If you ask Laura Holmes why she travels, you’re going to have to rethink your question.
She’ll answer you, of course—and the answer will be rooted in passion and adventure and health and annihilating that vile word ‘routine’—but she’ll want you to ask another question, this time of yourself.
Why aren’t you traveling?
Money? Time? Fear?
“Everyone tells me I can’t travel; it’s too expensive, and I don’t have time,” said Holmes, the co-owner of FineLine Creative whose second book, “Travel Light: Regular People Go On Adventures Too,” is about to hit the shelves in January.
“And I’m like, I call bullshit,” Holmes continued. “I have this whole chapter in my book on Michigan—there are amazing things to do in our backyard that are very affordable. Travel doesn’t have to mean getting on a plane. It means getting out of your routine.”
For Holmes—who has long been involved in Muskegon, from working with clients here as part of her communications company to serving as the marketing director for the Michigan Irish Music Festival—it’s become something of a mission to convince people to forego a life on the couch and instead head for the unknown.
“Paulo Coelho has this quote that I always think of: ‘If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it’s lethal,’” Holmes said, referring to the Brazilian author who’s best known for “The Alchemist” but also penned a book about his experience walking the 500-plus mile Camino de Santiago in Spain.
But it’s not just getting rid of the mundane that has Holmes enamored with travel. Adventure, for Holmes, is about breaking down barriers, shattering stereotypes, and challenging one’s own world view.
Travel writer “Rick Steves has a book out called ‘Travel as a Political Act,’ and it’s all about being more open-minded,” Holmes said. “Travel is about seeing another culture, another religion. It doesn’t mean you have to change what you believe, but it’s not just your world. There are amazing people to meet out there.”
In Holmes’ new book, which follows her debut travel tome, “I’ve Gotta Pack,” she light-heartedly explores these ideas, taking the reader through her excursions in France, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Ireland, and throughout the United States—including in Michigan, Arizona, Colorado, California, Nevada, and Alaska. It’s a memoir that takes us along for Holmes’ ride while never making us feel like a mere passenger: as the reader, you’re right there with the author as she navigates a raucous cooking class in Italy, explores Paris a week after the 2015 terrorist attacks, kayaks in Alaska, visits the Museum of Ham in Madrid, backpacks along the North Country Trail—essentially Michigan’s version of the Appalachian Trail—and much, much more.
Broken down into 10 chapters, “Travel Light” is part memoir, part ode to travel, and part push—a gentle and eloquent one—to get us all to see the world. And it’s a book in which we watch Holmes embrace the new chapters of her own life as she circles the globe: she begins the memoir as a woman who’s celebrating her 40th birthday in 2009 to, at the end of the book, someone who’s learning what it means to be married again. [A couple years ago, Holmes married Josh Watson, a fellow avid explorer and the assistant men’s soccer coach at Muskegon Community College.]
“Now, it’s January 2017, I’m learning to say husband, not boyfriend, and I am wearing a ring that I constantly fiddle with,” Holmes writes on the final page of her book. “That particular finger has been naked for an exceptionally long time. It’s a good daily reminder that change presents itself usually when you’re not paying attention. I’ve discovered people surprise you, and you find new space in your own soul for love, fun, truth, and peace.”
Born on a U.S. Army base in Arizona—her father served in the Army—Holmes was just shy of two years old when she took her first international trip to Mexico. She and her family then moved to Traverse City, where she grew up. It was a childhood filled with Michigan’s waters and fields, and summers of road trips to spots across the U.S., from Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. Eventually landing in Muskegon with her first husband, Holmes dove head-first into a life of travel after she took a trip in 2001 to Tanzania, where she embarked on a week-long safari and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa.
“The trip to Tanzania and that experience was perspective-altering,” Holmes said. “I’ve never done anything quite like it. You’re so used to all of your conveniences—flushing a toilet, taking a shower every day—and when you don’t have those things, when you come home, it’s like, wow. You don’t take things for granted. That trip was transformative.”
It was that same trip that inspired her to start writing about her travels again—something she always did while growing up. After years of meticulously documenting her trips, Holmes wrote her first book in 2011 and then launched her blog, “I’ve Gotta Pack,” in 2012.
With her newest memoir, Holmes is channeling something of a female Bill Bryson—a travel writer whose humor-infused chapters help to connect everyone from avid adventurers to those a bit more fearful of stepping into lands unknown with our world at large. Never one to take herself too seriously, Holmes lets us laugh at the inevitable misadventures of travel—losing a friend on the subway in Rome, for example—while simultaneously connecting us to the power and poignancy of meeting new people whose lives may, at first glance, seem radically different from our own.
With that in mind, Holmes is donating $5 from each book sale to the Planeterra Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on sustainable tourism and empowering local communities to earn incomes from tourism. It’s an idea long embraced by Holmes, who explained she always tries to financially support the local economies, and the people who are indigenous to the area, of wherever she travels.
“I don’t want to leave without supporting the local economy,” she said. “Instead of doing totally commercialized trips, visit with people. Talk about their lifestyles. I’ve gotten to meet with a Quechua community in Peru, for example, and we met a nomadic herder whose wife creates these amazing ponchos. It’s so much more interesting getting to talk to people.”
After all, Holmes said, what is travel if you’re not actually meeting the people who live in the places you’re visiting? How can you know a place without its people? Quite simply, you can’t.
“Let travel change you, especially when you immerse yourself in a different culture,” Holmes writes. “A new and unfamiliar place holds all sorts of customs and social nuances, leading you to a new, open-minded view of others and a more defined sense of self.”
“Travel can become part of your soul if you can learn to absorb a moment, rather than just look,” she continues. “When you travel, pay attention to the details and really listen to and engage the people you encounter. Travel is about connection, not just the place.”
Perhaps most of all, Holmes’ new book celebrates our ability as humans to seek, to explore, and to venture outside our comfort zones. It’s a book that asks us to rethink our draining work weeks, to remember that, no matter how cliche this is, life truly is short. Why wait to be happy until you retire?
“People tell me, ‘Well, I can’t travel; I work 50, 60 hours a week, and I’m like, ‘Well, stop that,’” Holmes said. “The whole book is about life-work-play balance. Don’t wait until you’re retired. You shouldn’t wait until you’re 60, 70 years old to do that stuff. Climb a mountain when you’re 20, 30, 40.”
Even if finances make impossible to head overseas, our Mitten State has an endless number of possibilities for adventure, Holmes points out time and again in the book.
“It turns out I grew up in paradise,” she writes. “I didn’t realize this as a kid, and as an adult I have a newfound appreciation for my own backyard playground.”
“I don’t need to travel far from home to take in one of the United States’ most stunning natural wonders,” Holmes continues, referring to Sleeping Dunes National Lakeshore—a vast space of huge, scalable dunes that hug the shore of Lake Michigan.
In other words: regular people go on adventures, too, whether it’s somewhere 10 minutes from their home or 10,000 miles away.
“Stop working your ass off and go experience life,” Holmes said.
“Travel Light: Regular People Go On Adventures Too” is $34.95 and can be pre-ordered for January delivery by clicking here. The book will be available locally at The Bookman in Grand Haven, The Book Nook in Montague, Wayne’s Deli in Muskegon, and Earth’s Edge in Grand Haven. Holmes will launch her book tour in January 2020, which will take her to events throughout the area, from Hackley Public Library to the Book Nook. To keep up with upcoming happenings, check out the “Travel Light” events page.