Why Everyone Should Travel

 As I prepare to head out of the country next week I’ve been thinking about why I travel. I’ve been a bit of a rolling stone most of my life, moving 10 times before I graduated high school and pursuing a career as a professional photographer which has taken me to over 100 countries.

Gail at the Great Pyramids 1971
Gail in Egypt 1971

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

Here are my top ten reasons that I think every American (and other citizens of the world) should travel:

  • It gives you a much better perspective on our world rather than just experiencing it virally. Let’s face it, when you are an armchair traveler, you are getting someone else’s perspective.
  •  It makes one grateful for what they have. Many, if not most Americans are very privileged but don’t really have an understanding of that because they isolate themselves in their 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 memories that last longer than buying a consumer product.
  • It teaches you a lot about yourself. When you travel things don’t always go according to plan. You get to see how you handle stress in situations beyond your control.
  • You learn how to communicate. Many times you don’t understand the language and you learn to read body language and pick up people’s vibes.
  • You meet people you would never get to meet at home. It makes you less fearful when you get to meet people from other lands.
  • As a photographer my camera has given me access to incredible experiences that I have shared with the world.
  • You can affect change.
    Gail showing video to children of remote Amazon village, Peru
    Gail with children in small village along Amazon River, Peru

    When you travel you realize that regardless which country you come from we are all 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 typical tourist sites. Some of my greatest memories are the simple conversations that I’ve had with people all around the world.

Check out some of the images that I’ve captured from my journeys. www.kellymooney.com

Top 3 Tips for Photographers, Filmmakers, Writers – Everybody

I’ve had a long career with a lot of successes and failures. Here are 3 tips with examples of lessons I learned along the way.

Get rid of the resistance in your life – Long before I became a photographer, I was on a different path. I was studying architecture at Syracuse University. During the summer of my sophomore year my friend and I went on a hitchhiking journey to Canada. Along the way we stayed with people we met while on the road. I remember one such stay very well. It was pouring outside and we decided to just hang out rather than face the elements. There were quite a few other travelers sitting around the room smoking dope and talking about what everyone talked about those days – their disenchantment with the war (Vietnam) and everything else that was status quo.

Sunset, Arthur County, Nebraska
Sunset – Arthur County, Nebraska

One fellow erupted and said – “I’m sick and tired of hearing the same old complaints – why don’t you all do something about it.” Those words have stayed with me my entire life. To this day I try to get rid of the whiners in my life and be the one who does something.  My proudest achievement to date has been making the documentary Opening Our Eyes, a film about individuals who are creating positive change.

Don’t hide your vulnerabilities – It took me a long time before I could tell anyone one of my biggest embarrassments, but when I did it was liberating. I was working on an assignment about Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket for the National Geographic Traveler Magazine. I had made an appointment to photograph Walter Cronkite, who was a well-known figure on Martha’s Vineyard. The day before our scheduled appointment, I called Mr. Cronkite to confirm. This was way before cell phones and email and even before everyone had answering machines and his phone just rang and rang and rang. I kept calling throughout the day and the same thing happened. By evening, I was upset because I thought that Mr. Cronkite had stood me up. That night, I had a terrible feeling. I thought perhaps that when I had re-written my production notes and contact info for the job, I might have written down the wrong number for Cronkite. I had kept my old notes and discovered that I had been calling the wrong number all day. Imagine how horrified I was when I discovered that it was I who had stood up Walter Cronkite – not the other way around. I called the correct number, Walter answered and I was profusely apologetic as I explained the situation. He was kind and understanding and rescheduled and then he said, “Why didn’t you look me up in the phone book?” I replied that I assumed someone of his stature would not be listed.   I learned never to make assumptions. It took me years before I could tell anyone this story. It’s really hard to admit mistakes but when you do, you gain trust.

