By Leiti Hsu, Journy co-founder

Photo Credit: Alice Gao

Photo Credit: Alice Gao

Alice Gao, @alice_gao

Photographer. Coffee Snob. Crazy Cat Lady. Ceramics Collector.

Still life and travel photographer Alice has worked with Ruinart, Cartier, St. Regis, The New York Times, WSJ and more. Dream job? Shooting the Hermes print catalog. She most looks forward to making pourovers when she gets home from her travels. We got to sit down with Alice before she joined us for our #JournyxBarcelona trip, January 2016:


I came here when I was 2.5 years old and grew up in Middlesex County, NJ. My dad came over for a Ph.D when I was in the womb. My mom stayed with me for a year and then immigrated. My grandparents took care of me in the meantime.

What do your parents think about what you do for a living?

I’m an only child, and my parents now follow me on Twitter, Snapchat (!), Instagram, and my blog. It’s almost too much sometimes. When I first started I had a lot of crying arguments with my mom, though I knew she just wanted what was best for me (that is, a steady job and health insurance!). I was very insecure for the first 2 years, thinking, “God what AM I doing? I can always fall back on my econ degree.”

What do you wanna be when you grow up?

Starting with some of the things I did want to be when I grew up: a movie director or producer (Steven Spielberg was so cool to me). An interior architect: from the age of 9-13, I’d collect floor plans and study them in awe. Or maybe a TV news anchor like Connie Chung. Later, I wanted to be a forensic scientist or epidemiologist. Now, I’d love to shoot the Hermes, Smythson or Mansur Gavriel catalogs. I’d also love to shoot more travel stories for the likes of T Magazine and really flesh out a full feature travel story for Conde Nast Traveler. I love when my vision shows through on a challenging assignment. Honestly, a lot of the jobs I get put on are dream jobs already!

Three words that best describe your personal brand?

Elegant, modern, poetic.

Photo Credit: Alice Gao

Photo Credit: Alice Gao

Why “Lingered Upon"?

The name of my blog is taken from one of my favorite T.S. Eliot poems, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." I took an Eliot class in college. Here, the line could mean that I lingered upon some moment and made a photo of it. On this blog, you’ll find both personal work and “work" work, with plenty of travel and the occasional outfit post mixed in.

Instant Insta-tip?

Straighten your lines. Don’t do what everybody else is doing. Especially when it comes to cute, Instagrammable, places, don’t take the same goddamn shot! Take your own shot in your own way. Go beyond the shoes-and-floor shot at Republique. Get closer or get further away. Get a detail.

What’s your packing personality?

I tend to underpack. The only time I’ll check a bag is if I need to bring back liquids or shopping stuff. Otherwise, I always do a carry on. I usually pack an hour before I leave.

What’s the most surprising thing in your luggage?

My night guard. I grind my teeth.

What’s a quirky travel preference of yours?

I always take an aisle seat because I use the bathroom too much on the plane. I go out of the way to stick to certain airlines because I know status is more important than the cheapest or most direct flight.

Craziest travel story?

I was in Iceland with three other people in a sedan—not the proper car for Iceland. We decided to go off the road to photograph a house, only to to get stuck in 10 inches of mud. I couldn’t even step outside! We tried pushing the car to no avail and had to have an Icelander call a farmer who showed up with a pulley tractor and yanked us out of the mud. It was hilarious the whole time.

Photo Credit: Alice Gao

Photo Credit: Alice Gao

Most awesome hotel you’ve experienced so far?

It’s a toss-up between the Aman Tokyo, the Upper House in HK and Qualia in Hamilton Island. Upper House has service like I’ve never seen. They seem to know your preferences before you even step foot into the hotel. Once, I arrived two days after my birthday to find a ‘Happy Belated Birthday’ cake, complete with candle (and a lighter, should I have wanted that). The lobby at Aman has epically high ceilings and stunning views, and the Spa treatments and pool are both perfection. The infinity pools, modern design, and tropical tea that greet you at Qualia will make you feel like you’re in paradise.

How often do you travel?

It really varies. In 2015, I probably did at least 15 international trips and maybe 5 domestic trips. I travel more internationally than domestically. 115,168 miles in 2015 to be exact.

When you get home, what do you miss the most?

Homemade coffee. I just cannot wait for this—it’s just a ritual thing, but I feel like “Oh my gosh, I can’t wait to make coffee." If I’m cooking at home, it’s always greens, because you don’t get those when you travel…just a giant bowl of kale over rice is what I’m hankering for. Maialino is my home-town go-to.

What’s the most important order of business?

Dry cleaning and laundry.

Photo Credit: Alice Gao

Photo Credit: Alice Gao

First thing you seek to eat and drink when you get off the plane?

Coffee. I don’t do that much research when I go to new places, other than coffee and design relevant things. I rely on other people for the eating recommendations. Whatever sounds low key and not too involved works for me. I don’t always want to sit down to a 10-course-meal when I land.

A pro travel tip for Journyers?

Don’t pack too much in your schedule. Leave some time for getting lost. Go for a walk and try to get lost.

Three favorite boutiques / shopping in the world?

The Line in NYC is my go-to if I need a pick me up. I go there to get inspired, but it’s kind of dangerous, so I have to stay away. 0fr. in Paris near the Marais in the 3rd Arrondissement features a wide range of books, not just Annie Leibovitz but also up-and-coming French artists whose art and photos you’ve probably never heard of. I stop there and buy too many books to carry home. Hay in Copenhagen has a beautiful space full of affordable design objects.

Your most inspiring brands?

Hermes is definitely number one. I collect every catalog I can. I also love Holiday Magazine, a travel mag from the 30’s that Parisians bought the rights to re-launch. It’s a beautiful, published 2x a year with amazing little editorials. They’re traveling treasures—so simple and pretty. It’s difficult to find in the USA, so I pick them up in Paris when the latest issue happens to be out.

Dos and donts for long-distance love or those inevitable international romantic encounters?

I did have a long distance back in the day that failed. He was in Tokyo and I was in NYC. My advice is to be secure about yourself and your relationship before going into it, as distance can inflate problems. Time zones make communicating difficult, and you don’t get to talk or hug it out. My advice: Don’t do them.

Photo Credit: Alice Gao

Photo Credit: Alice Gao

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: Eric Tsai

The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The original piece was published on journy here: Q&A with Alice Gao, @alice_gao