Travel Tips from a Bon Vivant

I never really thought of myself as a “bon vivant” until a friend told me that he admired my  “bon vivant” lifestyle. GailCoverThen another friend commented, “You have such joie de vivre”. My French boils down to what little I remember from high school but I remember enough to know that my friends see me as one who not only enjoys good food and wine but is living a full and joyful life.

I realized it’s true. I am a bon vivant and that’s exactly what I set out to be decades ago when I decided to become a photographer. My cameras have provided a means to that end – the end being choosing a career that gave me access to a life full of diverse experiences and journeys. It hasn’t always been easy and has had its own challenges and pitfalls, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

For those of you who may want to pursue a similar lifestyle, here are some thoughts and considerations about traveling:

  • You don’t have to be rich to travel. In fact some of the best experiences I have had didn’t cost me a lot of money at all. I’ve also found that whenever I spend a lot on travel and/or accommodations in foreign destinations, I end up isolating myself from the cultural experiences that traveling has to offer.
  • Think outside the box and don’t just go to the “10 best……..” unless you want to run into other Americans.
  • Good food and wine can be found in just about any destination without spending a lot of money. (Including expensive cities like New York and London) Get out of the tourist areas or go off-season.
  • Use the Internet to your advantage to find the great deals. For accommodations, check out Trivago – it will search dozens of sites to find the best rates for the same hotel. Better yet, try Airbnb – and experience how locals live. For low airfares – check out sites like Airfare watchdog or farecompare and set up alerts.
  • Read blogs by travel hackers – One of my favorites is The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau. Check out Chris’s travel hacking resources.
  • Travel solo – it’s a great way to put yourself in situations where you’ll meet others.
  • Look low key. I’m a photographer by profession but the last thing I want is to look like a photographer with a khaki vest and lots of gear. (Yes I know I’m wearing a khaki vest in this photo – but it is a Scotte Vest – very low key with hidden pockets)  Keep a low profile and you’ll have a better time.  Don’t be bogged down by traveling with a lot of stuff – you’ll be less likely to be robbed and will have an easier time getting through customs.
  • If I’m traveling on a job and need to bring a lot of gear, I make sure I travel with a carnet – which is a bond on my equipment that assures the customs agents that I won’t be selling my gear in their country but will be leaving their country with everything that I brought in.
  • Do your research – make a plan and be prepared to depart from your plan if serendipity strikes.
  • Don’t travel in groups. It might be easier because group operators take care of logistics but the travel experience is not nearly as rewarding most of the time. One exception would be if you were part of a group that has special access to places you wouldn’t have on your own.
  • Stay healthy. I make it a habit to never drink tap water when I’m traveling.
  • Make sure you alert your credit card companies that you will be traveling overseas. If you don’t and you start making purchases or using ATM’s, they may suspect fraud and lock you out.
  • Catch up on the local news of where you’ll be visiting. You don’t want to find out the Pope’s there when you plan to go. I made that mistake in Haiti.
  • Find out if there are any safety alerts from the State Department. To be honest, I haven’t always headed their warnings. Also research what visas and/or vaccinations you may need.
  • Make sure your passport won’t expire within 6 months of your travel dates. Many countries will deny you access if that’s the case.
  • Get “Global Entry” – If you travel overseas a lot, this will expedite your customs clearance upon your return to the US
  • Be prepared for things not going exactly according to plan – If you think things will work like they do in the US or at the same pace you’ll be exasperated when they don’t. Go with the flow.
  • Be respectful of the culture – If you’re a woman and traveling in a Muslim country – pack a scarf. Even in non-Muslim countries, if you plan on visiting churches or cathedrals, don’t show up in short shorts and a tank top.
  • Don’t wait until you retire to travel –  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met that make that mistake and regret it. There will never be a perfect time.
  • Make photocopies of your passport and credit cards – Leave one set at home and keep another copy with you (not in the same bag as your cards or passport)

PS  Thanks to my good friend Jenna for designing my future tell all book cover.


10 Tips to Nowhere

I realized recently that I had succumbed to the prevailing trend in editorial writing – the “top ten” syndrome – the top ten places to see in a lifetime, 10 tips on how to be more productive, 10 tips for taking better photos, the 10 best towns to live in – you get the picture.

Train tracks, Mississippi
Train tracks, Mississippi

Seems like we want our info and we want it fast and easy to digest. The problem is we tend to lose sight of the things that aren’t on the top ten lists and lose focus on who we are.

I spent my summer redesigning our company’s website, editing a new motion reel and strategizing with my partner on marketing ideas. I am grateful for whatever outside forces motivated me creatively to have such a productive summer. I learned some of the pitfalls of following just the advice of “top ten” check lists when it came to editing our new motion reel. For example, these tips:

  • Pick music that sets the tone for your brand and footage.
  • Select only your best clips.
  • Cut on the action.
  • Cut to the music – to the beat
  • Have an opening that hooks the audience – gets their attention.
  • Include your company’s logo and/or info.
  • Pace it like a story with lows and peaks.

