If you consider yourself well traveled, you might reconsider after meeting Megan Jerrard of Mapping Megan. Since 2007, the Australian journalist has visited over 50 countries – on all seven continents!
For Megan, though, it’s not about the numbers. From Myanmar to Tanzania (where she met her husband!), Megan strives to travel sustainably and fully immerse herself in the cultures she visits.
Over the last decade, Megan has been featured in publications like National Geographic, The New York Times, and Huffington Post. Megan’s influencer fame didn’t just fall into her lap, though. She put her energy into networking.
The Perlu team sat down with Megan to learn how networking and her own blog led to Megan’s popular status. In the interview, she also shares her thoughts on how influencer marketing will change in the coming years.
You don’t have to be a travel influencer to learn from Megan! Her tips are applicable to influencers of all kinds. So, grab some popcorn, sit back, and hit “play” to get insight on how to set yourself up for greater influencer success. Forgot your headphones? Not to worry – we’ve included a transcript of the interview, too! When you’re done, be sure to follow Megan’s adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Interview with Megan Jerrard of Mapping Megan
Perlu: Welcome to the Perlu Podcast! This is Tom Shapiro on behalf of Perlu, and today we have a very special guest: Meg Jerrard of Mapping Megan. Hello, Meg.
Meg Jerrard: Hi, thanks for having me!
P: Thanks for being here. We’re really thrilled to be talking with you. Meg is a travel influencer extraordinaire, and has many, many really interesting stories to tell, and we’re very excited to have her here today. So, Meg, would you mind kicking things off by telling the audience a little bit about yourself and Mapping Megan?
MJ: Yeah, sure. So, obviously, my name’s Meg as you all just heard. I’ve been traveling since I was 18. I took a year off after high school to be a teacher’s assistant in the UK. It’s a really popular thing to do in Australia; I think maybe 80 out of the 200 girls from my high school went and took a year off and traveled.
I really just utilized the 17 weeks of holiday that we had that year to see as much of Europe as I possibly could, and I fell in love with it. Seeing the world, tasting new flavors, meeting new people every day, seeing new sights – it was just an incredible adventure that I wanted to live out every day.
I guess reality kind of sets in when you’re in that situation. You realize that it’s not realistic to think that you can live that every day, so I came back to Australia and did my five years of university. I did travel every semester break though, so I’d often be a bit cheeky and kind of come back a week after the semester had already started. I signed up for as many student exchanges as I possibly could. I think it was pretty clear to everyone that travel for me wasn’t just a phase.
I’d actually had started journalism at Uni, and I always had a passion for writing, so I started a blog for that very first overseas trip back in 2007. Back then it was just kind of a journal. [I was] kind of chronicling my adventures and letting mom and dad back home know that I wasn’t getting too drunk in Europe, that I was behaving myself. All that fun stuff.
But in my final year at university, I was flying home to Australia, and as luck would have it, I was seated next to a gentleman on the plane called Gary Arndt. I didn’t know it at the time but he’s probably the biggest influencer in the travel space.
MJ: Yeah, I was just amazed to hear these stories about how he ran his website and he worked with brands who flew him all over the world to write about these different destinations and photograph their destinations, and not only that, but he actually got paid for it. That day I decided then and there that I was going to change my hobby blog into a business, and that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up.
It’s still probably questionable as to whether I grew up or not, but actually I actually achieved the blogging goal, so, it’s a little bit about me.
P: That’s awesome. And how about Mapping Megan? Can you tell us about the website a little bit?
MJ: Yes! So Mapping Megan is obviously now a combination of my passion blog and a business. So we do monetize the website, but we just try our best and our hardest to kind of infuse our personality into the travel and just really provide as much authentic content that’s really practical and really as helpful as possible. So if we’re going on an adventure and we’re sand-duning down Huacachina in Peru, we want to tell you how you can do it too.
So not only do we aim to provide inspiration to try and get people out there and realize their dreams as well, we also try and put the practical into it. It’s really frustrating when you might just see it on Instagram and you’re like, “Okay, that’s great, but how do I actually do it? Like, speak to me in plain English about how I book a flight. Which airport do I go to and from? How much money am I going to need?” All that type of stuff. We try and really focus on as much authenticity as we possibly can and as much practical information so you can actually do that too.
P: That’s fantastic. That level of practicality is just so invaluable. I understand that you and your husband are such travel junkies that you actually sold your home and belongings to travel full time. Which is pretty incredible!
MJ: Yeah, it was at that time that there were a lot of articles about the whole learning about the whole “I sold my home and sold all my stuff to travel the world!” and we were like, “We can do that too.”
