My cousin had emailed me a picture of her address in China written out in Mandarin characters. I photographed the image off the computer screen so I'd have it on my camera. I showed that to the taxi driver (in place of being able to really say even a word in Mandarin) and an hour later showed up on her doorstep. Another time a friend was meeting me in the south of France where roundabouts and confusing directions abound. Since roundabouts don't offer the ease of a simple turn right or left, I emailed a pictures of all the roundabouts he would encounter with an arrow for which street to take. Eventually those led him to my doorstep.
In both instances images and technology made it possible to communicate things that I verbally could not. It was a great reminder that being able to point to something, to see it, can be the fastest way to be understood. When a language isn't shared it can be the only way to get an idea across.
Find thousands of pictures of common items and ideas to help with your next international trip in the icoon global dictionary and in the Point It! Travellers Language Kit. Both small enough to keep in your back pocket to whip out when you really need that latte, need directions to the Cathedral or want to make sure that spider bite isn't deadly.
Laure is a Los Angeles–based photographer and design enthusiast. When not contributing to Dwell and Apartment Therapy, she's opening too many tabs in Firefox, baking, gardening and exploring the great outdoors.