Be who you are – not who you aren’t – I had just graduated from Brooks Institute and I wanted to pursue my passions. I wanted to be a photojournalist and use my craft to gain access to a world full of stories. Before I enrolled at Brooks, I had spent a year backpacking around the world. I had one camera and one lens and came back with my snapshots and a whole lot of desire. But it was a bad time for magazine photojournalism – Life Magazine had just folded (the second time) and everyone was telling me that if I wanted to make a living as a photographer, I needed to do commercial work. I bought into that and built a pretty good commercial photography portfolio. Then I went to see legendary NY photographer Jay Maisel, a man known for being blunt. He looked at my work, threw a print at me and told me it was “garbage”. Then he asked me if this was what I wanted to do.  I told him no, that I wanted to be a photojournalist but that everyone had been telling me to pursue commercial work. He asked me how old I was and I replied “25” and then he looked me straight in the eye and said, “You’re 25 years old and you’re already making compromises”. It changed my life and I remind myself every day to be who I am and dream big, even though I may have to settle for less.

Flying 1 Million Miles with United Airlines – And Why I Wouldn’t Do it Again

I’ve always been a goal-oriented person. I envision the end goal and then break things down and figure out how I will reach it. Essentially, if I don’t have an end goal in sight then I usually don’t start something. I’m a self-inflicted creature who does the work andkeeps my eye on the prize.

I never set out to fly 1, 000,000 miles with United Airlines. It just kind of happened while I was in the process of going somewhere. gail-brooks-institute-263x300I’ve been on roads, trails, tracks, and the sea and in the air for most of my life capturing imagery with my cameras and immersing myself into other cultures in the world.

Before I knew it, I realized that I had flown over 950,000 miles with United – and that didn’t take into consideration the miles I had flown with their competition. I remember looking at my account and thinking – “what’s another 50,000 miles?” and deciding to finish the job and qualify for United’s Million Mile Premier status. I thought it would be a piece of cake.

The act of flying the last 50,000 miles actually was a piece of cake, but it came with incredible frustration when trying to decipher United’s rules and footnotes along with numerous exclusions and disclaimers. After spending hundreds of hours on the phone with countless United employees in an effort to clarify their rules before reserving and paying for a ticket, I eventually learned why I had been getting ambiguous and conflicting information. United airlines outsources many of the agents that answer their phone – even their premier desk lines! I found this out the hard way after spending a lot of time talking with someone who answered the United phone line only to be told that she/he can’t help me and that they would connect me with a United employee. Nine out of ten times – I got disconnected. Now when I call United, the first thing I do is ask if I am speaking with a United employee. I also understand now why I’ve been getting the conflicting information I have received.

Tip: Most likely if you call an airlines, it’s because you have a question that can’t easily be answered online. If so, ask if you are speaking with a United employee.

To be clear – This is not about outsourcing to a foreigner instead of hiring an American. This is about cost cutting efforts for United (as well as plenty of other companies) at their customer’s disservice. We live in a DIY yourself culture and I am more than capable of reserving an airline ticket online – but if I need help, I’d like the option of speaking with a person who can really help me rather than be sent down a phone tree or worse yet go through an online chat with a lot of time wasted ready cut and paste answers and links to more ambiguous information.

I could elaborate and cite numerous examples of how United Airlines simply doesn’t care about their loyal customers who fly their airlines. These days it seems they are more interested in their partnerships and making money on just about everything except aviation. Every step of the way, from making a reservation online, to checking in at the airport, I need to page through a half a dozen or more options on how I can spend more money with United. Check a bag? – more money. Want more legroom? More money. Need a car – a hotel? More money. Want to upgrade? More money. And if you are loyal Premier Gold Elite passenger like myself, you get to stand in line 2 to board your flight – along with other Premier Gold members as well as Premier Silver members, AND…………anyone who has a United Explorer credit card!

