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.



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