Chatting with Meena Thiruvengadam several years ago, I learned that we share the travel bug. I went on a few cruises, while she turned her passion into a business.
At the time Meena was, like me, a traditional journalist. She went on to work as Insider’s head of audience development and Bloomberg’s global head of audience engagement. Both were impressive roles but didn’t rack up the airline points — that is, until she founded Travel with Meena, where she’s worked for publications ranging from Travel+Leisure to USA Today. She’s guest lectured at Harvard, Northwestern and Columbia and her consulting experience includes the MIT Tech Review, Experian and the Economic Club of New York.
I caught up with Meena, who is active with the Online News Association, between flights. As this is Thanksgiving week, I asked her to offer readers some well-needed packing advice. (Her response tells me that needing two bags for my various lotions and black leggings may be overkill.)
Dawn Wotapka: Travel with Meena seems like such a fun job. How did your business journalism background prep you to do your own thing?
Meena Thiruvengadam: As an independent, I run my own business and there may be no better training ground for that than business journalism. I’ve spent years interviewing founders and studying a variety of businesses, and it provided a valuable perspective I couldn’t have gained anywhere else as broadly and efficiently.
Dawn: What would you tell a journalist who wants to follow their passion?
Meena: Life is short, and career pivots are always possible. We spend so much time working that it only makes sense to do things we’re passionate about. For me, each of my journalism jobs before this were jobs. They were jobs I loved, but they were still jobs. Now as a travel journalist and entrepreneur, I have this work-life chemistry that’s hard to explain. The lines between work and play blur in a way that gives me so much more joy each day.
Don’t get me wrong. There are tough days, and entrepreneurship brings its own set of challenges. But most days, I can definitely say I love what I do—and how I do it.
Dawn: Do you miss the traditional newsroom? Why or why not?
Meena: I miss my colleagues. Journalists are some of the most interesting and fun people to spend workdays with, and I’ve had many good laughs and made beautiful memories in newsrooms.
Dawn: You pivoted after the WSJ and earned some serious digital credentials. What was the difference between the outlets that survived and didn’t?
Meena: The savviest outlets diversified their audience and revenue strategies, putting their eggs in multiple baskets instead of just one. They stay true to their expertise and audiences and don’t pivot for a pivot’s sake. In other words, don’t pivot to video if you’re an SEO-driven site without a video production team.
Dawn: I had no idea that you were in television back in the day. What did you do and what did that teach you?
Meena: It began to teach me how to become more comfortable in my own skin and showed me just how important representation is to communities. So many Indian Americans would come up to me in grocery stores and other places around town to thank me for representing us and showing that doctor, engineer and business person aren’t the only career paths for us.
Dawn: What advice would you give a younger Meena?
Meena: That there is more than one path toward any goal, that u-turns, pivots and going back are always options.
Dawn: Would you recommend traveling on Thanksgiving?
Meena: It depends. Traveling domestically in the days before and after the holiday is too much of a headache and usually not worth the stress. But if it is special to you to be in a specific place for the holiday, go. Just book your travel for Thanksgiving morning to save yourself some stress.
Dawn: What have you learned about packing as a travel reporter?
Meena: Make a list, check it three times and remember you can buy just about everything you might need wherever you land. I opt for light and flexible, going carry-on only whenever possible and tossing a fold-up duffel in my suitcase should I decide to shop.
Dawn: What do you bring that would surprise the rest of us?
Meena: AirTags. I put AirTags on checked bags, carry-ons, my purse and my wallet. I love knowing where my stuff is and the idea of being able to track it down if something goes sideways.
Dawn: Finally: What are a few things we think we need on a trip that are not needed?
Meena: More shoes, more outfits. Shoes and outfits can go further than most of us realize. [Editor’s note: Dawn silently cringed at this point but still made deadline.]
Dawn Wotapka is a former Wall Street Journal reporter who loves to read and write. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children. She is a slow runner and an avid Peloton user. To submit tips for her Media Movers column, you can contact her at [email protected]. Be sure to connect with Dawn on LinkedIn.