Media Minds: Stirling Kelso

Red Fan has tapped into the minds of the reporters, editors, bloggers, freelancer writers and producers we interact with everyday to find out—when it comes to media—what makes them tick? Follow Red Fan’s Media Minds series over the next few months for a perspective from the other side of the pitch.


Travel Writer | Editor

Stirling Kelso is a seasoned travel writer and freelancer whose words grace the pages of publications like Travel + Leisure, Southern Living, Texas Monthly and Fast Company. In addition, Stirling regularly contributes to The New York Times, Money Magazine, Food & Wine and Endless Vacation. She is a Brooklyn transplant, who now calls Austin, Texas, home. When she isn’t writing about travel, you can find her taking in the best local cuisine wherever she is or planning her next adventure with her little red suitcase in tow. Her most recent stay at the 21c Museum Hotel in downtown Bentonville, Arkansas, proves that Stirling’s expertise lies in finding the most intriguing travel destinations in the least obvious of places. She is a true advocate of carry-on luggage because there are far too many cities and experiences to enjoy to bother waiting in line at the baggage claim. Want to learn what makes Stirling tick? Keep reading.

What makes a good story?

Great reporting, a solid news hook, and voice.

What story, in your career, are you most proud of?

I wrote a story about the evolution of Dallas restaurants for FoodArts magazine (“Thinking Small in the Big D”) that I really enjoyed reporting. While it focused on food, the article also spoke to the city’s growth and development as a whole. I was also very proud of my first Texas Tribune/New York Times story, “A Small Town Is Transformed, Led by Chocolate,” about Calvert, Texas, northeast of Austin. Finally, I reported a story on the smaller, lesser-known towns in Portugal’s interior Algarve region (“Destination: The Algarve’s Secret Villages”) for Endless Vacation. This beautiful part of the world is really struggling economically, so I hope I influenced responsible travelers to visit.

How did you get your start?

I interned at Texas Monthly when I was a senior at the University of Texas. I moved to New York in 2005 to pursue an editorial magazine job, and after a series of internships—at New York magazine and Fast Company—I landed a position at Travel + Leisure. When I moved back to Austin in 2010, I became a full-time freelance travel writer.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

Smelly sponges. Poorly constructed coffee cup lids. The air quality on most planes (the Dreamliner is one exception).

What story do you wish you could have covered?

Oh, there are so many! I admire writers who are able to take difficult and complicated subjects and deconstruct them through interesting and entertaining anecdotes. To that end, I’m loving Nina Bernstein’s series in The New York Times about healthcare in the U.S.

Why is journalism rewarding to you?

I’d like to think that journalism encourages you to stay open minded. You talk less and ask more questions. You’re forced to listen and learn to guide conversations artfully. It also encourages me to navigate potentially difficult or trying situations with humor. Like the time my mother insisted on joining my husband and me on a two-week trip through Spain (not to mention sharing hotel rooms because she couldn’t stand the idea of spending extra euros). In times like that I think to myself, “well, at least this is going to be a good story.”

When did you know you wanted to be a journalist?

For me, that question is very much linked with travel in particular. I’m the last of three daughters, and I’m 11 years younger than my middle sister. In other words, I was an unexpected surprise, and by that time my parents were done with the whole “kid thing.” We skipped trips to Disney, and they dragged me along to Mexico, Guatemala, Scotland and Spain—and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Coincidentally, my first day at Travel + Leisure was timed with my five-year high school reunion (yes, we had a five-year reunion). We opened up letters we’d written ourselves as high school seniors and mine said, “I hope to be living in New York and working at a travel magazine.”

What famous historical figure do you wish you could have interviewed and why?

Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh or Jane Austen. I love their books and sense of humor.

If you’d like to learn more about Stirling, visit her website at www.StirlingKelso.com or follow her on Twitter at @StirlingKelso.

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