) of Christianity.


Fast forward to Renaissance & Baroque Rome in the 15th-17thcenturies and you find an age where humans are beautiful, intelligent, sensual beings. This is the Rome of Michelangelo, Bernini, da Vinci, and Caravaggio. This is the Rome of curiosity, of dreams, of exploration and of the discovery of human potential. This is the Rome of the Trevi Fountain, St. Peter’s Dome, the Sistine Chapel and Villa Borghese. This is the Rome that inspired me to appreciate art and whose treasures continue to take my breath away.

Going forward 250 years and you have Contemporary Rome – the Rome of Garibaldi and Mazzini, the Rome that was designated as the capital of a newly united nation. This is the Rome of fascism and Mussolini’s definition of what it meant to be “Italian” instead of simply “Roman.” This is the Rome of a strategic effort to be internationally recognized. This is the Rome that allied with Nazi Germany and forced its Jewish inhabitants to once again reside in the “Jewish Ghetto.”

Then there is Modern Rome – the Rome that exists today, adding an additional layer its vast and complex history. This is the Rome of chaotic traffic, constant noise, and seemingly random transportation strikes. The Rome whose graffiti speaks of soccer fanatics and lovers’ anniversaries. This is the Rome who, despite an economic crisis, still honors the mid-day siesta. The Rome whose markets only offer seasonal vegetables to be selected for you by the farmer himself. This is the Rome I fell in love with 5 years ago, and this is the Rome which I’m proud to say is exactly the same.

And all that is just the city’s history. I haven’t even touched upon the smell of pizza in a wood-burning oven, the feeling of cobblestones under your feet, or the sound of Stadio Olimpico after A.S. Roma has scored a goal. I haven’t introduced the concept of “Monument Drinking,” a favorite past time which was created while studying here 5 years ago. I haven’t attempted to describe my own day-to-day experiences, like the old woman next door who scolds us regularly, or the incredible warmth of the man who works at the bar at the bottom of our building.

This is Rome – all these pieces existing simultaneously – I could write for years and not do this city justice. I simply have no idea where to begin.

On The Road Again…

After a surprise send-off party, a boat trip to the island of Elba, and one final aperitivo in Lucca, it is time to hit the road. Time to say goodbye to Castelvecchio di Compito and to a beautiful family and life in Tuscany. But this is not goodbye, it is “ciao for now,” for I am not going far.

Vorrei un biglietto per Roma per favore. Solo andata. – I would like a ticket to Rome please. One Way.

Next up is Roma: La Citta Eterna – the Eternal City. Hoping to find work teaching English and continue my Italian love affair…stay tuned.

Western Shock

I’m currently sitting at a cafe in the International Terminal of Ataturk airport, staring across the way at a green circular sign with a white mermaid in the middle. I don’t need to read the words “Starbucks Coffee” to know that I’ve already re-entered the Western world. The constant recorded announcements over a sound system, the arrival/departure schedules, the forced smile of the Turkish Airlines woman checking my passport, the existence of a moving walkway to get where you’re going faster…these all reinforce the fact that I’ve been living a world away for the past 2 months.

This is a big culture shock, the transition back to the West. Thanks to the wise words of a dear friend, I started to prepare for this shock over a week ago. In Olympos, I discovered a different approach to life and I embraced it whole-heartedly. After connecting with nature, appreciating today, and centering myself, I am now faced with the challenge of keeping that peace.

My natural tendency is to plan, organize, and manage – all great qualities for navigating the workings of the West – but that tendency became an obsession, one that led me down a path which was not my own. I will need to be very deliberate in my effort to maintain the balance I’ve achieved in Turkey. I’m not sure yet how to accomplish this, but I imagine it will start by taking a deep breath. Maybe two or three.

Back to Low Maintenance

I used to pride myself on being a low-maintenance kind of girl. I love “roughing it” in the great outdoors, I don’t mind sweat & dirt, and I’ve never been one of those girls who can’t leave the house without make-up.

However, after having spent nearly 4 years as a Consultant in San Francisco, I had developed a morning routine. It involved a hot shower with a loofah, some styling of my hair, and make-up; it wasn’t anything too heavy, but mascara, eyeliner, foundation, and blush were part of my every day. My clothes were always clean and pressed (if necessary), and I usually wore perfume. While I’ve never been one to get manicures, I also made sure my nails were clean and presentable.

