Travel Can Be A Mirror

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Scene in Morris Manitoba Museum

What intrigues you or captures your photographic interest when you travel
may say more about you and your home than your travel location

Many of us love to take photographs when we travel, lasting memories of our experience. Photos of landmarks, beautiful things, the landscape and even the food we eat. And of things that strike us as unique or unusual. Those unique things may actually say as much about us and where we come as the place we are visiting. People from places where these things are common may not give them a second glance.

monkey crossing sign
Monkey crossing sign on the Caribbean island of Nevis
(There are deer crossing signs in my home province of Manitoba, but definitely no monkey crossings)
snake alert sign
Sign encountered in Arizona
(The only snakes in Manitoba are harmless garter snakes and I rarely see them)
CCTV sign
Although I suspect there are more cameras photographing me than I realize at home, CCTV cameras seem to be everywhere in London, England
Look left
Words at street crossings in London remind me traffic flows the opposite direction as in North America.
No Weapons Allowed sign
Signs like this one on the entrance to a public library in Mesa, Arizona unnerve me.
Carrying handguns is illegal in Canada.
Barcelona sidewalk gas station
A sidewalk gas station in Barcelona, Spain
Fire Hydrant
Fire hydrant in my home city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
The red pole rising above us is denote location during winter months should snow get piled high as snowplows clear streets.

Sometimes, we are surprised by what a visitor to our part of the worlds find interesting or unusual enough to photograph. On one of my first visits to my husband’s friends in England, they showed me a photo album chronicling their visit to Canada a few years prior. I was surprised to see a picture of a fire hydrant, a metal pillar attached to a water supply that fire fighters can tap into when needed. There are over 20,000 fire hydrants in Winnipeg and I pass by them daily without giving them a second thought, unless it is to make sure I do not park in front of one. Fire hydrants in the United Kingdom are generally located underground, under a plate on the sidewalk or road, and marked with a small yellow plaque.

cartoon fire hydrants
I wonder what our friends would have thought about these fire hydrants in the town where I grew up

Other English friends visited us one summer. We had a great time showing them the highlights of our home and seeing it through their eyes. They were amazed at the long stretches of straight flat road on the prairies and the length of trains that passed by. A lot of goods are shipped across Canada via rail. I had not considered that the number of cars on these freight trains may be considerably more than in other parts of the world, although I had spent many impatient moments waiting at railroad crossings.

Railway Crossing sign

Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving. ∼Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

What unusual things have you photographed on your travels? What in your home location are you surprised to see visitors photograph?

PIN ITWhat we notice when we travel often says something about ourselves and where we come from

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  1. I so agree Donna, that some things we just take for granted. Whereas we love kangaroos they are quite a problem on the roads, so we have lots of beware kangaroo signs and not because they are dangerous, but because they might hop across the road in front of you suddenly. Loved you pics and descriptions.

    1. Thanks Johanna. Beware kangaroo signs would certainly catch the attention (and perhaps camera) of Canadians.

  2. These are great signs, Donna. I think I might be dead by now if it weren’t for those “look left” signs in London:) In WI I used to laugh at a sign on every entrance ramp to any freeway. It says, “No pedestrians, No animals on foot.” I used to think to myself, I wonder how many deer or dogs read that sign and then choose to go back!!!

    1. Jacquie, you reminded me of the signs I noticed on freeway ramps in Sydney, Australia that said Wrong Way or something to that effect for those who might try to enter/exit on the wrong side. Although I never tried going the wrong way to double check this, it seemed to me that by the time someone noticed them it would be too late.

  3. hi donna; this post poses an interesting question for me because i no longer take photos. it seems most of my thought in this area would be functional. but when i had a camera and took lots of pictures with it in my early teens my photos were mostly of friends and family doing whatever. one of the best i ever took was a profile of my dad changing a flat tire on our easter picnic. took it with a poylaroid camera one of the best christmas presents ever. you couldn’t use it in real cold weather and the film was expensive but i loved it. my dad may have gotten it for me planning to enjoy it too but i never minded. 🙂 thanks for reminding me of those times, max

    1. Max, I’m glad this brought back good memories. The cameras we had years ago seem pretty limited when you think about them in terms of today’s digital standards, but they were pretty cool at the time.

  4. Loved your quote by Terry Pratchett about seeing the place we call home with new eyes when we return (as well as the changes in ourselves.) We always had fun showing friends and family around the cities we called home and exploring these places like tourists. Sometimes a change of perspective is all it takes to view and think of things in a different way. Anita

    1. Anita, looking at our home through someone else’s eye can certainly change perspective. We often take so much for granted, we don’t really see it.

