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Overseas and Overwhelmed

We can’t leave the house without encountering the strange and extraordinary, and people who live differently than we do.

When we go overseas those feelings are multiplied. Broken conversations, disorienting locations, and jetlag are the hallmarks of international travel. Some find this exhilarating — but most of us end up somewhere between amazed and exhausted.

They say we’re at our most creative when we’re farthest from home, and it makes sense. What better way to get a new perspective on who you are and where you come from than to be removed from it?

Intro by Laura Brunow Miner,
Guest design by Steph Goralnick,
Editing assistance
from Lauren Ladoceour.

Bright Lights, Ancient City

Bright Lights, Ancient City

After an amazing meal and a bottle of red wine in Orvieto, Italy, I explored the city’s narrow alleyways. I could hear faint music escaping from trattorias and coffee shops as the Umbria Jazz Festival buzzed along. Having grown up in the suburbs of northern Virginia (where it seems like everything was built in the last 20 years), I could hardly comprehend the age and character of a town that predates the Roman Empire.

Photographer: Matt Nuzzaco

Matt works in the tech industry in San Francisco but is currently on a trip around the globe. He enjoys Hasselblad cameras, squirrels, and robots.

Vivid Dreams

Vivid Dreams

In a stormy sea of aggressive carpet salesmen in Marrakesh, Morocco, this sleeping man provided welcome calm. Everywhere else, my wife and I were harassed by peddlers who acted as though saying “no” was the gravest insult possible.

Photographer: Kevin Meredith

Kevin Meredith is a photographer, writer, and teacher in Brighton, England.



Navigating a foreign country is that much trickier when you aren’t on speaking terms with your girlfriend. Our relationship was on the rocks before we’d left, but neither of us wanted to sabotage our two-month journey around the world. By the time we got to Morocco, communication was already breaking down. She was the one who spoke French, but when we tried to barter for goods, sellers pretended not to hear her. On top of that, I lost my camera bag, leaving me with only my little Pentax to capture my experience. In short, nothing was going according to plan. But riding a camel out into the desert at dusk nearly made up for all of these troubles.

Photographer: Shawn Allen

Shawn Allen is a designer, programmer, and partner at Stamen in San Francisco.

Dear @pictory:

Arrived in Florence, boarded bus in wrong direction, ticketed by Polizia for non-validated ticket & homeless for first night.”

Another World

Another World

I romanticized Morocco for years, so while honeymooning in Spain, I talked my wife into a spontaneous 24-hour jaunt to this nearby corner of Africa. We arrived in Tangier, Morocco, from the wrong boat and without a plan. I’d expected Casablanca and got something closer to Dallas. The beach was a desert steppe, the storefronts and hotels were ordinary in nature, and everyone knew we didn’t know a thing. Where I had imagined busy color and my wife had anticipated shanties and markets, we found something limp and taxing. Yet for the first time in my life, I felt as though I was in an entirely different place — because nothing made sense.

Photographer: Robert Josiah Bingaman

Robert is a painter in Kansas City, America.

Border Patrol

Border Patrol

It was 1974, and I was a young American standing on a platform overlooking the Berlin Wall. Except for a small family of West Berliners, I was alone. Suddenly, on the other side, a man came around the corner. He stopped and stared at us. It hit me that he’d come to see and be seen by the family standing next to me. They conversed in silence. After about 10 minutes, the man turned and walked back around the corner. An East German police car followed him. The abandoned buildings along the wall blocked our view, and we waited. No one moved. No one spoke. Fifteen minutes later, the man finally appeared. This time, he gingerly skipped down the street, a sign that all was well. The tension on our platform broke, and the family began to talk and smile.

(Read the full story at Life Outtacontext.)

Photographer: Jeff Gates

Jeff is the lead producer of new media initiatives for the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and managing editor of their blog, Eye Level.

Over the Top

Over the Top

After the Boca Juniors scored two goals in two minutes against Brazil’s international football team, the home crowd stormed towards the fence, still excited from the first goal. The only way to go was up. I overpaid a scalper for tickets to this game in Buenos Aires, Argentina, but it was worth it — I’d never seen sports fans like this before. The whole crowd was singing, chanting, and jumping the entire time.

Photographer: Chad Nicholson

Chad Nicholson is the official photographer for Improv Everywhere and lives in Brooklyn and Los Angeles.