P: That’s awesome. So what was that like? Getting rid of your home, getting rid of your belongings, letting go of so much. It must have been quite the emotional experience to go through that.
MJ: Yes, we were actually living in Florida at the time. My husband is from the U.S. and I’m from Australia. So we were living in Florida when we’d heard that we secured a brand ambassadorship with DoubleTree by Hilton, and that was my first time working with a brand, so we were very excited about it. What that meant was that we were asked to travel for two weeks on behalf of the brand through their properties in Central and South America.
Leading up to that trip, we made the ultimate decision that we didn’t want to come back. So we put the house on the market and put all our things in storage, and we just didn’t get on the return flight that they booked for us home.
In terms of what it was like, I think we realized quickly in those first six months that quick travel when you’re actually traveling full time and just not sustainable. I think we’re averaging two to three days in each place just jumping between countries like this trip was going to be our last. You get burn out pretty quickly if you try to stay in that type of whirlwind pace, so I think we started realizing that we needed to embrace slow travel where you set yourself up somewhere for at least a week, or maybe a month.
Some travelers who travel full time might set themselves up in each place for three to six months. We didn’t really have any feelings of nostalgia in terms of letting go of everything, though. I think we both viewed it as just this incredible adventure and I think it helped that we both had in the back of our minds that at some point we’ll finally settle down in Australia, so it was a bit easier selling our home in the States knowing that an eventual move would be happening anyway.
Overall, though, I think we’ve both just been really happy to embrace the unknown because, ultimately, I’ve tried to live by the mantra “you only ever really regret the things that you don’t do.” Even if something completely falls flat or it doesn’t work out in the way that you wanted it to, at least you gave it a go. I really think that that’s the only thing we can do in life.
P: Yeah, I love that attitude. That’s great. I love what you’re saying about slow travel – really experiencing it, not burning yourself out. I think that’s fantastic.
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MJ: Yeah, I think that trip, we did two days in Costa Rica, and then we jumped down to Peru, and then we did a kind of four-week stint. We did Panama, Bolivia, Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, back to Ecuador – jumped up. You don’t have the time to really take it in and really savor it when you’re going that quickly. Definitely a big advocate for slow travel now.
P: Yeah, great. And even traveling slowly you’ve been able to cover a lot of ground. I thought that I was doing pretty well; I think that I’ve been to maybe 10 countries, but I was reading that you’ve visited more than 50. Is that right?
MJ: Yes! So, I’m kind of torn about the whole counting countries thing, because on one hand, yeah, it is amazing to say, “Oh, I’ve been to more than 50 countries,” but in terms of putting that into an experience, I think the whole counting countries thing can make people feel bad because they try to turn it into a competition. If you’re having an authentic experience somewhere in the world and you’ve had these experiences in 10 countries, someone who’s visited 50 might have only spent like three days in that place, whereas you may have spent three months.
So yes, we have visited more than 50 countries, which I feel super fortunate about. I did stop counting countries though in terms of that sense, just because I am kind of torn about that, and I think that I really want to promote people validating the experiences that they have as opposed to trying to compare them to other people.
One of the craziest trips I think we’ve taken was Antarctica last year. That was just incredible. I think crossing the Drake Passage was just an adventure in itself ’cause they call it the Drake Shake because of just how rough the seas are.
Yeah, but once we got there it just really blew us away. I was actually a little bit apprehensive about going to Antarctica, just ’cause I think that when you have a bucket list destination, you can often build up a romanticized version of it – what it would be like, just ’cause you see these documentaries and other people just rave about different places. I think that often you can get to a place and those high expectations you have don’t always meet reality.
But we’re really blown away by Antarctica, and even though it already sits on a pretty high pedestal in terms of a destination, I would probably say it even surpassed the hype, just because you’re looking out your window and you see a glacier carving off from this massive mountain, or walking across an ice cap and you have thousands of penguins that are kind of running across your feet.
Or if you’re taking a zodiac out on the water, there might be a humpback whale that breached within 10 meters of our boat. So that probably was one of the wildest trips we’ve ever taken. It was incredible.
P: Wow, that sounds very, very special. Sounds incredible.
MJ: It’s definitely a trip that I would love to get back to. Obviously, I feel fortunate that we have managed to do it once in our life, because it is one of those once-in-a-lifetime trips.
It was the seventh continent for us too, so it was a bit special. We were fortunate to kind of step onto our seventh continent on our anniversary, too. That was a bit of a special trip.
P: That’s awesome. That’s really great. So, on that note, on something so special, I do want to turn to the business side of things for a bit.