I completed my million miles when I flew to Prague, Czech, a fairytale city that I have dreamed of visiting. When booking my flight, I noticed that the miles that I flew on their partner’s legs, (Lufthansa from Germany to and from Czech) didn’t contribute to my Lifetime Miles account. I was told that even though Lufthansa was their Star Alliance partner and that United ticketed those flights and the ticket numbers began with “016” those miles would not count toward my lifetime total.

Tip: Only United or United Express flights on United aircrafts that have been ticketed by United count toward your total lifetime miles account.

I was also told that United couldn’t pre-assign me a seat on the Lufthansa and I found out later that neither could Lufthansa until I was at the airport. Even more aggravating was when I found out that I had to pay for the extra legroom seats designated as Economy + on the Lufthansa portions even though as a Premier Gold member I get those seats on the United legs for no extra charge. I asked a United agent what benefits I did get as a Gold Premier member when flying on one of their partner’s flights that had been ticketed by United?  The agent replied “You get your bags checked through”. Does that mean that the non-Elite passengers don’t get their bags checked through?

United Airlines’ slogan is “Fly the Friendly Skies”. The skies may be friendly and the journey is often priceless but United Airlines and their management have become callous, very impersonal and pretty much anything but friendly. In fact I believe that Peter Greenberg’s latest poll of US air carriers, listed United dead last.

I made my goal, but I no longer have the desire to be loyal to United because I get the distinct feeling that this company clearly doesn’t care about being loyal to me.

How a Personal Project Can Augment a Career

I’ve shot 10 short films for my latest project entitled,  Like a Woman. The project is about women who work in traditionally male-dominated professions. Sadly, there are a lot of professions to choose.  The latest films consist of profiles of Simona de Silvestro,

Simona de Silvestro, Formula e Race Car Driver, Berlin, Germany
Simona de Silvestro, Formula e Race Car Driver, Berlin
Taylor Laverty, Pilot of Good Year Blimp, Carson, CA
Taylor Laverty, Pilot of Good Year Blimp, Carson, CA

a Swiss, female, Formula e (electric) race car driver for the Andretti team, Taylor Laverty, a pilot for Good Year Blimp (airship) and Tayna Ragir

Tanya Ragir, Sculptor, Los Angeles, CA
Tanya Ragir, Sculptor, Los Angeles, CA

, a talented sculptor. Every one of these women was inspirations to me.  I have been a minority female photographer and filmmaker for almost four decades.

I have come to the realization that success has been about my journey and pushing my own boundaries. Many times I have been well paid, but I define my successes by the value of the journey, not by the monetary gain. My memory  is full of incredible experiences, including the last three – riding the Good Year Blimp, being in on the race track in Berlin with the Andretti team and meeting multi-talented sculptor Tanya and significant other David, both who energized my mind and spirit and awed me by their creativity.

I came away from these three experiences enforcing what I knew already, that a   “personal project” has a life of its own and that they have been an outlet for what is inside me. These projects they’ve given me PR value and memorable experiences, but most of them have been timeless and continue to resonate with me as well as others, years after the fact. I suppose,  I already knew that but it wasn’t until David told me that my Delta Bluesmen film (which I created more than a dozen years ago) excited him and made him want to see more, that the thought hit home. I touched upon a subject that was near and dear to him and he let me know about it and that made my afternoon. It may seem like a small gesture, but his acknowledgment and appreciation will stay with me a lifetime.

I have been very blessed in my life and I should remind myself of that more often. I became a photographer a very long time ago because I felt that the craft would provide me with access to a lifetime of memories and the means to create awareness. Every so often, I get reminded of the why I became a photographer and visual communicator and whenever I have, it has buoyed my spirit when I needed it the most.

Thank you to all my subjects, Good Year, Andretti and TE Connectivity for all your gracious help and support. Stay tuned for the short films.

