Erin Gifford is a travel writer with an interest in adventure, wellness, luxury, and family travel. Her writing has appeared in USA Today’s GoEscape, CNN.com, TravelAge West, Parents, TravelChannel.com, Budget Travel, Endless Vacation, AFAR.com and Brides.com. Erin is also a family travel expert and founder of Kidventurous.com, an award-winning travel resource. She joins us this week to talk about her career.
Let’s begin with your story. You began in Public Relations before moving into freelance writing. Tell us what the journey has been like for you.
My first job fresh out of college was as a legislative correspondent for a congressman from Southern California. I worked in one of the House office buildings on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC and was in charge of replying by mail to all the constituents who wrote in about all kinds of issues, from illegal immigration to animal welfare. I learned so much about so many issues and met people from all across the country. Plus, summer softball league was so much fun.
From there, I moved on to public relations. I worked for three different PR agencies, then went in-house at AOL before starting a family travel blog and getting into travel writing. Somewhere in the middle, I spent two years doing PR for a handful of travel clients, but it got complicated pitching editors as a PR, then pitching editors as a writer, so I gave up PR to focus on travel writing and my blog.
I’d wanted to be a writer for some time. When I had my first child in 2003, I wrote a few articles for pregnancy and local parenting magazines, though to be honest, I never really knew what I was doing. I’d buy books on how to craft query letters and pitch editors. I’m still kind of figuring things out as I go. I think we all are. But now I’m a dedicated writer, drafting articles for magazines, websites and corporate clients.
I can’t even imagine the balancing act you orchestrate as a mother of four and an avid runner. How do you do it?
My kids range from 4th to 10th grade, so they’re all in school. This gives me a good chunk of time during the day to write and pitch. Some weeks get a little bit crazy when I take on more than I should, but it generally works out. I haven’t missed a deadline yet, though there is more I’d like to do, like photography.
Running definitely keeps me centered. It also makes me a nicer person, so I’m sure my husband and kids appreciate that I get up and get out the door by 5 am to exercise. I’m also working toward running a half marathon in every state. It’s been a great way for me to pair my love of travel and blingy race medals. I’ve run at least 30 half marathons since I started running in 2013. I’ve also done a couple of triathlons, including my first 70.3 Ironman last June.
You have a very successful website with Kidventurous.com. What tips do you have for someone trying to establish a successful site in today’s crowded internet world?
I started Kidventurous.com in 2011 and primarily write about family travel on the blog. There are certainly a lot of blogs out there today, but I guess my best tip would be to write about what truly interests you to avoid burnout and don’t get sucked into devoting your life to your social media presence. It’s exhausting.
I’d also recommend getting to know other writers in your space. For example, I know a lot of family travel bloggers through the Family Travel Association. The group has an annual conference and I’ve found it valuable to attend when I can and swap tips with fellow family travel writers.
Your work has been published in several high-profile magazines. What advice can you offer for other writers trying to break into prominent publications?
First, don’t be afraid of rejection. Or stone silence for that matter. You’ll honestly get more of the latter. I have some good friends who are amazing writers that fear rejection and therefore don’t reach out to any editors. They have some assignments that come to them, but they could have so much more.
Second, study the magazine or website you’re pitching. I know, I know, it can be so tedious. But let me just tell you, I reviewed a couple of recent issues of a major women’s magazine, noticed the magazine had recently undergone a format change, pitched a specific section and got a yes from an EIC I’d never once pitched before within four hours.
I firmly believe that if you can succinctly explain to an editor what your idea is and why it’s a fit for their magazine (and a specific section, if at all possible), you’ll be a lot closer to a yes. Then don’t be afraid to follow up. I’ve definitely gotten work from editors before with a follow-up because they were too busy the first time I wrote them.
There are helpful resources out there, like the “How to Pitch” series on Mediabistro, but nothing beats picking up the magazine for yourself and flipping through it to get a feel for what the editors like to feature (including what they’ve already featured).
Road trips with the family are your specialty! If you could choose 3 road trips anywhere in the world to take along the family, what would you choose and why?
To be honest, I prefer U.S. road trips. There’s so much to see here – big cities, mountains, beaches, national parks. This summer, we’re doing a two-week Lake Michigan circle tour to explore Michigan and Wisconsin. That’s a bucket list for me. I’m eager to see Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Mackinac Island. I love waterfalls, hiking trails, anything in the outdoors.
I’m also eager to do a road trip along the coast of Oregon and all across Alaska. I spent five or six days in Alaska last August. It was beautiful, but I’m so eager to see more. Really I’m up for any kind of road trip that allows us to explore nature and landscapes we don’t see in our home state of Virginia.
When not seeking out new adventures, Erin’s busy crossing off the next state in her quest to run a half-marathon in all 50 states. She completed her first 70.3 Ironman in 2018. You can see her work at www.eringifford.com and connect with her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.