Next in the Inspiration and Perspiration series, I talk with Megan Snedden, travel photographer and journalist for publications like BBC, USA Today, and National Geographic Traveler. Every time I talk to Megan, I leave our conversations inspired to conquer the world. She’s overcome tremendous obstacles to create a career out of what she loves and makes the people around her feel like, with a dash of adventure in their souls and a willingness to take a risk, they just might be able to follow in her dancing footsteps.
What inspires Megan isn’t really a mystery. Who among us isn’t drawn to far off, exotic places? But to turn that inspiration into a career takes some serious work.
I interviewed Megan about her experience.
When you do something creative as a career, there’s often an assumption by outsiders that you’re getting paid for a hobby, and that anyone could jump in if they wanted to. In reality, what kind of work goes into making a career out of travel photography and journalism?
It’s funny to me that people have no idea what’s happening behind the scenes. There is so much hustle going on in order for your career to not only take off initially, but to stay afloat and relevant. In order for stories to get published, I’m always coming up with new ideas and developing pitches. When you’re in this freelance world and you’re pitching editors ideas, not everybody bites at what you think is going to be a great story. It depends a lot on what’s happening at the publication. Magazines release public editorial calendars with what they plan to write about months before an issue comes out, but a lot can change in that time. Even online magazines and publications pursue different verticals (niche content) at different times based on how stories on their website are performing. So you might send them a story about Cuba and they say, “Oh we’re so over Cuba right now, no thank you.”
Also you can’t just approach it like, “Oh I went on this awesome trip, here’s a story!” You have to come up with an angle you might call a, “Why now?” You’re essentially a salesperson when it comes to getting your work published. You develop pitches and contact editors and keep those relationships healthy so that if you’re freelancing for one publication and you switch and start freelancing for another, that you still could go back to the first one. Sometimes you’re funding yourself, other times you’re collaborating with PR people to get a trip to happen, then write stories about their clients in the travel and destination industry. It’s all very fascinating, but there is so much more legwork behind it than, “I went on a vacation and took a few photos and just want to write.”
The other piece of the puzzle is that most people I know in this line of work don’t invest everything into one bucket. We’re working on several different types of creative projects all at one time. It might be advertising, branding, or social media work for other companies that still incorporates writing and photography. It’s not all travel journalism all the time. I mean, it is for some people. I know people who’ve gone the Instagram Influencer, build-your-own-blog route and they have such big audiences of their own that they can do that. But when you’re a writer—the journalist photographer type—you really have to balance a lot of different kinds of creative work.
When your job demands the constant production of ideas, do you ever struggle with feeling inspired?
It’s not so much feeling uninspired because I’m a curious person. It’s more that I can sometimes get overwhelmed because when you’re thinking of the context of the world, there are so many directions you could go. I can very easily end up down a rabbit hole researching one thing before realizing I need to switch gears. So it’s mostly a matter of keeping myself organized. I keep an idea boneyard in Google spreadsheets. I read a lot of news and when I read stories and go, “Oh, it would be interesting to do a spin off of that,” I put it into the spreadsheet. Later, when I’m trying to think of ideas, I can look through and go, “Oh yeah, let’s research that idea and see if I can develop a pitch.” I also keep calendars, timelines, and other spreadsheets that organize what I’m doing. I’m not only pitching ideas and looking for work, I’m also doing the work at the same time so I have to split my day between the two.
What trait do you think makes someone good at what you do?
You really have to be tenacious. You get a lot of rejections. Rejections are not necessarily personal. They more or less say something about where the publication is at and what they’re looking for. But when you pour your heart and soul into a pitch and you send it to an editor and they respond with, “No, we’ll pass,” it can be really bone-crushing, especially when you’re at a moment where you’re like, “I haven’t landed any stories in a while and I really need to.” But you do get these incredible wins and all the work ends up paying off. Sometimes you end up in a flow. And you have to be able to meditate through that process and really stick to your guns and keep on keeping on no matter what happens.
You also have to be a bit of a risk-taker. Someone who is willing to go 100% all out on something. That entrepreneurial spirit.
What’s been your most rewarding experience as you’ve pursued this career?
It’s many, many things that keep me going. In terms of travel photography, you have these amazing, soulful moments that you get to share with people all around the world. I went to Uruguay by myself and met this woman who lived there. I just struck up a conversation with her and before I knew it I was shooting portraits of her. I left that day and looked back at the pictures. They were so beautiful. It just felt so good to relate to somebody in that way. If I didn’t do what I’m doing now, maybe I wouldn’t have talked to her and had that interesting connection and learned as much about Uruguay in that hour that I spent with her as I did. There have been other major, “Pinch me. Is this my job?” moments. I went on assignment to Fiji for ten days for the International Business Times and standing in that lush, tropical environment surrounded by people who were so warm and happy and so loving, to be embraced by the locals, I just felt really lucky. It was also fascinating to be in such a small and remote and mysterious part of the world, looking around and going, “Nobody really knows where I am right now. My family and my friends kind of know that I’m traveling but they have no idea what’s happening in my life.” It’s a freeing feeling.
If you had to describe what inspires you in one word, what would it be?
I know, that’s such a weird thing to say but oh it’s so true! It’s such a strong motivator for me. At the beginning of this whole journey, I had this moment when I was planning my first trip to South America by myself, wanting to get away and having gotten a gig writing about it for a small, local newspaper. I was young, like twenty-two, and I wasn’t necessarily supported by the people in my life about the choices I wanted to make. They were like, “This is so crazy and dangerous!” I was also hung up on things like the fact that I’d just graduated, we were entering an economic recession, and I was feeling the pressure to get a “real” job.
But when I really sat with the idea, I asked myself, “If you were to fast-forward five years and look back on this moment, how would you have wanted to respond and what would you regret the most?” And I really felt in all of my heart that, man, even if it was going to be rough trying to convince other people, I was doing the right thing for me. Sometimes you’re not going to have the support. It sometimes feels crazy and scary and like a huge leap into the unknown, but I would never have it any other way. And had I gone five years later and looked back and not have done that, my life would have taken a totally different trajectory. I always would have regretted that. So I’m always sort of framing my life that way. When I’m in a position of making an important decision, I go, “Okay, well, I know this is insane, but what am I going to regret? Doing it or not doing it?” I think that we all have the capacity inside of ourselves to handle anything that comes our way, so hit the road!
What are you working on now?
I’m really excited because I’m going to be hosting a free webinar on Monday, April 3, 2017 about how to essentially do exactly what I do and get published in mainstream media outlets. I’ve hosted online courses before on the topic, but this is the first time I’ll be offering a free hour and a half training. It’s going to be live and it’s going to be really fun! Learn more here: www.megansnedden.com/mainstream
Megan Snedden is a travel storyteller and photographer whose words and photos have appeared in publications like BBC, USA Today, and National Geographic Traveler. She helps creatives get their work published in mainstream media outlets.
Add beauty and adventure to your Instagram and Twitter feeds by following Megan on social media:
Still intrigued? I interviewed Megan in depth about her journey to her career and the personal obstacles she faced, from frightening health concerns to a family tragedy, that ultimately led her to where she is today. Megan’s Spotlight Interview
You can also check out the first interview in the series with art model and artist, Krystal Becker.