For the Win

For the Win

This colorfully dressed group of children stopped for a minute to stare at me before focusing back on the ball. At the time, tourists were few and far between in the ancient Mayan city of Tulum, Mexico. Since then, the Mayan ruins, white sandy beaches, and aquamarine sea have lured a new wave of tourism. Despite the changes to the town, I’ve been back many times and don’t plan to stop anytime soon.

Photographer: Michael O'Neal

Michael O’Neal is a designer at Apple and lives in San Francisco.

Dress Codes

Dress Codes

I moved to Villahermosa, Mexico, some three years ago. The bustling town’s buildings, constant sunshine, and sweltering heat all felt strangely new and familiar at the same time. Familiar because I grew up in Tehran, which also has colorful street vendors, school uniforms, tiny shops, and more. One major difference is religion. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I spotted this woman wearing a strapless dress during a holy celebration. It made me think of a wedding I went to when I was 7 in Iran. Several girls told my sister and I that we’d go to hell for wearing short skirts.

Photographer: Anahita Avalos

Anahita lives with her son and husband in Mexico.

Dear @pictory:

1997. I had long hair & mutliple visible piercings. 1st time outside Canada/US. Traveled alone to Qatar. Most. Staring. Evar.”

International Waters

International Waters

Touches of the familiar pop up amidst the exotic in Cairo, Egypt. You visit the pyramids, and across the street is a KFC. You see a shepherd guiding his flock across a stopped highway, and he’s also chatting on his cellphone. You take a camel ride through the desert, and a man on donkey-back offers you a bottled Coke. Pictured here is my hotel pool: A conservatively dressed woman swims next to tourists working on their tans.

Photographer: Rod Naber

Rod is a web designer at Current TV and lives in San Francisco.

Young Guns

Young Guns

While on a 10-day Birthright Israel trip a few summers ago, I watched tanned rollerbladers in Tel Aviv, slept with Bedouins in the desert, and hiked to time-worn military encampments. I saw children bathing in waterfalls, walls covered in bullet holes, and people of diverse origins and mindsets. Even the heat was unpredictable, but I often found myself bizarrely comfortable. There was one constant, a harsh reminder of how far I was from home: We were guarded at all times by teenaged veterans of multiple conflicts. (The military drafts nearly all 18-year-old citizens.) Our protectors thought of the assignment as a vacation, though their weapons spoke otherwise. I didn’t feel threatened by the soldiers or any outside force — the only thing that scared me was that I eventually found it all so normal.

Photographer: Ian Aleksander Adams

Ian has been spending a lot of time in Savannah, shuffling around pictures and wearing cutoff shorts. He feels awkward when people call him a photographer.

Eaten Alive

Eaten Alive

The waitress at the restaurant in Shinjuku, Tokyo, brought us fishing poles so we could hook our meal from the tank next to our table. The chef then prepared our catch into sashimi and served it with the remainder of the half-alive fish, its fins twitching and mouth gaping. It was delicious and obviously fresh, but I was disturbed as I looked into my meal’s eyes and I picked away at his sides.

Photographer: Juliette Melton

Juliette Melton is a user experience researcher in San Francisco.

Grub's Up

Grub’s Up

I probably broke every rule when I ate this full English breakfast in London — I even put ketchup on the eggs. I heard later that this morning meal was designed to give hard laborers a full day’s worth of calories in one sitting. Now we eat it, then sit behind a desk until lunch. There’s something that seems distinctly American about that last part.

Photographer: Cody Austin

Cody lives in Houston and takes his camera with him everywhere.

London Calling

London Calling

I came out of the tube station from the airport and blinked. Where were Harry Potter and the Queen? They were about the only London icons I didn’t spot immediately.

Photographer: Tom Watson

Tom Watson founded Level and Tap and is a designer for Facebook.

Vacation Gone Wrong

Vacation Gone Wrong

Just a few days into our big trip across Europe, my brothers and I were already exhausted. We fought language barriers, found ourselves homeless the first night, and were met with a barrage of locals insisting we, as Americans, were personally to blame for Bush’s actions. We built up our strength in this Prague hostel before enduring another lackluster night out.

Photographer: Ryan Schude

Ryan Schude is an award-winning photographer in Los Angeles.

Dear @pictory:

Dachau for high school trip, watching American tourist family posing children in front of ovens. Horrified.”

