100 countries and counting: Gail Shore on a lifetime of travel

a woman photographing with a camera
Gail Shore has traveled to nearly 100 countries over the last 50 years, taking photos along the way.
Courtesy Gail Shore

When she was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, Gail Shore didn’t have any particular big dreams about the future. There weren’t a lot of opportunities for women back then.

That all changed after her first trip overseas. Over the past five decades, Shore has traveled to nearly 100 countries — experiencing different cultures and taking pictures.

Her new book, “Opening My Cultural Lens,” shares photographs and memories from her travels over the years. She spoke with host Cathy Wurzer about what she’s learned from 50 years of travel.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. 

Subscribe to the Minnesota Now podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.   

We attempt to make transcripts for Minnesota Now available the next business day after a broadcast. When ready they will appear here. 

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: You are about to meet a force of nature. When she was growing up in the 1950s and '60s, Gail Shore didn't have especially big dreams about the future. There weren't a lot of opportunities for women back then. Well, all that changed after her first trip overseas.

Over the past five decades, Gail has traveled to nearly 100 countries experiencing different cultures and taking pictures. Her new book, Opening My Cultural Lens, shares photographs and memories from her travels over the years, and I am so happy that Gayle's on the line. Welcome to the program, Gail. How are you?

GAIL SHORE: Thank you, Cathy. Good to talk to you again. It's been a long time.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, a very, very long time. Thank you so much. I've, of course, known about your propensity to globe trot, so this is fun to talk about it now in depth. So I'm curious about that first trip abroad, how that changed your life. Tell us about that trip.

GAIL SHORE: Well, I was working-- the reason I started traveling at all was because I was working for an airline and had airline passes. But in the old days when I was a much younger person, we didn't have any money to spend. We didn't have enough time off, so all of the travel that I did was very superficial. You had to get on an airplane and hurry up and get back to work again.

So I didn't learn a whole lot until I went on a trip to Africa, and it just totally changed my life. The exotic cultures and languages and traditions-- not to mention the animals. It was like ripping a page out of National Geographic, and it influenced me so much. And I left the airline not long after that-- a few years after that-- and I just realized that I wanted more of this kind of travel.

And I set out to do just that. And who would know that over the next few decades that I indeed would travel to nearly 100 countries? And most of them, Cathy-- and the reason that they're interesting-- are places that a lot of people will likely never travel to, places that, quite frankly, some people can't even find on a map, and that's what makes them interesting.

CATHY WURZER: So you're not the type of person that heads to-- Paris is great, of course, and London, the usual spots. So you go off the beaten track.

GAIL SHORE: I do. I do. The places that I really enjoy going to are, frankly, those where I have to sleep on a cot and under a mosquito net. Although I'm not really wild about not having sit down toilets, but that comes with the territory sometimes.

CATHY WURZER: Well, some people would just hear this and say, Gail, what about the discomfort of travel appears to be appealing to you? Is it the culture experience?

GAIL SHORE: Well, I'm not saying that I'm wild about the discomfort. It just comes with the territory. If I'm going to visit cultures and traditions that are really neat, if I'm going to get into the Amazon or into a lot of tribal communities in Africa or anywhere else around the world, they're not located in the big cities.

When I arrive in a big city, I can't get out of there fast enough because that's where you're going to really meet people that truly make up a culture. I like to be able to look people in the eye and learn about their backgrounds and their unique histories and traditions because that's where you're really learning about cultures that are different than ours.

CATHY WURZER: I like the title of the book, then. This makes sense as you're talking-- Opening My Cultural Lens.

GAIL SHORE: Well, I grew up in a very non-diverse community, to say the least. The only person that I knew of color was our foreign exchange student, literally. Yeah. I mean, I had a very narrow view of the world. And until I started to travel internationally and specifically to these kinds of places, I really didn't have any kind of a cultural lens at all, so I felt that the title of the book really does describe my life's work.

CATHY WURZER: One of the underlying themes that I love is the generosity of strangers, the folks you've met who've helped you out and showed you around and fed you and were so kind to you. Talk about that.

GAIL SHORE: I travel alone, first of all, and I always have a guide, however, for safety and for access. But as a single woman traveling alone, when I meet people or go into a village or even into a rural school someplace, people are very curious about-- who in the world is this person?

And I'm obviously curious about them, too. And I found that people around the world are extremely generous with their hospitality. For example, the Middle East-- which a lot of people should learn a lot more about, I believe-- the Middle East is just terrific when it comes to that kind of hospitality.

Because for all throughout history, people there relied on the hospitality of strangers because they were all nomadic people. A lot of the Bedouin people-- they needed the hospitality of strangers to survive. And that kind of practice has survived all of these years, and it's alive and well today.

I mean, some of the best examples that I've ever come across in my life came from the Middle East where people would do things that people in this country wouldn't even consider doing.

CATHY WURZER: I can only imagine. I'm assuming that COVID curtailed your travels as it did for most of us. Are you back on the road?

GAIL SHORE: No, and I haven't been traveling internationally during COVID. And frankly, I'm not quite sure what my plans are going to be traveling to the kinds of places that I'm used to traveling to. Maybe those days are behind me. I'm not exactly sure. I'm not willing to say that yet.

But a lot of the places that are kind of left on my bucket list, if you will, are places that I think are really maybe a little bit too dangerous for a single woman to be traveling alone. I mean, I'd love to go to Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iraq and Saudi Arabia and some places like that, and I'm not sure that those are in the cards right now. But we'll see.

CATHY WURZER: What do you want folks to take away from your book?

GAIL SHORE: I oftentimes think back to my early days growing up in a world without diversity. And by broadening my own worldviews, cultural travel has irreversibly changed my life, and so I want to share some stories about some of these incredible people around the world, and as I said, their traditions and histories and even their religions with hopes that it can also open other people's lenses.

I mean, I understand how we all want the same things in life. We all want food and shelter, education, spirituality, family, friends-- those are just common things. We are profoundly more alike than we are different. And our planet is just so small, and we live in one big shared space that we must respect and honor, honestly, before it's too late. And so I'm just hoping that this book will open other people's cultural lenses.

CATHY WURZER: Well said, Gail, as always. Thank you so much, and I appreciate your time.

GAIL SHORE: Thanks, Cathy. Good to talk to you.

CATHY WURZER: Likewise. Gail Shore is a photographer and the author of Opening My Cultural Lens. Tonight at the Women's Club in Minneapolis, she'll be talking about the book and signing books. It's at 6:00 PM.

Download transcript (PDF)

Transcription services provided by 3Play Media.