One extraordinary woman’s trek across the globe brings home lessons for us all.
From Timbuktu to China, Russia, Turkey and beyond, come take a peek through the lens of a traveler and the journey she’s been on.
Gail Shore has traveled all around the world. Over the last 50 years, she’s trekked across the globe to well-known and hidden places, visiting over 100 countries.
Growing up in a tight-knit, working-class family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Shore says her family never traveled by air and rarely went on road trips together. The first-born of three children, Shore has a younger brother, Bill, and a younger sister, Jean.
For 26 years, Shore called Edina home before retreating to her cabin in Balsam Lake, Wisconsin, nearly seven years ago. And while she still enjoys spending time in the Twin Cities, she says she draws strength and peace from being surrounded by nature in her own little cozy corner of the world.
“As I travel around the world, [I’ve discovered] we are more alike than we are different,” Shore says. “We all want the same things in life. We want food and shelter and family and faith and community—those basic things that everybody wants.”
In October 2022, Shore released her memoir, Opening My Cultural Lens: A Globe Trekker’s Experiences and Photographs. At the beginning of her book, Shore takes readers back to her days as a youth. She describes life during the 1950s and 1960s when there was little opportunity for girls. A high school guidance counselor once told her that she had three options: become a teacher, a nurse or a housewife.
At the time, it was impossible for either one of them to know just how fate would change that narrative and take her far away to distant places.
“Luck plays a big, big part in what our next steps are going to be,” Shore says.
Her story along the traveler’s trail began the day she took a job as a reservationist at North Central Airlines in Milwaukee.
“May 15, 1967, is the day,” Shore says. “When you think of your life, too, you think of times where you made a decision or something happened that changed your course in life, and that was it for me.”
In her earliest days, she took full advantage of the travel perks at the airline. Soon, she and friends were jet-setting to wild and wondrous places. Her first trip overseas took her to the Swiss Alps, but destiny was calling her to reach for an even higher peak—one that would involve traveling solo to places she didn’t even know existed.
“If I was with even one other person, I would not be provided the access into so many situations that I have enjoyed. Traveling alone offers so many opportunities that you can not have with even one other person, never mind a group,” Shore says.
During her solo-style adventures, she typically spends three to four weeks out of the country. A guide always accompanies her. Whether it’s a shaman, a village chief or mayor of a small village, Shore says she’s been delighted to discover that humor is indeed a universal language.
“I am not a tourist, I’m a traveler and I’m there to work. People are assigned to me to help me accomplish what I culturally need to do,” Shore says. “But for some reason, I [often] end up with these guides that have a wonderful sense of humor.”
A little comic relief is often just what she needs in order to forge through some pretty precarious situations. She recalls her time in the Amazon, which she describes as miserable and wonderful
at the same time.
“I was so covered with bug bites there. I’ve never been so hot and uncomfortable in my life,” she says. “And yet it was the most amazing trip I think I’ve ever had. It was phenomenal. You’re in a rainforest, so you’re dripping wet all the time. And it’s so heavy you can hardly breathe, and you’re trying to hike through the jungle. They give you these rubber boots that come up to your knees. You’re kind of sloshing around in them, having a machete going through the jungle to carve out the path that you’re hiking. You’re scratching and itching and hot and it’s hard; it was so hard, just miserable, but you do it because you’re going to experience something out of this world.”
Though she says it’s nearly impossible to pick a favorite, Shore can name off a handful of places that she finds particularly fascinating, such as Bhutan, Myanmar, Namibia, North Korea and Syria (just to name a few), all of which are highlighted in her memoir.
“Favorite isn’t even the right word. It sounds like, ‘Oh, I want to go on vacation there.’ Some of the most fascinating places, like North Korea—it’s a terribly oppressive government, human rights are horrible, but to be able to go there was fascinating,” Shore says.
When she comes home from her trips overseas, it’s the simple pleasures in life that she has missed the most, such as drinking a tall glass of milk, as it’s not readily available in many corners of the world.
And don’t forget the peanut butter. Shore will tell you herself that she doesn’t go anywhere without her Skippy peanut butter and her trail mix. As soon as she starts packing, she goes down the list: passport, visa, documents, Skippy peanut butter and trail mix.
“Happiness can be measured differently. And that is what I discover in so many places that I go to. They don’t need all this stuff that we think makes us happy,” Shore says.
One last takeaway as she reflects on her time on the traveler’s trail …
“Everything in my life came from May 15, 1967. My career, my nonprofit [Cultural Jambalaya], my ability to travel, photography and all of my friends. I’m so lucky to have so many wonderful friends. In one way or another, they all go back to that nugget,” Shore says. “If I had not taken that job, I don’t know where my life would have led.”