other blog.jpg



Before finishing my first year at Carnegie Mellon University, I decided I wanted to spend my summer traveling to new places and working on personal projects. So instead of looking for a design internship, I challenged myself to complete a fairly long “bucket list” in hopes of learning some new skills, continuing design work away from school, finally erasing some long over-do to-dos, and not having a single moment of boredom. In addition to this list, I spent about a month and a half traveling (a cross-country road trip from Boston to Arizona in May, and the entire month of July living with two host families in the south of France).

Before tackling my list, I departed from CMU after finals week to spend a few days with friends from my freshman dorm in Cape Cod. It was a wonderful trip that easily made any remaining stress from finals vanish.

We spent an afternoon digging for clams, then grilling and eating them. A delicious and rewarding venture!

I left Cape Cod and started driving out west to spend a day at home (Chicago) before continuing my trip to Arizona with some new companions. May 16th I got up bright and early, and along with 4 high school friends, we began our drive to the Grand Canyon.

As we have all just finished our first year of officially being “poor college students”, we attempted to spend as little money as possible throughout the trip. To do so, we pitched a tent on several nights (which were much colder than expected), made plenty of sandwiches on the go, and searched for free or cheap canyons/parks to hike.

Our first night we stopped at a site in Brush, Colorado. It snowed. No glamping was done.

Another night we slept in a tipi near Bryce Canyon National Park.

And 1,696 miles from home, we made it to the Grand Canyon.

But we found that some lesser known sites were actually more exciting

After 9 days in a car with the same four people, we were ready to be home. From May 24th til the end of June, I stayed home and began working on my list. I won’t write about every single item, but if you’re interested, you can find the list at the bottom of this post (abridged with my audience on here in mind).

I began with hand-making a sketchbook. From then on, everyday I wrote a short list of things I did along with a drawing or photos of a project made. This helped me keep my drawing up, plus it’s a great souvenir from my summer.

I loved making the book so much that I decided I would only use sketchbooks I made from now on. Not only are they exactly what I’m looking for (in terms of paper, size, color, etc.) but they are also about three times cheaper than a Moleskine.

Getting a headstart on some sketchbooks for the school year along with a mini travel book to use for French translations while abroad.

My pencil case kept ripping open last year, so I made my own

I had some empty jars, so I learned how to make scented candles.

Screenprinting! I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, so I was really excited I finally had some time to learn. Even though I messed up the bottom part, I was so happy it actually worked, and I knew what to do better for the next one.

Since I was in and out of my house throughout the day and there are several “wait for this to dry” times, each screen print took about 2-3 days. Don’t be discouraged if you want to try it, one design can absolutely be done in a day if you are committed and patient.

Since I only had a bit of time left before my departure, I prioritized and made some birthday presents.

Mid-June, I finally opened up an Etsy shop which I’ve been wanting to do for years. I only have a couple of items up right now, but I’ll be adding on to it with time. I’m not sure if I’ll keep it open during the school year (since each item requires a good chunk of time, materials, and space), but I’m happy I at least got it started, and I will definitely tend to it once I have a bit more time.

Free yoga in Millenium Park every summer.

At the end of June, it was finally time to go to France. I would be staying with two host families about an hour south of Bordeaux. I got connected to these families through their cousins whom I stayed with two summers ago through an organization. All I knew was that they had a farm and a vineyard, and they were excited to meet an American.

The Miroir d’Eau in Bordeaux. 

Throughout the month I was basically moved back and forth between the two houses depending on which family had something exciting going on at the time. I love being fully immersed in French culture. It’s so different than just spending a week touring Paris. Living in the countryside with these families taught me so much about their way of life, and also helped me acquire some new skills in the farming industry.

Hay bales almost anywhere you go, and a few photos from their farm.

Went behind-the-scenes at a boulangerie and winery. The wine pictured is the father of my host-family’s own creation, featuring a drawing of their house on the label.

My favorite experience by far was working at the market selling fruits and vegetables from their farm. Often, I would spend the day before packing away melons by size, checking tomatoes for quality, making containers of exactly 130g of raspberries, and much more. Then, I would see all of this come to use the next morning. We’d leave the house at 6:30 am, and get everything set up at the market.

Our stand in one of three towns I sold in.

I loved this for a number of reasons. First, because French people in the countryside are so nice. They always greet you with a huge smile, even if they are just passing by, and often joke around with you while picking out their produce. I got to know all of the vendors and regular clients, so it was great seeing familiar faces. Second, it did wonders for my French. Since I was forced to respond quickly to clients so they wouldn’t get impatient, I began feeling pretty fluent. And third, this region has a lot of British tourists in the summer, so it was always fun surprising them with my English when they looked completely lost because they couldn’t remember the word for raspberries in French. One of the most rewarding moments was on my last day. A French woman overheard me speaking to a tourist, and when I returned to serve her, she complimented my English skills thinking I was a French native.

My two incredibly welcoming host families.

Though I’m sad this summer is coming to a close, I’m very happy with everything I was able to see, try, and learn these past couple of months.

Here’s the list. Thanks for reading!

Julia Ainbinder