Seven weeks ago, just after our arrival at the Treehouse Hostel, Tyler turned to me and asked, “How long do you think it’ll take until you become a hippie?”

This morning, I woke up and quickly realized there was no electricity, and therefore no hot water. I took a cold shower in the dark, put my hair up in a bun using a dab of lotion to tame my frizz, and left the bathroom without once looking in the mirror.

My dirty laundry pile and my pack are currently synonymous as it’s been far too long since I’ve devoted an afternoon to laundry. So I chose my shirt based on the tried & true “Backpacker Smell Test.” And although I’ve worn them every day for the past week, I threw on my linen pants; my alternative is a pair of jeans which are sweltering in this Turkish heat.

Out the door I went, feeling ready for the day. Dirty, messy hair, wearing wrinkled clothes, no makeup, and a beaming smile. Yes, I have my answer. It was a gradual process, but I believe it took 7 weeks for me to become a hippie.

Travel Buddies!

Meet Tyler Batson!

Tyler and I studied together in Rome in 2006 and we’ve reconnected in Istanbul for another foreign adventure!  Tyler left California 8 months ago and unexpectedly found himself on an indefinite world journey. He spent 4 months in Thailand, then 4 months in India, and now he’s in Turkey – working his way home.

He’s got an incredible story, and an inspiring blog to share it with you.  (yes, I’m taking notes). He’s also much better about updating photos and videos more regularly – subscribe to his blog and follow his journey. You’ll see me making a few guest appearances!

The choice to wander.

I believe in free will – the ability to choose my own path and the power to create my own future. However, I am not free-spirited. I only take very carefully calculated risks. I am a planner. I am a control freak. I thrive in a predictable routine. In exercising my right to free will, I have thus far made choices that lead toward stability and comfort.

While backpacking through Sicily in the fall of 2003, I met a fellow traveller who had been on the road for years. He worked at hostels in exchange for a free place to stay and found some oddball jobs to earn a modest amount of money. He stayed in one city or country until he had the desire and the means to get to his next destination. And he had been everywhere. I was inspired.

However, the downside of booking a roundtrip flight is that your traveling adventures come to an end.  At 20, I didn’t yet have the strength or confidence to roam the world without a “plan.” I returned to the States to go back to school. While my 90-day backpacking adventure opened my eyes to the world, it was a superficial “taste” of 8 different countries. I desperately craved an experience that would connect me with a culture and a people. I chose Italy and prepared to spend a semester in Rome.

In the fall of 2006, I learned the beauty of Dolce Far Niente – the sweetness of doing nothing. This Type-A, oldest child, To-Do List queen found that life is more about living in the moment, sipping a cappuccino on a piazza, than it is about working hard to be able to afford the bigger house, the faster car, or the designer clothes. This incredible discovery did have a downside – in an effort to cherish the moment, I found myself eating gelato three times a day and consequently gained 20 lbs.

On December 16, 2006, after a semester of bliss (and a love affair with Pasta), I reluctantly boarded a plane to return home and finish my degree. Curse the roundtrip flight. At 23, I was starting to feel the pressure to grow up (whatever that means). I was now 2 years behind my peers, and it was time to get serious about getting a degree and a job. But deep down I was paralyzed by a fear that I would lose myself in the transition back to American life.  I nearly did.

In the past four years, I have grown up. I have worked hard, lived fully, and loved deeply. I used the majority of my PTO to get back abroad, even if only for one week at a time. I attempted to cook a Thanksgiving dinner in Rome, I spent 10 days tromping through the rain forests of Costa Rica, and I was in Madrid the night Spain won the World Cup. I thought I could be happy traveling the way most people travel, with travel being a short detour in my “big picture.” But I was left wanting more.

On December 11, 2010, I made a decision that enabled me to finally do what I’ve been longing to do since 2003: wander. My journey would pick up where I left off four years ago – in Rome – but this time I would book a one-way flight. No plan, no itinerary, no return date. The decision was not an easy one; it meant that I had to sacrifice the home and the life that I had started to build. Luckily, those who know me best and love me most have fully supported this decision, and for that I am forever in your debt. Thank you for letting me go.