A Conversation With Globe Trekker Presenter Megan McCormick

A Conversation With Globe Trekker Presenter Megan McCormick

Whenever I need a little escape but can’t get out of town, I fire up an episode or two of “Globe Trekker” so I can live vicariously through the adventures of travellers like Megan McCormick. Since she started hosting the show in 1997, she’s taken viewers to the Greek Islands, Ghana and the Ivory Coast, Micronesia, India, the Silk Road and a host of other exotic locales.

“Globe Trekker,” shown in the U.S. on PBS, is my favourite travel show because it focuses on real travellers experiencing slices of local cultures, not sightseeing. McCormick is my kind of traveller. Her enthusiasm for the places she visits is infectious and you can’t help but conclude that she’d be a fun person to travel with. She got the travel bug in college and has found a way to make a living out of her wanderlust.

McCormick has lived in three U.S. states plus Argentina, Japan, Spain and the U.K., but says she’s now settling down in New York. We spoke to her this week about her favourite places, how she balances family life with her nomadic lifestyle and how she landed her dream job.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Ohio but I was mostly raised in Florida. I first came to New York when I was 12 and I remember feeling this tremendous sigh of relief because I didn’t really fit in in Florida. I was this gawky, ballet-dancing geek who never went in the sun.

Megan-McCormick-in-PortugalWere you a traveler growing up?

I grew up with a giant map of the world and a subscription to National Geographic. That was my mom’s influence. She had this wonderful wanderlust but we didn’t have the resources to travel very much. I studied abroad in France and after I graduated (with a degree from Boston University in philosophy and political science), I taught English in Japan through the JET program. And that was my first foray into traveling independently.

That was in the mid-’90s after I graduated from college. Then I stayed in Asia and backpacked around the region for almost a year and then I moved to New York. I saved a lot of money teaching in Japan and my dad said I should save that money and come home, but I didn’t do that dad, I didn’t! It’s been very hard for me to grow up and settle down.

Do you have a family?

I do. I’m married with kids now so that’s changed a lot. I have an 8-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son.
My daughter traveled with me when she was really little and I just kept doing the show. My husband is in television as well, so we would alternate jobs to keep traveling. Then about two years ago, we alighted in Brooklyn and decided to put down roots here for a little while.

What does that mean?

I don’t know. It means we’ve stopped being peripatetic and moving from place to place. When “Globe Trekker” sent me to a location, especially in the early years, I was so excited; I would just stay. The crew would move on after we finished taping but I would stay. I was consistently away. In 2001, I was based in Barcelona and I thought I was missing too many moments in people’s lives, so I moved back to New York. Then I was in Argentina in 2008 for three years.

Megan-enjoying-a-sunset-camel-ride-across-the-Flaming-Moutains-Turpan

Wait a minute. I’m lost. Now you’re in Argentina? Your resume might be even more of a mess than mine.

I more or less backpacked most of the year until 2004 when my daughter was born, but I kept traveling for the first few years. In 2008, we went on vacation to Argentina for six weeks, but decided to stay. We ended up staying (in Mendoza) for three years but that wasn’t really the plan. That’s the beauty of working for yourself.

So how did you transition from backpacker to “Globe Trekker” host?

I had just moved back to New York and I was applying to grad schools for East Asian studies. I was a production assistant for “The News with Brian Williams.” I had some high level duties such as photocopying, ordering supplies and sending faxes. The whole time I was scheming to get out of there. I had a friend who was an actor and he saw this ad in an actor’s magazine announcing an audition for someone who loved to travel.

I’d never been on camera and had never been an actress, so instead of sending a headshot, I sent a collage of photos, kind of like an 8th grade book report. And I wrote a poetic, it’s-the-journey-that-matters kind of thing on the back of it. The director said she had never received a collage before and gave me an audition.

The first audition was great, but on the second one everything went wrong. We were wandering around Chinatown. A cat peed on me. I knocked over a fruit bin. I stumbled across a guy who was painting and he shouted at me like a crazy person and said I was stealing his soul.

It was a disaster but they called and said, “If you can leave in ten days, you’ll have one show and it’s in India.” This was in 1997. I think I’ve done 30-35 shows since then.

Do you know how many countries you’ve been to?

I should know that. My husband and I have a competition to see who’s been to more countries.

Who won?

He’s slightly ahead. He had some hard-to-get-to ones, which was very annoying. He did this great trip from Morocco to Mauritania, down to Nigeria. But I’ve done shows on six continents.

How long do you spend in-country when you’re filming?

