I love photography and wish I had more time to dedicate to learning how to become a better technical photographer. For the time being, I do the best I can with my mediocre skills, camera and lenses. But, I’ve learned that an eye for aesthetically pleasing composition, a fancy camera and high end lenses are most definitely not requisite for capturing special travel moments on film (or really, the digital equivalent).
Some of my favorite photos from my travels aren’t of beautiful scenery or spectacular buildings I’ve beheld, but rather many of my favorite trip pictures capture a feeling, random silliness, a facial expression or an unusual finding during my vacations shared with loved ones and friends. I do love beautiful photography of amazing sights and sites I visit, but anyone can take a pretty picture; I could buy a postcard with spectacular photography in hi-gloss hi-resolution far superior to any snapshot I could grab. However, I would look at that photo and, while appreciating the beauty, still be left cold.
Yet, when I look back at photos I’ve personally taken, whether they be of my son having fun hamming it up for the camera, of some peculiar sign we happened past or of some other fashion of a random moment that was too special not to capture for posterity, my heart is warmed with the fond memories of the travel time shared with my son, friends and family in a way that an aesthetically pleasing photo can’t possibly evoke. Remember – those moments are fleeting. Do what you can to freeze them in time and hold on to the special emotion those memories instill forever. I can’t remember the last time in recent history that I smiled as much as when I went digging through the droves of my photographs to dig up the pictures contained within this post. A picture really does convey MORE than a thousand words. They project so very much more than simple words could hope to express.
I frequently struggle with trying to schedule visits back home to Wisconsin to visit family and friends on account of my limited vacation days from my job. It’s most certainly not because visiting family and friends isn’t a priority to me, but rather because of my addiction to traveling to new and interesting places. What I’ve learned is that you can actually translate a visit back home into a family/friends trip combined with a new travel experience even when visiting a place where you lived for many years.
This epiphany materialized when family and friends from various locations around the country have come to visit me in South Florida. When visitors come to town, I like to play the tour guide and show them some of the unique experiences available in South Florida, whether it be an air boat ride in the Everglades, a “duck” land/water ride along the streets and canals in downtown Fort Lauderdale, a drive through Lion Country Safari in Palm Beach County or a boat ride from Bayside in downtown Miami around Star Island to take in the views of the mega-mansions of the rich and famous. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed not only the company of friends and relatives whom I’ve introduced to some of the local offerings in the Fort Lauderdale area, but also participating in these “touristy” activities in which I’d otherwise never have engaged.
In recent times, I’ve made a point to experience something new in my current hometown area of South Florida, even without the impetus of out of town visitors spurring the activity planning. South Florida has so much to offer that many locals never think to take advantage of – water sports, such as wave runners, paddle boarding or parasailing; attractions such as Coral Castle, Miami Metro Zoo, Miami Seaquarium, Jungle Island, the aforementioned Lion Country Safari, Morikami Gardens, Butterfly World, Flamingo Gardens, Schnebly Winery and so much more; countless sightseeing opportunities including various types of boat rides along canals, in the Everglades or out into the ocean; amazing encounters with nature in the nearby Florida Keys, through the Everglades along Alligator Alley, up and down the Atlantic Ocean coastline or while exploring the many parks and nature preserves in the area.
Even though I spent the first 18 years of my life in southeastern Wisconsin and the Milwaukee area is not on the “Top 10 Must Visit List” for most travel aficionados, my visits back home have made me appreciate the many virtues of this unlikely vacation destination. It’s very easy to take for granted what is right in front of you every day. But having lived in South Florida for such a long time, going back home to Wisconsin in recent years opened my eyes to the many simple splendors of this chunk of the Midwest. While Florida is certainly beautiful in its own right, Wisconsin offers spectacular scenery of a different kind – rolling hills, endless forests, quaint little towns with distinctive character, breathtaking views of Lake Michigan from overlooking cliffs, myriad pristine lakes of all sizes and bursting colors of fall foliage during the changing of the seasons. When I go back home, I drag my family out to the Kettle Moraine Forest, to Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural wonders, to Port Washington in the winter to see the naturally forming icescapes along Lake Michigan, to the Basilica of Saint Josaphat on the south side of Milwaukee which rivals the beauty of many European cathedrals and to the Domes, among other interesting places one might otherwise not consider while visiting this simple little Midwest town.