Traveling Solo (as a woman)

I’ve been traveling solo to all corners of the globe since I made my first big trip hitchhiking half way around the world when I was 19 years old. That was decades ago. I no longer hitch hike and I prefer to stay in a nice hotel over a youth hostel these days, Hanoi-0347but I still spend a great deal of my time – traveling solo. You can see some of the images I’ve made on these journeys on www.kellymooney.com

Whenever I tell someone that I will be traveling somewhere – solo – they usually respond with the same question: “Aren’t you afraid? I generally answer with my own question: “Afraid of what? Safety is a common concern, especially from women – and for good reason – but fear or fear of the unknown shouldn’t stop you. I do believe that being fully prepared prior to heading out solo is the best course of action to minimize fears.

Some of the biggest pros of traveling solo is having the flexibility of making your own itinerary and schedule, immersing yourself in the local culture and meeting people you probably never would have if you had not been on your own. Those things far outweigh any fears or trepidations I may have.  I’m more afraid of having regrets because I let my fears stop me.

Some tips:

  • Be prepared – research. Good research ahead of time can eliminate a lot of problems. And I don’t mean, just researching hotels, restaurants and the sites but research the local customs, other traveler reviews online, scam alerts, US State Department warnings or simply talk to someone who has gone before you. So, be prepared and do your research before you go, but don’t forget to leave time in your itinerary to let serendipity happen. Those moments make for life’s greatest memories.
  • Alert your bank and credit card companies before going overseas. My ATM card and credit cards are my lifelines when I’m traveling, especially when traveling solo. I need to make sure that they will work when I’m in a foreign country and not blocked. Many times if a credit card company sees unusual behavior on one of your cards – especially foreign transactions, security may put a block or hold on your card, suspecting fraud. I call a couple days before I leave on an overseas trip to give the appropriate companies a heads up.
  • Make copies of your itinerary and important documents. I make a few copies of any credit cards I’m taking, my passport, visas, flight itinerary, hotel info and any other important information. I leave one copy behind with my husband and take a few copies with me and keep them in separate places. I also keep a contact list of important phone numbers etc. and store them on my electronic devices, but I also have printed copies with me. If I do get robbed or lose something, I am in a better position to get assistance.
  • Keep your passport in hotel safe. I am keenly aware of where my passport is at all times. When I’m at my destination, I leave my passport in my hotel room’s safe. When I’m traveling, I keep my passport in the same place at all times. That makes it easy when doing a checklist to make sure I have everything after going through security.
  • Know before you go. Perhaps the most intimidating times for a solo traveler is upon arrival in a foreign place. If you aren’t comfortable with public transportation or even grabbing a cab, then have a pick up waiting for you at the airport or train station. If you do take a cab – make sure you negotiate what the price should be before you get in – even if it is a metered cab. Also, find out how long it should take for a taxi to get you to your destination. It’s a good idea to get familiar with the currency exchange rate. Nowadays it’s easy to get foreign currency out of an ATM machine but you should know the exchange rate so that you know how much to exchange. I just returned from Vietnam and I did not check the exchange rate before I got there. At the ATM machine I was given a choice of withdrawal amounts and selected the lowest amount of 350,000 Dong. Little did I know it was less than $20.
  • Don’t look like a tourist. I’m a photographer but I don’t want to stand out by looking like one. Not only is it not a good idea from a safety point of view, walking around a city with two cameras dangling around my neck or wearing a photo vest stuffed with gear, it’s not conducive to getting good images. The biggest plus of traveling solo as a photographer as opposed to traveling in a group is that I am able to blend in more, be more discreet and get more intimate images than if I’m in a group of people all shooting the same thing.
  • Don’t eat room service. It can be lonely and some women are even intimidated dining alone but don’t cheat yourself out of a cultural experience by eating alone in your room. I frequently eat in outdoor cafes. It’s more casual, more conducive to solo diners and has the extra added bonus of people watching. It’s hard to be lonely in that type of environment. In many countries, it’s quite normal to seat an individual at an empty seat at someone else’s table. I enjoy this because it’s an icebreaker and is a great way to meet people.
  • Don’t be shy – mingle. One of the best parts about traveling solo is that I immerse myself more in the culture of where I am. Most times I don’t seek people out to talk to – they usually initiate a conversation with me, mostly out of curiosity. I have had a lot of great experiences by meeting people this way. I am cautious, but at this point in my life I can usually size people up if they are trying to scam me or not. It’s become almost instinctive. For the most part though, it has opened up many opportunities that I may not have taken if I had been traveling with someone else or in a group. It’s also beneficial to talk to other travelers. I have had a lot of great experiences that I never would have had if other travelers hadn’t made me aware of them.
  • Use common sense. Be trusting and open but be aware. Don’t walk down unlit streets by yourself at night. Don’t wear a lot of jewelry or flash around a lot of expensive gear. Be mindful of your bags and belongings at all times, never leaving them unattended. (One of the cons of solo travel is not having someone to watch your back or your stuff.). Most of all – Go with your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t.
  • Be confident. If you look confident, you will be less likely to be a target. Most problems occur when a traveler is doing something that makes them an easy mark – getting intoxicated, not being mindful of their belongings or venturing into unsafe areas.   Don’t let yourself become an easy mark.