We used to shoot for nearly three and a half weeks. But times have changed and budgets have changed. Travel has gotten easier. Now, depending on location, it might be two to three weeks.

And you take your family with you?

My daughter traveled with me until she was older. I’ve only done a few shows since my son was born. My husband would watch the kids while I was working but now he has a grown up job, so the kids stay here. Now that my daughter is in school the nomadic lifestyle is a little more challenging but I still go away every summer. I can’t stay still in the summer.

Megan Diving in MicronesiaOn the show, you stay in a mix of places. Sometimes it’s a $5 per night hostel, other times you’re in a really nice place, right?

It depends on the location. Generally we try to find unique places to stay that are affordable for most people. And those are usually the places that have the most character.

Tell me about one of the dodgier places you’ve stayed in?

A bed is a bed as long as there is nothing crawling in the mattress. I travel with a silk sleeping bag liner, just in case. But I did stay in a very strange, concrete hostel in the middle of nowhere in Inner Mongolia. The bathroom was outside and I went to find it in the middle of the night and I had to dodge two sheep and the bathroom was a hole in the ground over some pigs. There were pigs underneath; there were pigs! That was not a pleasant experience at all.

What are the countries you’re most passionate about?

I love Lebanon so much. And I’m also a big fan of Colombia.

What places do you recommend in Colombia?

I love cities, so I would check out Bogota and Cartagena. And from there, I would go to Santa Marta and then inland up into the mountains. If you like hiking, there is a five- or six-day hike into La Ciudad Perdida, the Lost City. You’re into the jungle and there are indigenous people there who are incredible. And then there’s a beautiful island called Providencia, just off the coast with great beaches.

When you get bad weather do you wait it out or keep shooting?

Sometimes we wait 5-6 days for it to stop raining; other times, we work around it. Ian Wright was in Ireland recently and he said it rained 24 hours a day for days, but they just kept going though. I was in Myanmar for the show about three weeks ago. It’s an amazing country that’s in transition. The people are so lovely. We were there for Burmese New Year. They celebrate by shutting down the country for five days. They have a water festival, where they spray people with water or dump buckets of water on people. You have to have rain gear on because you’re going to get wet.

How many hours a day is the camera trained on you when you’re traveling?

It’s not a reality show so the camera isn’t on me all day long. But we film from sun up to sun down.

Have they ever asked you to wear something or do something that was a little too hokey?

Yes! I would say the entire South-eastern United States program. I think I wore more embarrassing outfits there than everywhere else but it was fun. I was decked out in an antebellum gown walking down some stairs, a Civil War dress, and I was in a cotillion dress dancing with a 16-year-old.

What’s on the horizon for you?

I’m going to Hokkaido in Japan for “Globe Trekker” and I also tried to make my own program, “Sea Nation.” We had a 12-part series where we gave up our normal lives in New York to live on a boat sailing around the Caribbean. It was incredible! We went to 25 different islands and met people from all walks of life. It was 2008, right at the beginning of the economic downturn, and we explored the idea – what can make you happy besides all the things we think will make us happy.

Megan-ChinaYou did this with your kids?

With my daughter, she was 4 at the time. She loved it! My son wasn’t born yet. We were at sea for about four months.

The show was on the Discovery Channel in Asia and a few places in Europe but it never found a home in the U.S. It’s with a sales agent now, so maybe something will happen with it. But there are 11 episodes available online or you can buy the DVD.

Do you consider your job a dream job?

If someone is organizing an opportunity for me to travel and paying me a small amount of money, I will never, ever complain about that. It’s been such a gift. Even the worst days, the day when they made a left instead of a right and we had to stay in the car in a desert for 14 hours, you still get funny stories. I can’t argue with anyone who says it’s a dream job

by Dave Seminara
(Original article appeared in http://www.gadling.com/2013/06/24/travel-dream-jobs-a-conversation-with-globe-trekkers-megan-mcc/)

Easter Island Rocks!

Presenter Zay Harding in RANO RARAKU - Easter Island

Globe Trekker presenter Zay Harding in RANO RARAKU – Easter Island

In Production: Globe Trekker Round The World Series

Filming Starts this Month for our Globe Trekker Round The World Special Edition with all your Favourite Presenters!

20th Poster

The Globe Trekker Round the World Series is an 8-part mini-series dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the ground breaking and award-winning series.

To mark the momentous occasion our popular hosts Ian Wright, Justine Shapiro and Megan McCormack re-join the Globe Trekker team, each taking on a leg of a round the world marathon visiting some of the best sites the world has to offer.