Youth Group

Youth Group

The first half of my trip to Cuba was filled with optimism as I reveled in the ideals of a Communist society. What would life be like if everyone made the same amount of money? In the second half, my views began to sour as I witnessed the reality of this police-state. On one of my last nights, we heard chanting and a loud speaker coming from a nearby plaza. We approached tenuously to find ourselves in the middle of a Communist-youth rally, but no one seemed to mind.

Photographer: Henry Dombey

Henry Dombey is a photographer, filmmaker, chef, and fixer based in San Francisco. He also goes by FACECOLLECTIVE.

Life Aquatic

Life Aquatic

Life on this ship (somewhere in the Antarctic Ocean) was different in every sense. Balance took on new meaning. It was not the casual, gentle sway of the movies with cocktails on the deck. No, this was hold onto the rail, and don’t let go until the next swing of the pendulum or you could die. The crew spoke strictly Russian (but it may as well have been the tongue of a new planet I was visiting) and seemed to be able to walk on the walls with equal aplomb as on the floor. It was a world turned upside down by geography and gravity, and occasionally doused with flying food. I managed to survive the shock, one step at a time, keeping to the beat of the rhythm, but never mastering the nature of it all.

Photographer: Rice Jackson

Rice Jackson travels the world but calls Austin, Texas, home.

Dear @pictory:

In Dhaka, working w/ a Bangladeshi startup. Power cuts out twice a day. In the corner cubicle, men pray towards Mecca.”

Wild Ride

Wild Ride

If you’re in Sri Lanka and don’t happen to have a motorbike, tuktuks are the way to go. These motorized, open-air rickshaws piloted by fearless, speed-demon drivers are meant for quick trips lasting just a few minutes. While visiting a friend in Colombo, however, we decided to take one from the capital city to a beach town called Hikkaduwa. Over the course of several hours, we choked on exhaust fumes, suffered through gnarly traffic, and rode alongside families of five on tiny motorcycles with boxes of live chickens. Being so close to the ground and riding nearly shoulder-to-shoulder with the action made it an intimate (and harrowing!) experience.

Photographer: Steph Goralnick

Steph Goralnick is a photographer and graphic designer in Brooklyn.

In Living Color

In Living Color

The five weeks I’d previously spent in China couldn’t prepare me for the blunt realities of India. I experienced a cremation ceremony with the family members of the deceased, rowed by the floating body of a boy killed by a snake bite, and saw incredible poverty. But I also fell in love with the brilliant colors and unfathomable mixes of life in India. I spotted this menagerie against the checkered marble in the holy city of Pushkar, India, and reflected on a country where everything is surprising.

Photographer: Adam Rose

Adam Rose is surviving in Los Angeles, shooting images for television, music, and himself.

Men at Work

Men at Work

I ended up in Croatia on a whim after befriending a photographer who was headed there for a magazine shoot. While exploring the province of Istria, I met this community of farmers. I was taken by their connection to the land as I watched them chop piles of wood for the winter. They were taken by me, too. They’d never met an American before and were so excited that they alerted their families to bring out homemade wine that they’d been saving for a special occasion. We passed around the bottle, laughed, and talked with the help of our translator. Some part of me felt more at home there than in the bustle of Los Angeles.

Photographer: Dan Busta

Dan Busta is a professional photographer in Los Angeles.

Model Citizen

Model Citizen

There came a point during my trip to Tanzania when I ran out of model releases, so I traveled to the nearest town where I asked at least five people where I could make some copies. I eventually came across this man’s shop. His only business was making copies but he acted like it was the first time he had ever touched the machine. The first copy came out completely black and it took him eight more tries to make it look readable. Then I told him that I needed 15. After each copy, the machine got stuck, and he would have to take it apart. At some point during those twenty five minutes I took out my camera and snapped this picture.

Photographer: Reed Young

Reed Young is a professional photographer living in New York.

Hands On

Hands On

Mundari women and children clamor for a few bits of candy in the village of Tarekeka, in Central Equatoria, Sudan. Their village was burned by a rival tribe in early October, forcing 24,000 people across the Nile to live as refugees. I came with a small group from a local Sudanese church, bringing aid and to support Water is Basic, an organization which drills clean water wells across southern Sudan.

Photographer: Trey Hill

Trey Hill is a commercial photographer in Dallas; he tells stories about people.

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