I’d love to hear other tips solo travelers have or experiences they’d like to share.

Why Playing it Safe is Bad for Business

Gladys Mooney on motorcycle
My grandmother on a motorcycle. circa 1920’s or ’30’s.

Have you ever talked yourself out of doing something that you felt passionate about?

Have you ever bought into others’ advice, even though it was contrary to your own beliefs?

If you answered yes to either question then you are like most of us humans, and you second-guess yourself by buying into your fears.

Now ask yourself – Did anything good ever come out of NOT doing something? Other than stopping yourself from following foolish pursuits that may have put you in harms way, stopping yourself probably never led to a positive outcome. In my experience whenever I stopped myself from following my own instincts, it not only didn’t move me forward – it set me back.

So, why do we let resistance keep us from what we are meant to do? It’s fear of the unknown. And why do we let others’ resistance and fears stop us from taking a leap of faith? Can other people predict the outcome anymore than we can? Just because something didn’t work for someone else doesn’t mean it won’t work for you or me. There just are too many variables that play a part in whether someone succeeds or fails.

I’ll make one prediction – If you stop yourself from pursuing your big idea or even your small idea – it won’t happen.

So why are you letting resistance rule your life? That’s just plain stupid.

Watch this and then ask yourself – what are you waiting for?

 

 

The Value of Personal Projects for Photographers

For as long as I can remember, in my professional life as a photographer, I’ve always had a personal project that I was working on. I’d either be thinking about an idea that I wanted to explore or I’d be actively producing and shooting something. I never felt that I had to do personal projects. I did them because I wanted to.

Taking/making photographs has never been just a job for me. It’s not something that I look forward to retiring from. It’s something that makes me feel like I am “on purpose” and living the life I am meant to live. It’s also how I communicate and connect with people. That brings me joy especially when my imagery creates awareness or provokes thought.

One summer, early in our careers, my husband/partner and I decided to photograph the Jersey Shore.

Jersey Shore
Wildwood, NJ   ©Kelly/Mooney

We shot every weekend that summer, from the perspective of a bicycle, as we peddled our way through different towns along the shore. We spent one memorable afternoon in Wildwood taking portraits of all sorts of people,  in front of the graphic facade of a fun house. Some of those images created decades ago, still resonate in a timeless way.

There are very few images that I am still drawn to decades after I shoot them. Most of the images with staying power were shot on personal projects. Those images came from a personal place, my unique way of seeing the world at that point in time.

Gail - NJ Shore
Gail – NJ Shore

Those are the images that still speak to me and resonate with others.

I’m not quite sure I could come up with an exact dollar value on the personal projects I have done. Many have been monetized in in a variety of ways.  But the true value goes far deeper than the pocketbook.

What am I working on now?  Check it out.