Editor’s note: Longtime Santa Monican Charles Andrews just returned from traveling across Europe in a camper van for one year, with his family. This column is written by his daughter, Nicole Andrews.
It’s been a year. Thirty countries, three travelers, one 1991 Transporter VW van (dubbed Excalibur). I graduated from Santa Monica High School in 2011, and will be attending Santa Monica College in the fall. Since returning mid-June, I have had some time to reflect on what this trip meant to me, and I am lucky enough to share it here.
I am blessed to have such a tight-knit family. I’ve gotten used to the audible shudder when people hear the words, “A year, with my parents, in a van.” After the initial shock, those my age confess they would like to make the same trip, but they would most definitely kill their parents (or the other way around) two days into the trip. I can imagine, because it almost happened to us multiple times.
If anything can be said in defense of this crazy kind of travel, it is that the highs far outweigh the lows, and the fact that every day is new, with fresh surroundings, people, cultures and languages, helps one forget the egregious error of taking the second exit of the roundabout rather than the fourth.
Living in such tight quarters for so long, it was necessary to get some space every so often. We each did this in our own unique way. Among other divertissements, I brought my camera. Seeing things through a lens gave me the opportunity to view things in a different manner. I saw many events as still images, frame by frame. I also became very fast with snapping photos. It turned into a game, seeing if I could capture that wall of street art before we whizzed by in our van.
This was a bit of a burden at times, like the time I caught a cold in Scandinavia and had to choose between blowing my nose or capturing the vista — “shot or snot.” Being the trip photographer was a great experience, but it was a strange relief coming home and not feeling the obligation to take pictures of the meal or our digs or that statue or this landscape.
I did, however, develop a great interest for street art, which occupies many folders on my computer. This medium of art fascinates me on so many levels. It provides a window into the strong opinions of the people of a country, and, if done well, it is not only a political statement, but also a work of art.
There is a freedom involved in that type of expression because the vast majority of works we see are done illegally, which forces the artist to accept that their work may be painted over next week. Even when a piece is severely cynical and thought provoking, there is always that glimmer of humor, no matter how demented that may be.
It was another way for me to get a sense of a new country; which countries have more of it than others, which countries even commission street artists like Blu (a new-found favorite of mine) to create a piece of political satire. It became an Easter egg hunt, finding cool street art, which, by the way, does not include rudimentary tagging commonly seen in L.A.
But street art was just one part of a whole experience. The full experience can never be put into words, and pictures don’t even cover it all. Still, they help quite a bit, and without my camera it would have been a very different trip.
Upon returning I realized I want to explore more of my own country. I have traveled some in the States, but not in the manner in which I traveled for this trip. I like the camping lifestyle because even though it has its drawbacks, it makes the travel more real to me and it forces me to step out of my comfort zone by getting to know locals or going places I might not have gone if I were staying in a resort hotel. It also allows me to travel much more often and for longer periods because it is not so cost prohibitive.
After four tows in the first four months of our trip, however, and countless hours spent at various mechanics around the continent, I think I’ll opt for backpacking next time unless I miraculously develop an uncanny talent for fixing cars.
But would I do the trip again? Por supuesto! Of course! It is a beautiful thing to think that, if I were to do a year-long European adventure again, I could potentially couch surf my way across the continent thanks to the generous offers made by so many friends we made. Their kindness taught me a lot about generosity and hospitality, which I will always hold on to.
A trip four years in the making is finally over, but it has only whet my appetite for this love of travel.
You can follow Charles Andrews’ daily blog at http://anandrewsadventure.blogspot.com.