You really don’t have to travel far, to an exotic international destination – or at all – to experience a new place or activity. And sometimes, playing a tourist in your current or former hometown helps you appreciate the little pleasures in life which might otherwise go unnoticed. So take a look around you from a new perspective, and see what you might have been missing all along.
“Hawaii Again!?!?!!?” was my brother’s and my exclamatory response to my parents when they informed us as small children that our upcoming trip would be to Hawaii. Their reasonable (somewhat lighthearted) reply was, “You ungrateful little brats!” or something to that effect. One might ask, who in their right minds would ever utter the words “Hawaii again!?!?” with such dismay and chagrin. Apparently, a couple of kids (right minds being debatable) who had been there quite a few times at a very young age and who had a hard time sitting next to each other for approximately 10 hours of air travel without World War 3 erupting.
Looking back, I find it extremely difficult to fathom ever having felt going to Hawaii to be a hardship of any fashion. Not only is Hawaii spectacularly beautiful, but my brother and I are fortunate to (seemingly) be related to the good majority of the inhabitants of Oahu. Our amazing Ohana (family) in Hawaii is reason enough to go there are often as time and finances allow. Being that my son has always been quite a bit more diplomatic (and probably appreciative) than my brother and I were regarding our youthful travels, he never complained about my having “dragged” him to Hawaii three times in a six year time span. We were able to attend our family reunion during Devan’s second and third visits, and despite our family’s numerous trips to Hawaii over the years, these visits were the only ones when I was able to attend our huge Ohana gatherings. Being surrounded by so many of our relatives in one place (between 300-500 of them according to some counts!) at the reunions made me realize how much I’ve missed growing up so far away from my mom’s home state.
Since I love visiting and experiencing new places and activities, getting back to Hawaii is not easy to manage, since it’s neither a close nor inexpensive place to visit. While our trips to Hawaii are more about family than tourism, I do try to factor in an element of playing tourist while there and also to incorporate some new things along with the typical “things to do in Hawaii.” For me, certain things and sites are “must do” during a stay in Hawaii. I can’t imagine not taking my son surfing on Waikiki, climbing Diamond Head or having a Mai Tai and Hula Pie at Duke’s while in Honolulu. Matsumoto’s, Baldwin’s, Uncle Clay’s, Kokonuts and Ice Garden are all on my long “must visit” list for shave ice when I’m in Hawaii; Shimazu’s is on my “must visit practically daily” list when on Oahu, since my day is not complete without a red velvet shave ice from this glorious little store.
But, since I do love expanding my scope of experience, I try to be sure that each visit to Hawaii (and elsewhere) always includes a new place to visit or activity I’ve not yet tried. I’ve managed to find some places to visit that my mom had never seen, despite the fact that she lived in Hawaii for the first 18 years of her life and the fact she’s visited numerous times over the years. While my mom hasn’t always physically participated in some of the more “outdoorsy” things my son and I have done, she’s been along to share the experience with us. My son even took my mom out for a paddle board ride on Waikiki during our last visit; even though “Nanny” was just a passenger on my son’s board, she enjoyed the ride – and would never have “paddle boarded” if not for Devan playing gondolier for her. She was all smiles during and after the ride, which proved my theory that new experiences some of the things that make life richer and more rewarding.
Flying in a helicopter over the Nā Pali coast, hiking to see Manoa Falls, seeing the “moonscape” view from atop Haleakalā National Park, wandering through the sugar cane trails to find the commotion at Kipu Falls, riding horses and taking a tour of movie sets at Kualoa Ranch are just a handful of inclusions during our wanderings throughout the Hawaiian Islands in addition to the more standard sites of Waikiki, The Road to Hana, Blow Hole, Hanauma Bay, Volcanoes National Park, North Shore, International Marketplace and too many other old favorites to mention.
While it may not be as easy to find new things to do during each subsequent trip, we always manage to add something to our visit’s repertoire to keep things interesting. During our most recent visit back to Oahu in 2013, my son and I saw fit to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, courtesy of Skydive Hawaii off of Farrington Highway. That jump literally gave us both an entirely new perspective of the island…one from an altitude of approximately 12,000 feet! I don’t know when we’ll be able to make the trek back “home” (while I never lived there, Hawaii does feel like home during each and every visit on account of our warm and welcoming Ohana making us feel as though we belong) again, but I can’t imagine, should opportunity arise, that the words “Hawaii again!?!?!” would ever again flicker between the neurons bouncing around my grey matter.