That’s not 10, I know, but that’s not the point. The point is that I had lost sight of the most important thing of all and that was I hadn’t shown our company’s vision. After months of work, I had picked the right music, culled through hours of footage and selected the very best clips, came up with an opening that I thought was intriguing and did my very best to cut to the beat of the music. I had shown what we have done, but I hadn’t shown who we are. So, I went back to the drawing board and re-edited the reel.

I realized that there are no short cuts to doing really good work. Good work comes from lots of trial and error and learning from our own experiences. It’s the journey that has its rewards.

By the way, we’re very close to launching the new site.  Stay tuned.

Breaking Barriers – Like a Woman

I’ve been a photographer for the better part of my life. It’s who I am. I’m also a filmmaker and love telling stories in this medium. And, I’ve been a woman living in a man’s world. Photography and filmmaking are professions that are dominated by men. The still photography business has changed Changedramatically  since I started out – it has become far less technical and many more women have entered this industry. Nevertheless, I’ve spent a lifetime working in a profession where, as a woman, I was in the minority. I never really focused on being a minority. I didn’t have a corporate job and had to compete against men for equal pay and/or opportunities. I was an independent creative entrepreneur. My latest assignment photos were my calling card and they got me in the door and my next assignment. I worked hard, harder than most because I wanted to – I had a strong desire to do something good. There were times (probably more than I know) when I didn’t get the job because I was a woman and there were times, when I was paid less money because of my gender.

Things have gotten better for women in the business of photography as well as in other industries but it took the tenacity and commitment of countless women who needed to break down barriers. There have been gains for women but gender biases still exist and we can’t be lulled into complacency by saying, “well, it’s better than it used to be.” The movie industry is dismal in terms of gender equality, women are paid less and make up a small percentage in “behind the scene” roles in the industry, especially in certain sectors like directing and sound design. Other industries like engineering, architecture, computer programming, aviation, firefighting are all gender lopsided and less than 5% of Fortune 5oo companies are led by women. And that’s the key word “led”. We need more women leaders. It’s not just about equality and justice, but women’s leadership potential has been massively untapped. And that’s a fail for us all – economically and socially.

So, I’ve decided to do something about it. I am initiating a project called Breaking Barriers – Like a Woman. My plan is to use my craft (photography/ filmmaking) as I always have, to make a difference. My intention is to create still environmental portraits and short video stories of women who are working in male dominated professions – pilots, computer programmers, engineers, doctors, construction workers, mechanics etc. etc. I want to tell their stories about the barriers they had to break and are breaking. I want to share these stories with the hope they go viral and start a revolution that will empower other women and young girls. I have built a FB page and opened Twitter and Instagram accounts so please “follow” and “like”.   But, more importantly, please share with me and with others your own stories about barriers you’ve broken.

CALL TO ACTION Are you a women working in a profession that is male dominated? Or know someone who is? I am looking for subjects to photograph and film. Please contact me:

Top Ten Reasons Everyone Should Travel

I’ve been a bit of a rolling stone

my entire life – moving 10 times before graduating high school and making a living as a professional photographer, which has taken me to almost 100 countries.

I think if I had to give up traveling, I would wither and my spirit would die.

Here’s my top 10 reasons every American (and other citizens of the world) should travel:

  • It gives you a much better perspective on our world than experiencing it virally.
    Gail Mooney as a student at Brooks Institute © Chad Weckler
    Gail Mooney as a student at Brooks Institute
    © Chad Weckler

    Let’s face it, when you are an armchair traveler, you are getting someone else’s perspective.

  • It makes you grateful for what you have. Many, if not most Americans are very privileged but you don’t really have an understanding of that when you contain yourself to your own environment.
  • You get to be a true diplomat for your country. When I’m traveling, I try to give people from other countries and cultures, a more realistic idea what an American is – beyond our government’s policies and how we are depicted in the movies.
  • It creates lasting memories of importance – or at least far more important than buying more consumer goods.
  • It teaches you a lot about yourself. When you travel, not everything goes according to plan all the time. You see how you handle stress in situations beyond your control.
  • You learn how to communicate. Many times, you don’t understand the language. You learn to read body language.
  • You meet people you would never get to meet at home.
    Gail and Erin in Egypt in 2006
    Gail and Erin in Egypt in 2006

    It makes you less fearful when you meet people from other lands.

  • As a photographer, my camera has given me access to incredible experiences, which I can share with the world.
  • You can affect change. When you travel, you realize that regardless which country you are from, you are part of the human race. We all share this planet and we are all stewards of keeping it healthy.
  • It brings wonder to your life. I have had many awe inspiring moments and not all of them were at your typical tourist sites. Some of my greatest memories have been simple conversations I’ve had with people from around the world.