So, Meg, you’ve been published in a bunch of different publications: National Geographic, the New York Times, British Airways High Life and others. I’m wondering if you can share with our audience, who I think would be very interested in understanding, how you are able to secure these types of writing gigs, and also how have these types of gigs helped your career?
MJ: So networking has probably been the biggest key to my success in that sense, in being published in well-respected publications. So I’ve always focused on building and monetizing my blog as the first priority. When I started out, I always thought it would be incredible to start pitching magazines, and as a freelance writer, that’s what you do. You cold pitch magazines, as many as possible, and you spent a lot of time doing that.
It was something that I’d always said I’d kind of focus on getting into next year, but then next year never came. I think I started to realize that monetizing my blog and writing for myself was much less of a hassle than trying to jump into the pitching circuit. So I haven’t actually pitched any of these big publications as a freelance writer as you would traditionally. Just through my presence through my blog and through networking as much as possible, those opportunities actually came to me.
For that I feel very fortune. So I’ve treated my blog basically as a portfolio of my work to showcase what I can do. I definitely put time into optimizing the blog, so that if someone does land there with the intention of getting me for a particular opportunity, they find everything that they need and they can find versions of my work in other publications that I have written for. So for instance I have a media tab on my website which lists different articles I’ve written for different publications.
I’ve kind of treated my blog as a portfolio for those opportunities to come to me. In terms of the difference it’s made for my career, I think that after you get one big publication, it kind of starts as a slow-rolling ball effect. Once you’ve contributed to articles for the New York Times, that kind of gives you a certain level of clout, or a certain level of expertise to then be considered for another publication.
Obviously, that’s not always the case. You obviously have to kind of get in the door – start with one somehow. But I have noticed that once you start creating a really good portfolio of clients and a really good portfolio of work, more starts to come in. So I would definitely be aware of what you’re putting on your blog, because that is basically a reflection of you, and it’s a reflection of your brand, and it’s a reflection of your work.
So you can definitely use your blog itself as a portfolio to kind of catapult you to other things and into other industries like freelance writing has done for me.
P: Yeah, I love that. I love that whole approach – using your own website as a portfolio and the launching pad for many different directions that you can go in, including getting published. Love it.
MJ: Yeah, absolutely, and I think just having a presence these days is really important. So whether you’re a photographer or whether you’re a writer, or whether you’re a videographer – really whatever type of influencer you want to be, or even if you just want be a writer, I think having a presence online now is so important. So you see these big names that were big travel photographers and would be writers before the internet swept in – they have presences now too. They need to maintain an Instagram account. You see them popping up on Facebook just ’cause that’s the way that the industry kind of evolved.
So definitely even if you don’t want to be a blogger, set up a website. Just set up a website to have your clippings or your portfolio to show people what you can do. If you’re sending in a resume, then you can just send in a link. The majority of employers now stalk people online anyway, so if they find your really well presented, well put together website that showcases some really impressive work, that’s going to set you above everyone else for that job.
P: Nice, nice. So that’s all very sound advice. And I’m wondering, so in addition to that whole concept of building a presence, building a digital presence, building your website, building your portfolio online, what are some other keys that you find to becoming a successful travel influencer?
MJ: I think for me personally networking’s been really one of the biggest keys to my success. So interacting with people, being really active within the influencer community, taking part in collaborations with other influencers, just talking amongst each other within the various online forums and groups, and really helping people out with advice when you can because building those networks and building your kind of tribe, I guess, is a really, really good way to stay in the loop, stay on top of evolving trends, stay on top of opportunities, people recommend you. All that fun type stuff. Hard work obviously, because you do need to kind of keep an unwavering goal to continue and to stand out and to just continue to maintain your presence.
I would think though, and you wouldn’t think of this is the case – I would think it’s a given but it’s not – being reliable is a really, really big thing. It’s amazing how many influencers just aren’t. Brands talk, so you do get a reputation pretty quickly. I’ve always thought that it was common courtesy to reply to email correspondence within 48 hours or to meet deadlines when you say you’re going to meet them, to do your best work and just to understand that working with a brand is a two-way street, so providing them with extra value when you can.
I think that because, like a traditional job, there’s no kind of set bar to becoming an influencer. Anyone can kind of jump into the field, so I think that it’s really important to have those basic concepts in place, to treat it professionally, and you do need to treat it as a business if you want to make money, and if you want to be treated as a professional.
