When I think of travel, two perfect words come to mind: rest and relaxation. It’s my time to turn off the technology, open my favorite book and put my tired feet up (preferably on the beach). This isn’t the case for Stirling Kelso…traveling is her job, albeit one she loves, so naturally her trips look a little different than mine; they’re full of adventure and excitement, unfamiliar places, followed by stories crafted by Stirling that grace the pages of the likes of Travel + Leisure, Endless Vacation, and Money magazines. Not surprisingly, her ideal holiday is a two-week stint of relaxation at home! Stirling is most definitely an always-on-the-move kind of girl, but she graciously took time out of a rare day at home in Austin to sit down with us for the second installment of our Dream Job series, so we could find out just what it’s like to jet set for a living…
When you moved back to Austin from NYC in 2010 you got married, started full-time freelancing, and moved cross-country all at once! How do you juggle it all?
I moved to Brooklyn right after college and started as an editor for Travel + Leisure Magazine. Me and my now-husband were long-distance for three years before we got married and I moved back to Austin. It was a total culture shock coming from the east coast! I was nervous to commit fully to freelancing because travel writing is such a niche market. But more people have turned to me for travel than anything else. I think because I’m in Austin and not New York, there’s this mentality that I can bring something different to the table. I’m really proud of the work I’ve done so far, especially when I’m researching and exploring new places and get to embrace a first-person narrative.
You truly have a dream job. What’s the best part?
I feel really fortunate to be exposed to all the different cultures. It makes me really grateful and reinforces what I believe about the world. It’s always really challenging and rewarding and makes me appreciate where I’m coming from and my own perspective. It’s a privilege to be able to live in someone else’s shoes for a short while. On a lighter note, my husband gets to travel with me a lot since he can work from anywhere with his job in finance. He gets to relax all day while I’m working…I like to call it his mooch-cation!
How do you make the most of every trip?
I would recommend picking a place to stay that has a sense of place; stay central, and choose something like a boutique hotel that really represents where you are, especially if you are new to the place. Give yourself time to explore. One or two activities a day is fine, but give yourself downtime to see what happens. That’s what’s missing in vacations now — that sense of discovery.
It seems like you’re always prepared no matter where you’re headed. What’s your secret?
I always try to pack just a carry-on! Have your go-to clothes with easy, functionable fabrics, like linens or stretchy cottons. Stick to neutral tones with accent pieces. I encourage buying local on the road, so leave room! I like to bring three pairs of shoes- flats, heels, and walking shoes. And for the airport, I always travel with a great scarf to keep warm on the plane. I never leave home without the essentials (pictured above): my ultra light down Uniqlo jacket, Sunroom shades that my husband recently bought me, iPhone, Celestron binoculars, green wallet, Olympus recorder for on-the-go interviews, local jewelry, Moleskin notebook, good luck necklace, and of course my passport.
You’ve been to so many different places — what has been your favorite trip so far? Where’s next on your wish list?
I loved Ethiopia and Tanzania. Ethiopia is so culturally rich, with incredible religious monuments and not a lot of tourism. I remember walking along the road and seeing a woman digging up ancient wine vessels on the side of the road — not something you see every day. In Tanzania, the wildlife was just incredible. I stayed at the Four Seasons Lodge and went on a Serengeti Safari tour and got to experience the local Maasai culture there. Next, I’m hoping to write a book about my mother’s journey from Cuba to the States. There’s so many stories there.
What is the greatest challenge of your job?
Traveling always turns into work. It’s the one negative thing — I can’t walk into an experience and not analyze it. It’s hard not to pack my itinerary with things that might make a good story. But at the end of the day, I can’t complain!