Keryn Means is a freelance writer and digital influencer living outside of Washington, DC. Her work has been featured in Travel Age West magazine, Thrillist.com, ParentMap Magazine, Travelocity.com, TravelMindset.com, and many more print and digital publications. Keryn launched Walking On Media, LLC, as the parent company to WalkingOnTravels.com, as well as digital influencer projects where she works with destinations and brands to create an authentic message that resonates with millennial and Gen X travelers, especially moms who don’t want to let go of their travel dreams. Keryn has laughed at the naysayers by bringing her boys to far off lands like China, Hong Kong, Japan, Hawaii, back and forth across the USA, Mexico, Canada and Europe. She loves to encourage families to take that first step out the door, the hardest step of all. She joins us this week to share her story.
Many of us have gone through the transition of having one or more children after traveling quite a bit in our carefree childless days. What were your travels like before motherhood?
My travels before kids don’t seem to follow the typical travel writer or travel blogger flow. I never took a year to wander or “find myself,” bouncing around hostels or backpacking across Southeast Asia. I was raised in a lower-middle class family, where you were expected to work your way through school and get a job right out of college to make sure you could take care of yourself, pay off any debts, and save for retirement. I was on that track and had no plans to deviate from it.
Life has a funny way of derailing your plans though, doesn’t it?
I did travel. I grew up traveling up and down the East Coast, mostly to New England each summer to hang out at my great uncle’s cabin on a lake in New Hampshire. We didn’t have much money, and this got us out of the heat and humidity of Philadelphia for two weeks each summer. At 13 my family took the obligatory trip to Disney World. It was my first time on a plane and I hated it. Getting the flu halfway through a trip and then being forced to fly will do that to a kid. The next time I flew, I was 16 and my aunt was taking me to Mexico to visit missionary friends. That flip switched. I saw a whole new world I had never been exposed to. I didn’t see a poor community. I saw vibrant colors, loving people, decadent spices and flavors in the food, and a language I was desperate to master. After that trip, I looked for any opportunity to travel. I would go to the Dominican Republic, Poland and Moldova before graduating high school. In college, I would go on a three-week art program run through my school.
As my career plans set in, I’d take a trip here and there, but corporate life took over. I was limited to two weeks of vacation if that. My husband had a demanding career with long hours. Sometimes he couldn’t take time off at all for at least a year. We might slip off to Hawaii for a friend’s wedding, but that was it. No prolonged holidays, except for our honeymoon to Italy.
I finally found a job that sent me to Asia once or twice a year. I wanted more. I needed more. Those two weeks of vacation time weren’t enough. And I was having kids at about this time. I wanted to be with them and travel with them. Why did I have to work this job if it wasn’t making me happy? Why did I have these kids if I wasn’t seeing them or showing them the things that I loved?
Motherhood changed my travels because it actually made me travel more. Happenstance? Perhaps. But I like to think that it gave me the freedom to shake off my bonds to corporate life, ones I would still be shackled to if not for them, so I could go out and finally explore the world with a freedom I would never allow myself.
You say the hard part about traveling with kids is not really the kids, but rather the challenge of having a regular job that sucks up all your time. Can you think of a specific breaking point that made you realize the job had to go?
I remember sitting at my house with a one year old screaming for my attention while I was staring at a spreadsheet. Back then I was working three days at home and two days in my office. I was still full time and working at least 50 to 60 hours per week. Neither one of us was happy. I wanted to be home with my baby. My husband and I knew we wanted to have another child, but how could we do that if I couldn’t even figure out this first kid?
I wanted to be home more, my boss wanted me in the office fulltime. Daycare was expensive for one child, much less two. I’d hit the ceiling on where I could go in my career at my current company. All of the factors were starting to add up that something had to change. I was terrified to leave the world that I knew and had been raised to be a part of for so long. Who was I going to be if I left my job?
I presented a few different work scenarios to my boss, all of which he shot down, which meant I had to make the hard decision to choose my family over my job. As much as that hurt, I still remember a co-worker telling me on my last day that she predicted I would be busier within a year than I had ever been before. Boy was she right and then some.
You launched Walking on Travels in 2011 before your first son was two. With a second on the way soon after, how long did it take before you started making what you would consider “real money” from your writing?
I was very lucky that I had already started Walking On Travels before I left my job, so I could hit the ground running when I left my full-time office gig. I also had a master’s in journalism and undergrad in photography, with experience shooting weddings in the Hamptons for a few years after graduating. These were all skills that I could lean back on as I transitioned into my new life.
I started picking up a few freelance gigs within the first year. Freelance writing can make all the difference those first few years of blogging. As you build up your numbers, that income can help sustain you when the ad dollars and affiliate money isn’t coming in. I shot a few weddings, which only reminded me just how much I hated photographing weddings, so that didn’t last very long.
