A Lot to Integrate

By Lisa Chandler, 13 May, 2024

Thirty-one days in Europe. 

Two travel partners: Peter and my daughter L. 

Friends visited in three countries, plus three more countries for good measure. 

Planes, trains, buses, bicycles, an automobile, and even a mountain "birdcage" to get around. 

Plus 380,000 steps with our own two feet.

And two editions of boxes printed for our This Box is for Good project.

Before I consciously move toward what's next, or unconsciously sink into all my old routines, I want to capture some highlights, be honest (with myself) about some lowlights, and remember some learnings that we can apply to our next adventure.

Me, enjoying a drink in Italy.

The Highlights

There were many. While I couldn't get over my own resistance to write, even in my own travel journal, let alone this blog, Peter is a prolific writer, and captured some of our travels beautifully on his. For expediency, I will point you to some of my favourite of his posts. 

He captured moments where we got to steal away for a drink and to sketch.  

Drinks and chips.

And the taste of a delicious pannacotta with dried fig salami

He recorded sea sounds on the Adriatic (while L and I took a plunge in 16 degree waters) and the sounds of a religious festival called La Festa dei Ceri that has been happening annually for 800 years in Gubbio, Italy.  

Image of an Italian festival in sunshine.

Of course, my favourite posts are his sketch notes. They capture the essence of our time away in small slices of life.   His first sketch note, our first supper with his friends Olle and Luisa in Malmö, Sweden was a delicious welcome to Scandanavia.  He went on to sketch plenty of the tasty, interesting and sometimes challenging moments that followed.

A sketch note of a meal out.

And then there was our project. We conceived of, printed and distributed two editions of our This Box is for Good project. Our first experience was in Hillversum, The Netherlands with accomplished print maker Roy Scholten. Roy has made quite a splash lately with a series 50 birds of The Netherlands all printed with Lego blocks, a project that has been six years in the making.  

A series of printed boxes.

We concieved of, and printed, our our second box edition in a tiny village in the Tuscan hills in Serrazzano, Italy at Two Cents Press.

A series of printed boxes with a beautiful natural background.

Our printing project was really the thruline of our entire trip. At times, we overwhelmed ourselves with it. At other times, we delighted in it. Not only did we learn new printing techniques, and meet new friends, we also used the boxes to create adventures and connections that we wouldn't have experienced without a "good reason!"

Paradiso 518 in Perugia and Frab's in Forli were two stops that we never would have made were it not for Peter's love of independent magazines, and our idea that we could bring them some boxes to share with their own paper and ink loving customers. You can imagine our delight when we saw that someone in Rome already registered a box that she received from Paradio 518.

We opted to take L out of regular school for a month, with the idea that "world schooling" would give her a great eduction. At times I was blown away by her capabilities. She took her seat at many adult tables and held her own. She contributed creatively to our box projects. She learned how to navigate local transportation, biked in busy Copenhagen, and got very good and finding accommodations for us to consider. She learned a little Dutch and Italian. She also knew more about Roman ruins than we did. 

As she learned to navigate the bigger world, we learned a few things about how to parent a teenager on the road.

A pano of Roman ruins

Peter and I travel well together.  We shared in responsibilities, and made our travels more interesting by taking each other places we would not have thought of on our own. I like wandering curiously, and there is no one more curious than he.

Man at a printing press

The Lowlights

It was hard sometimes. It was hard more often than I thought it would be. It was hard for reasons I didn't see coming. 

L. was homesick, and she talked about it a lot. While I might have hoped that "home" for her is "wherever I am," that was often not true. At times we grew tired of hearing her pine for home from some of the most beautiful and fascinating locations we've ever seen. 

Our commitment to each other to print two boxes on the road meant we effectively were on a "working vacation" for the first half of our trip. Sure, it was highly creative and we were learning a ton, but when the rubber hit the road, we also had to do all the work to complete each set of boxes before our days at the print shops ran out. L. was a great help in The Netherlands, but less so in Serrazzano. Those five days felt like some version of home schooling during COVID: I never really felt free to be creative or relax because she was always on my mind (and on her tablet).

I couldn't sleep very well many of the nights, for all kinds of reasons. My fuse got shorter when I was down on sleep. As you might imagine, feeling angry in a beautiful corner of the world is the opposite to what I wanted to feel. And that would turn into confusion and guilt about being so fortunate to be on such a great adventure, and sometimes feeling annoyed by it or ungrateful. At a certain point, after a big bout of tears in Perugia, I realized I was overwhelming myself trying to help everyone get along all the time. Once I realized this and stopped running interference, I started to feel a bit lighter. 

Other than the friend visits, and the two printing residencies, we made it all up as we went along.  It's hard to put this in the lowlights because we love to wander. The cost, however, was that we didn't stay anywhere long enough to rest. We also spent too much time on our phones, searching for our next great place to visit and accommodation. 

The Learnings

This part is a little note to my future travel self. 

  • You won't think that taking time to yourself is necessary every day but it is, even if it's only a short walk before others get up.  
  • Stay in some places long enough to get so bored that you find time to read, write, and sketch.
  • You won't ever be satisfied just being a tourist gawking at sights. It's worth it to "do good" wherever you go, but remember that there is a "cost" to travel this way.
  • Pack even less than you did this time, and make sure every item you bring is something you love and feel great in.
  • You might not have wanted to have a breakdown in Perugia, but your relationships are a little healthier for it, and your family will still love you.
  • All the formal schooling in the world cannot give the kind of education one finds on the road. 
  • Life is messy home and abroad. Travel will always accentuate the highs and the lows.  Despite this, when faced with the opportunity to go again, say yes.