A Professional Photographer’s Manifesto

My creed:

  • I listen to a client’s needs and provide valuable solutions.
  • I have a strategy but I’m open to serendipity.Gail showing video to children of remote Amazon village, Peru
  • I evolve, explore and keep my skill set current and up to date.
  • I have a wealth of experience – on the job and in my life.
  • I don’t need to be “picked” or assigned to pursue what I love and that is to create.
  • I use my craft to create awareness and effect change.
  • I believe the message is just as, if not more important than the media.
  • I am a storyteller and use the medium that best fits the story that needs to be told.
  • I deliver on time and on budget.
  • I challenge myself and I’m not afraid to take risks.
  • I enjoy collaborating with people who are great at what they do.
  • I ask the right questions to get the job done.
  • I don’t make promises I can’t keep.
  • I’m a great producer because I think of all the details.
  • I am an observer of real life – and it shows in my work.
  • I have a strong desire to be the best I can be.
  • I care about my subjects and it shows.
  • I am curious and am always in pursuit of a project.
  • I am grateful that I love what I do and it provides value to my clients.
  • I am authentic and stay true to my spirit.

11 Ways to Turn Random Thoughts and Scribbled Notes Into a Project

I watched a podcast last weekScraps of paper with Rich Harrington, Skip Cohen and photographer Don Komarechka. Don was taking about his snowflake project and book Sky Crystals. But the podcast was much more than just Don talking about what he did, but rather how he thinks about self-initiated projects and what makes them successful.

Here are a few of my take aways:

  • Make a commitment – If I tell myself that every day I have to do this (like photographing a snowflake every day for a month), then I will have something at the end.
  • Be passionate about your project. It must be a subject or topic that you are extremely interested in to be able to stick with it.
  • Find an idea that has depth. This will allow you to stay interested in the project over time as well as scale it beyond your original goal.
  • Pick a subject or topic that is unique to you. Pick something that everyone else isn’t already doing.
  • Think your project through – have a plan or a workflow.
  • Find the audience that thinks like you. Understand that you won’t make everyone excited about what you are doing.
  • Remember social media isn’t about selling – it’s about engaging people. The story about the process or project is almost as important and more valuable than the success of the project.
  • Be prepared to fail – lots of times.
  • Don’t pick a project with the primary motive of monetizing it. The projects that tend to go viral and resonate with people are the ones that come from the heart.
  • Think outside your box and imagine all kinds of possibilities for your project. Don is thinking about printing his snowflakes on a 3D printer and making ornaments or jewelry or all sorts of things.
  • Don’t force your idea. Think about it. Jot things down on scraps of paper. Talk to people about it. And when the time is right to act on it – you’ll know.

Having a Sounding Board

Sounding board: a person or group on whom one tries out an idea or opinion as a means of evaluating it


As a solo or semi-solo entrepreneur House on its own island, Thousand Islands, New York(my business partner is my husband), I have found that one of the most important things to have is a sounding board for my ideas. My husband and I are fortunate that we have each other to bounce ideas off of, but sometimes we need to seek out other people and solicit other perspectives.

Photographers are independent creatures. Take me for example; I’ve spent a great part of my life observing people and capturing the moments. Even though I refer to myself as a “people photographer”, being a street shooter can be a solitary activity. It’s easy to get accustomed to a lone lifestyle as a photographer, but I find that when it comes down to making decisions about promoting and marketing my business, I’m far better off to seek an outside perspective.

I’m lucky that I have people in my life that I can call on from time to time and bounce ideas around. I need to know if an idea that I think is going to rock the world, isn’t totally wacky or off kilter. Essentially, these folks are my sounding board. If you are stuck, or have been ignoring the ideas that come to you because you lack the confidence in them, consider reaching out to a sounding board of your own.

  • Solicit opinions from your colleagues; pick people who will give you their honest thoughts.
  • Seek opinions from the folks who you are targeting in your marketing – the people who will buy your services.
  • Test your ideas – it’s easy these days with social media. But go to the platforms that you trust. For example: when I am creating a trailer or a new reel, I’ll upload it to my Vimeo account, because I know I will get valuable feedback from my peers.
  • Remember, people are busy so build in extra time for them to respond when you ask them for their feedback. If you don’t hear from them in a reasonable amount of time or not at all – move on.  Maybe they’re not good contenders for your sounding board.
  • Reach out to different demographics – gender, age, socio-economic – depending on what you are working on and the message you want to deliver.
  • Even though it can be intimidating, seek the opinion of a pro.
  • Seek  out different people for different types of advice. I frequently ask my daughter’s opinion on music soundtrack choices. Music has been a big part of her life and she’s knowledgeable and savvy in that area.
  • Remember, at the end of the day, it’s your job to sort through all the opinions and suggestions and take away what you choose. The worst thing you can do is to try to incorporate everyone’s ideas because you’ll end up with something that’s neither here – nor there.