By year three I was starting to get more freelance work, brand ambassadorships and ad sales were beginning to roll in. That’s when I’d say I was starting to make some real money, but it still wasn’t quite to my full-time salaried income, yet. Remember, this was still in the earlier days of blogging. Massive ad networks, paid destination marketing campaigns, and other opportunities just weren’t as prevalent as they are now. I also had two babies at home, which limited my time to work and travel without them.
What other projects have you launched since then?
Walking On Travels was a late night passion project that came about almost by accident. Since then, I’ve been much more deliberate about what I launch. Back in 2011, no one knew what blogging would become, or that social media would be its own media empire. We’ve had a few minor launches since 2011, including Walking On Mom, which was a spin-off a friend ran for me, but we haven’t done much since she had to step away.
Walking On Media, LLC was set up to house all of the sites I now own, as well as be the home of all the freelance work, custom content and destination marketing work I’ve been doing for clients over the past few years. It’s a really exciting time to work in tourism and marketing. Blogging is just a small piece of the puzzle right now. Helping others develop their content strategy and put it into play, connecting creators and destinations together, and producing content that resonates with an audience in the long term, not just in a 30-second blip, is what it’s all about as we move into the next decade of this industry.
In 2017, I launched Twist Travel Magazine, a print and digital magazine targeted at millennial and Gen X women and mothers who value travel, style and design. These women want to bring travel back into their home through food, style, home décor and their everyday lifestyle, as well as go out and see the world. This is another passion project, but one that I went into with a team of experts in a much more strategic way than when I launched Walking On Travels. I was able to take all the lessons I learned, avoid (most of) the mistakes, and launch into a saturated market, while still being heard.
You’ve got a good mix of solid traffic with your strong social media numbers. What elements have impacted your earnings the most over the past year or two?
I’ve seen too many influencers concentrate on one particular platform, putting all their eggs in one basket. If they are in digital media for the long haul, this is a mistake that those of us who have been doing this for a while have always recognized. We have seen the plateaus with one social media, and the fall off of another. My sites are still my biggest earners. Because I control access to my own audience, I can control how, where and when a brand will access them. Social media is owned by a third party. That party controls when my readers see my message. I use social media to amplify my message, but it isn’t the only platform I’m sharing that message on. For years to come, readers will continue to hear that same message on my site, in my emails, and again and again across my social platforms. The biggest impact on my earnings? Not being a one and done type of influencer for my clients. This is why they keep coming back to me again and again.
Family travel has obviously become a very crowded and competitive field. How do you stand out from the pack and keep growing your audience? Any advice for those who are just starting out now?
Human interaction isn’t as valued as it should be in a digital work environment. As we push more towards social media interactions, people forget that it is those in-person communications that can make all of the difference. I try to meet as many people in person as possible, so I always know who I’m dealing with on the other end of a Tweet, email or social media comment. From day one, I have shown up to the conferences, scheduled desk-sides with PR and marketing people, gotten on the phone with clients, answered my readers emails, and popped up in videos to chat with my readers so they get to know me and my personality. There is no surprise when it comes to who is writing on my site and who you meet in person. I got my name out there quickly this way, and I didn’t disappear once I did.
This is not to say that everyone knows me, but enough do that can vouch for me now if I ever need a recommendation. There is power in peer vetting. In an age when clients still aren’t sure how to vet influencers and are sometimes just picking names out of thin air and coming up with divas and drama queens that give the rest of us a bad rep, having a personal connection can and will bring you work over and over and over again.
For anyone new trying to get noticed and grow, remember that consistency and not giving up are the two easiest ways to grow an audience if you want to get started in this field. For over a decade more digital influencers have quit after two years than have stuck it out. Google knows this and rewards those who wait.
That career you walked away from was in book publishing. Any plans to write your own book at some point?
There are no plans to write a book at the moment, although I was recently approached by a publisher about writing one. The desire just isn’t there yet. I have had the itch to help others publish their own books though. Walking On Media LLC was set up to do a plethora of things, including book development and publishing. We have consultants on hand to help with projects should the need arise one day. We shall see. For now, I love working with clients to help them create custom content on multiple channels.
If you had asked me in 2010 what I thought I’d be doing right now, it would definitely not be planning a multigenerational trip with my entire family to Italy next summer, packing up to fly out to Banff next week for a ski campaign, or battling with the Brazilian embassy last summer just to get my son his Brazil Visa so he and I could float up the Rio Negro on a river cruise to see the pink dolphins. Life has a funny way of creating twists and turns you never thought possible until you start to dream just a little bit bigger, and plan just a little bit more.
Most days you can find Keryn dragging the three men in her life across the globe or writing on her award-winning travel website Walking On Travels, a site that gives hope to today’s active parent who doesn’t see kids as a roadblock to travel, but an excuse to get out the door and explore. You can connect with Keryn on social media on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.
Interview conducted by Tim Leffel, posted by Terri Marshall.