So if you’re on a press trip, that means showing up on time, behaving in a professional manner, just communicating online with dignity, I think, and tact. I think that it’s very easy when we’re in an online forum and replying to emails that might offend us to kind of let fly just because you’re behind a computer screen. But you do really need to maintain that level of professionalism because if you act like a diva or if you start becoming rude to people that you’re potentially working with, you might get one gig and you might get two, but your reputation for not being easy to work with will start getting around. I think that’s one of the biggest reasons that I kind of see so much continued work.
Obviously […] every industry has good and bad aspects of it, but I think just as some sound advice to anyone coming into the field, you really can set yourself apart if you meet deadlines and if you establish a reputation for being reliable. That is a pretty low bar, but I’m more than happy to step in and take your work.
P: No, that’s an interesting point, because you don’t hear about that side of influencer marketing or that side of the business. So I think you’re raising a very interesting point about the importance of being reliable and how that can spur on further success in your career.
MJ: As I said, it’s definitely not like in every industry you’re going to have it. In law there are going to be some bad lawyers and some great lawyers. Every industry has it, but for this industry specifically the way you can come in without necessarily having gone through study, or you can set up let’s say a website overnight and then start putting up content – I think it’s just even more important and something we need to emphasize even more: if you do want to break that ceiling from just having a website online to becoming a professional who’s taken seriously and offered these opportunities, that is something that you need to change your mindset towards.
P: Yup, absolutely. I wholeheartedly agree with you. Professionalism, reliability, all of that can play a key role in driving success.
So Meg, I wanted to shift gears a little bit. So this is the Perlu Podcast. Perlu being a leading influencer-collaboration platform, I’m curious how you are personally using Perlu. Could you share with us just some of the things that you’re doing on the platform?
MJ: Yeah, for sure. So as I mentioned earlier, networking is one of the biggest things for me. I’ve been utilizing Perlu largely for that, and it’s just been a fabulous way to get people to network with you on specific issues. I’ve been presented with opportunities to collaborate with other influencers. I might have been doing a bit of stalking to see who’s new in the influencer space, trying to see who I might not have heard of before. It’s been really great. No other platform that I’ve used has that niche specific setup to it.
If I go on and I want see who’s new in the male influencer space, who focuses on solo male travel, or who focuses on solo female travel, or I want to connect this week with ecotourism blogs because I’m publishing a new piece on ecotourism – it’s been really great for that. Being able to really clearly define people who is active as well, because I find that you might be able to Google “top ecotourism blogs” and come up with a list that someone’s created, but often they might be old blogs or they might not necessarily be active within the space anymore. It’s a really great way to gauge who’s active, gauge the type of following people have, really quickly get an overview of the type of content that they publish.
In that sense, as an influencer, it’s a really great tool for connecting with and stalking, for lack of a better word, or reviewing … we’ll say reviewing instead of stalking! [It’s good for] reviewing other people within the same space. It’s been really great from that sense.
P: And in terms of collaborating with other influencers, can you just speak to some of the ways that you find are most effective to collaborate with others?
MJ: Yeah, sure. I think that the most obvious things are kind of the link swapping and the guest posting, because obviously they’re really great ways to build links to your site and boost your authority and kind of get your name out there. I think one of the underrated ways of collaborating is just helping each other out. I think that’s probably one of the biggest things to do there.
Whenever you have a question or an issue, whether that’s because something broke on my site and I want to know if someone else out there had the same problem and what did they do, or whether that’s finding recommendations for the best online hosting, ’cause I need to change mine – just those type of recommendations – I think it’s really the behind-the-scenes help that really helps build a community, and it strengthens your relationships, and I think those are the type of collaborations that are really the key to success. I think that many people overlook them a lot, because I think that they view being an influencer as a very solo, individual thing, but there really is a lot of value to building a community and having a really strong set of people around you.
Obviously guest-hosting a link’s swapping, yes – Perlu is fantastic for that, but it’s also really good for networking and connecting with other people which I think is really underrated.
P: Yeah, I would agree. I think it’s wholly underrated, and it’s fantastic to hear of the many different ways that you’re collaborating with other influencers. The more that I personally explore or see the influencer space, it seems like the most successful influencers are the ones who collaborate the most.
MJ: Absolutely. Once again, it all kind of goes hand in hand to form a big picture. Once people know that you’re reliable and once people have a relationship with you, they’ll share opportunities with you. For instance, I might have a client who wants to find five other bloggers to go on a press trip – can I recommend anybody? I’m going to recommend the people that are within my networks that I’ve worked with closely that I know will reflect well on my recommendation.
