Editor’s note: This article was published before the coronavirus pandemic, and may not reflect the current situation on the ground.

When it comes to Instagram, most travelers focus on filling their feed with photos. But National Geographic’s Neil Shea was more interested in filling his with words. Now, thousands of followers flock to his feed for his uniquely poetic brand of bite-sized travel storytelling.

In 2006, Neil Shea took a deep breath and attempted his first elevator pitch. Literally. He was riding an elevator with an editor from National Geographic, and she was looking for a writer to send to Iraq. Neil had never been in an active war zone before. He was a wilderness guide-turned-journalist, a lecturer, and staff scribbler at Nat Geo. What did he know about Baghdad? Before he knew what he was doing, he blurted out: “Send me.”

That adventure led to others, as Neil journeyed the world for National Geographic—Iraq, Afghanistan, East Africa—reporting on conflict and social justice, and the movement and displacement of people. But it wasn’t until 2013, when he and photographer Randy Olson were traveling through Turkana County in Kenya, that an editor said, “Hey, you should check out Instagram.”

It was a suggestion that would come to help define Neil’s career.