Justine shapiroEpisode 1: Across America: Route 66 and Beyond
Justine Shapiro kicks off the journey with a road trip west across the United States, following in the footsteps of the American Dream. Starting in Washington DC she follows the Blue Ridge Parkway to Nashville and Memphis, birth places of American country and soul. After a brief countryside respite in Arkansas, Justine hits legendary Route 66 from Oklahoma to Arizona, where she visits the world’s best preserved Meteor Crater.

Brianna BarnesEpisode 2: Pan- Americana: Conquistadors, Aztecs and Incas
Brianna Barnes’ adventure takes her south to the lands of ancient empires. In Mexico she explores the myths and treasures that once drew the Conquistadors to a country rich in natural resources.
Following their trail her first stop is colonial Chihuahua, where Pancho Villa started the Mexican Revolution. In Zacatecas she visits one of Mexico’s many Silver Mines and then travels along the colonial Silver Road to Mexico City from where the Aztecs once ruled their bloodthirsty empire.

Brianna BarnesEpisode 3: Pan Americana: Conquistadors, Incas, & Inquisition
Peru, home of the legendary Incas, is the next stop on Brianna’s journey south that begins in Cajamarca, where thousands of Inca soldiers were slaughtered by Pizarro’s conquistadors.
After visiting one of the world’s largest gold mines Brianna makes her way to Lima, the “City of Kings” once home to the Spanish Inquisition in South America. In Cusco she learns about the golden Inca Empire before ending her journey on the volcano El Misti, where incredibly well preserved ice mummies tell the story of the country’s illustrious past.

Brianna BarnesEpisode 4: Pacific Journeys: Tahiti to Pitcairn
Zay Harding begins his Pacific journey in Santiago de Chile, gateway to the culturally unique Easter Island. From here he heads to Tahiti, the Polynesian paradise that enticed Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, Captain Cook and Captain Bligh and his Bounty Mutineers to stay longer than planned.
Zay embarks on an ocean voyage along the waters charted by these famous explorers, including a perilous crossing to Pitcairn Island, which the descendents of the Bounty Mutineers call home today.

Brianna BarnesEpisode 5: Pacific Journeys:Tonga to New Caledonia
Zay’s Island-hopping escapades take him now to the independent Kingdom of Tonga, and then on to multi-cultural Fiji, where cannibals, sugar cane and Indian temples make for an exciting stay. In Norfolk Island we learn about its convict past while the hills of New Caledonia make a perfect setting for an island trek to the country’s native inhabitants.  Zay end his journey in Noumea, where the Kanak’s people’s culture is celebrated at the Tibijao Cultural Centre, an architectural marvel that combines ancient knowledge with modern techniques.

Megan McCormickEpisode 6: Silk Road: Xi’an to Kashgar
In China Megan McCormick follows the legendary trade route along which caravans of treasures once found their way into Europe. Starting at the silk capital of Xi’an she passes Jiayugan and the Jade Gate, once frontier towns on the edge to the uncivilized western world. Passing through the Flaming Mountains she stops to sample the wines and grapes of Turpan, one of the lowest and hottest places on earth. After visiting a 1000 Buddha cave in Kuqa she ends her journey at the famous Kashgar Market where wares from east and west are still traded today.

Holly MorrisEpisode 7: Silk Road: Kashgar to Istanbul
Holly Morris takes over the journey in Central Asia, where silk was traded for “flying horses” from the fertile Ferghana Valley. Crossing the Jiptik Pass to Osh she then explores the ancient Kingdom of Samarkand and Bukhara before crossing the stony desert of Turkmenistan to the lost city of Merv. Then it’s on the modern capital of Baku in oil-rich Azerbaijan, her last stop before reaching the caravanserais of Turkey and finally the rich bazaars of Istanbul.

Ian WrightEpisode 6: East to West: Istanbul to Vienna
Ian Wright takes up the journey in Istanbul from where he follows historic trails through the heart of Europe and the Balkans, where once the Ottomans pushed into Europe. Crossing the Black Sea into Bulgaria he explores vampire myths before continuing to Serbia, where the Nis Skull Tower stands as a reminder of Ottoman raids and rule.   After a ride on the Šargan Eight Narrow Gauge Railway it’s on to the Croatian coast and a road trip to Dubrovnik, Split and Rijeka. After a quick dip in the world’s largest thermal lake in Hungary his journey ends in Vienna, old world capital of wide avenues and wedding cake mansions that withstood Ottoman attack and that stands in full splendor until this day.