Or if there’s a paid campaign – brands do often ask for other recommendations or if can I recommend anyone that’s good to reference, so influencers pass on a lot of opportunities within each other’s networks as well. It really is something that’s quite key to being successful is establishing those relationships and maintaining them. And the other thing is that from an emotional support thing you become friends with people quite easily too, just because life as an influencer, can be isolating in the sense that this feels and as a profession is very new, so a lot of people don’t necessarily understand it.
You might find that with your family and friends, you’re not actually able to talk with them in great detail or share your exasperation at the end of the day or that type of thing. They just might not understand. So developing these networks is a really good way, too, to be able to form relationships with people who understand and who you can talk with about your passions and share that type of stuff.
P: Yeah, I think that’s a great point – the whole personal side of things. It isn’t talked about very much, but yeah, I think you’re hitting on a very important point there.
So Meg, looking into the crystal ball, let’s look at the next two to three years: how do you see influencer marketing changing and evolving during that time?
MJ: Good question. It’s definitely going to be an interesting place to watch. I think it’s one of those spaces that’s just changing so rapidly that I don’t know if you could accurately predict it to be honest. In the last two to three years we’ve seen the space evolve so much. Four or five years ago, we might have only had 50 to 100 really sound influencers who are part of a really tight-knit circuit, but now you have hundreds of thousands of people just flooding into the space.
I think brand collaborations have really started becoming legitimized in the last couple years, and probably will continue to [become legitimized] going forward. I think there is a trend at the moment happening towards micro-influences, and I think that that’s probably going to take off more in the next two to three years. That’s like brands preferring to work with a large number of influencers with maybe a smaller individual following, as opposed with one influencer with a large following.
I think video, too, is really going to gain momentum. It already has started getting a lot of – we mentioned this earlier – but I think it’s probably going to start to dominate the content space more than it already is. I think probably the other thing – I kind of touched on that just a moment ago – but there’s probably going to be more of an understanding of the value of working with influencers in the next couple of years because, while the industry is very strong at the moment and people do have a basic understanding of the concept, I think there’s still a lot of confusion about the role and people not really understanding the value that we can bring to the table.
I think the biggest thing is probably going to be a continuation of that heightened awareness of the role that influencers have to play in marketing.
P: Excellent, so lots of changes coming. It’s all very exciting. It’ll be interesting to see the trend towards micro-influencers and video becoming more and more dominant and just the general market understanding the value of influencers. It’s going to be a very exciting time.
MJ: It’s always an exciting space to be in because you constantly have to stay on your toes. The learning curve is always happening around you, technologies are changing always, so it’s definitely not a monotonous job. Always learning something new!
P: Yeah, and it seems like as an influencer, I would think that you would feel a compulsion towards being innovative and bringing new things to the space.
MJ: Yeah, absolutely. And you almost have to be innovative to stand out, ’cause as I mentioned there are literally hundreds and thousands of blogs out there, so it’s like “what can I do to stand out above everyone else?” So you do have to be trendy, innovative, and you do have to try. I firmly believe that there is enough opportunity out there for everyone who wants to work hard, wants to step into the professional space. But you do have to constantly think, “How can I set myself above everyone else?”
P: Yup, I think you’re right on.
Well, Meg, thank you so much for sharing your insights with us. Clearly, you’ve accomplished so much, and you have a really good handle on what’s going on and where things are heading, and I really appreciate everything that you shared.
Is there anything else that you’d like to mention to our community?
MJ: I think just really kind of like pushing home the networking aspect. Don’t think that you have to go it alone even if you might not know anyone personally that is an influencer. I think it’s a lot easier to have the confidence to jump into the space when you know someone who’s doing it or you’ve seen it happen.
I think that’s the push that I got from sitting next to someone who does it – even though it was only kind of a fleeting plane ride – just really visualizing a real person who was really doing this job, kind of helped me put in perspective that it could happen.
If you don’t know anyone, or you don’t think you have the confidence, go to any Insta-meets in your city, if there are any photographers that are meeting up. See if there are any conferences in your area or just jump online and join some groups. Jump on a Perlu, jump on Facebook. Just start interacting with people online who might be within that space, and people on emails, say “Hi, I’m X-Y-Z, can you give me any advice or can you give me some tips?” Or “I would to chat with you sometime,” that kind of thing. Just really try and network as much as you possibly can and I think that with that, the confidence, building your presence in that space kind of comes naturally.
P: All that sounds right on – connecting and networking and collaborating and working as a team, all the relationships that you build. It all spurs more and more success. So Meg, thank you so much again for joining us. Really appreciate it. I’m sure we’ll be talking to you again in the future.
MJ: Thank you so much for having me.
P: Okay, take care, Meg.
MJ: You too!