  5. I guess it surprises me how fascinated I am with garbage receptacles all over the world. I’m most fascinated that other countries recycle and we don’t care enough. I live in NYC right next to World Trade Center, so there are people taking pics all over. Mostly One World Trade, and the new PATH station. That doesn’t surprise me but when I see them take pix of squirrels…..that does:-)

    1. Vicki, garbage receptacles sounds like an odd fascination, but I have been known to take a few pictures of them too, especially when a system seems very different than what I am used to.

    1. Kay, it’s cool that you have a collection of photos of telephone booths – who might have known years ago they’d become almost obsolete? And bad translations can be pretty amusing.

    1. Noel, I love your photos. I don’t get photos of all the signs that catch my interest, but every so often just have to snap one.

  6. I, too, love the Pratchett quote. I found myself taking photos of animal crossings from sled dogs to koalas, depending on where we are. I also love to take photos of dogs everywhere, particularly if they “match” with their environment. City dogs in Europe at cafes or on public transportation are so not what we do in North America and I wish we would! Fun post!

    1. Betsy, I hadn’t thought about dogs matching their environment. I will be looking at that more closely now. I may be taking all kind of dog photos in the future.

  7. I never thought of travel as a mirror, interesting concept. I think I take photos of what a visitor to Santa Fe might take here- but we tend to look at it with a visitor’s eye. I have to say, no locals would probably have taken all the Route 66 sign photos we shot on a recent road trip.

    1. Because of what you do, you will look at Santa Fe with more of a visitor’s eye. I think it is always interesting when something makes us take that other perspective of our home.

  8. I take photos of signs that are new to me – like rattlesnake warnings – I still haven’t seen a rattlesnake in Texas – I am okay with that. I take photos of doors a lot, and architectural features like gargoyles, interesting roof lines, etc. I always seem to find an interesting store window display as well – maybe because I am not a shopper so I don’t see many shop windows at home 🙂

    1. Susan, there is something fascinating about doors, isn’t there? I haven’t paid a lot of attention to shop windows (I am not a shopper), but now I’ll be looking at those more closely too, to see how they change from place to place.

  9. Guess what Donna? I thought about this and my photos seem to be around five things: wonderful scenes, unusual things, food fare, family pics, and yellow stuff. WUFFY! So I don’t know what that tells of me!

    1. Carol, I guess this means you care about family and food and like the colour yellow! (Not a surprise, is it?) A question to consider about the things you find unusual: would other people you know also consider them unusual?

  10. I like the idea of travel as a mirror. I tend to take pictures of anything that strikes me as unusual but, as you say, what’s unusual to me may be commonplace to others. I often take pictures of signs – they can give clues to what’s different in a particular culture.

    1. Karen, it’s interesting how many people like to take pictures of signs. And it’s true that what is unusual for one may be commonplace for another.

  11. We love finding odd signs when we travel, I suppose they really can be a mirror to our personalities. Must mean we are pretty weird considering the stuff we take photos of.

  12. Yes, I think we all like to photograph what is different than the usual. I once did a photo essays of phone booths of Europe–all with my teenage daughter in them. That was pre-cell phones. Whatever floats your boat, I always say.

  13. Great post Donna. We once met a couple in Calgary visiting from Denmark. They were very interested in seeing our utility room and our furnace. In Asia I’ve been known to photograph more than one high-tech toilet.

    1. Shelley, I’ve never asked to see anyone’s utility room when I travelled but I can understand being interested in how different things like furnaces work from country to country. The variety in toilets is fascinating. I remember one visit to Europe where the group I was with starting tracking the variety of flush mechanisms.

  14. Well there is a collab post opportunity. I photographs so many weird and odd things and it is good to see that I am not the only one. Just passed by one of the street side petrol stations in Barcelona today as everyone else walked past ..smoking.

  15. I love taking pictures of signs when we’re traveling. I loved the one you had about the snakes. I’ve seen similar signs and I always wonder, do snakes really stay off the path? LOL!

  16. .
    The unusual things i keep photographing is the sky. It is beautiful! It makes you appreciate nature the more. Great post Donna, I love the signs.

  17. I never stop to think about the photos I take on my travels but now that you mention it, they are definitely a mirror of my interests. Often I look at photos other people have taken and though, why didn’t I take that one! These days it’s often got more to do about a story I might have in my mind! Great read and interesting to stop and think about this!

    1. Glad you found this interesting Jenny. It’s good when other people’s photos get you thinking and maybe looking at what you might photograph next differently. It’s always good to broaden our horizons.

  18. I’m always taking food photos when on the road, but the most unusual grouping I have are shots of signs to the ladies room. It’s very interesting to look back at them and see how different cultures interpret the message. Interesting subject to think about Donna.