Not All Who Wander… A World Traveler Shares Her Stories

Home is wherever Gigi Griffis ’05 drops her bags. For most of this past year, it was Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. More recently, she biked across the French countryside. She wanders everywhere—Ghent, Belgium; Sayulita, Mexico; Florence, Italy. But she’s definitely not lost.

Ghent, Belgium, is one of several of Gigi Griffis’ favorite places to travel.

Ghent, Belgium, is one of several of Gigi Griffis’ favorite places to travel.

Griffis has turned her worldwide escapades into a career as an international freelance writer, blogger, and travel guide author. Her work has been featured in Get Lost Magazine, Married with Luggage, and International Living, among other publications. This fall, she published her sixth title in the 100 Locals travel guide series. 

“I’ve wanted to do travel writing since I was a kid,” she said.

Despite the fact that her parents have never crossed a US border, Griffis longed to hop across the globe. By twelve years old, she started planting the seed with her parents. By fourteen, she swayed them to let her travel on church trips. Instead of heading to popular tourist destinations like Paris and Rome, these missions led her to places such as Thailand, Peru, and Costa Rica.   

“My first memories of travel aren’t seeing the Eiffel Tower or going to museums. They’re of hunting for grub worms in the Australian outback,” Griffis said. “I went to most of the continents before I graduated.”

While getting her traveling fix, Griffis also pursued another passion—writing. Originally from Virginia Beach, she anchored herself for three years at Ship, where she majored in English with an emphasis on creative writing. 

Luna (pictured right) has been Griffis’ travel companion in more than a dozen countries.

Luna (pictured right) has been Griffis’ travel companion in more than a dozen countries.

Since I was seven, I’ve been writing. That’s all I wanted to do,” she said. “I like storytelling. ...That’s what took hold of me, this idea that I could tell a story and make it interesting for people.
— Gigi Griffis '05

“Since I was seven, I’ve been writing. That’s all I wanted to do,” she said. “I like storytelling. ...That’s what took hold of me, this idea that I could tell a story and make it interesting for people.”

Shippensburg provided the perfect setting to further her studies. She wanted a school in the mountains with a good journalism program. The moment she stepped on campus, she said, “This is where I’m going.”

Griffis admits that her parents weren’t thrilled with her aspirations. The travel “terrified” her mom, and they worried about her securing a good job. But that didn’t deter Griffis—she refined her writing and learned valuable transferable skills through the English and Communication/Journalism departments. “All of that made me more confident to take on the things I wanted to do,” she said.

The dream job didn’t happen overnight. Griffis waitressed, took a sales job in New York, traveled more, and chanced a probationary position in Denver. She grabbed the writing opportunities that came along, and worked her way up to lead copywriter at an ad agency. After a few years of success, a little planning, and some savings in the bank, she knew it was time for a change of scenery.

Griffis left her full-time position to work as a freelance writer and consultant. “But what use is it having all this freedom if I’m just sitting at home writing?” she said. “I decided to do a trial run and see if I could work from the road.”

She set a timeframe of a year, traveling somewhere new every month or two and writing along the way. If it worked, she’d stick with it. A real conversation about traveling to thirteen countries with her small dog, Luna, inspired her first successfully published story. She submitted the full piece to International Living and still maintains a relationship with the magazine as one of its regular correspondents.

More recently, Griffis shared her personal journey “I Found Home Overseas” for International Living. In the article, she writes, “You can—more easily than ever—travel the planet and find a place you’re always glad to come back to. In short, in an increasingly globalized world, home really can be where the heart is—not just where you end up by default.” 

Griffis flips through her first published book in the Swiss Alps.

Griffis flips through her first published book in the Swiss Alps.

Griffis’ travels also paved the way for a new venture—her 100 Locals series of travel guidebooks. Originally started as a blog, Griffis approached a colleague from Verona, Italy, and asked to interview her about some of the area’s best-kept secrets. “Her interview blew me away. I’d been to Verona, and I didn’t know half of the things she said.” 

The blog took off, and Griffis turned the idea into a book. Through years of traveling, she had connected with locals and collected their stories. Now she could weave that information into a helpful travel guide. 

“I interviewed local people because they have the best travel advice,” she said. “You don’t want to read what a person who’s been there for two days has to say. You want to hear what a person who’s lived there for twenty years and owns a vineyard has to say. They know all the local wineries and where to get a good glass of wine.”

Griffis recently published her sixth travel guide about France, joining her previous titles about Switzerland, Italy, Barcelona, Prague, and Paris. 

On this journey, Griffis has discovered there is never one “right” path to a career, to life, or to home. So what’s her next stop?

“It’s an interesting time to ask that ques-tion,” she mused. “I’m due for a vacation. Anytime I go on a vacation, I ask myself, ‘How are things going? Do I want to keep doing this?’”

“People think that life is all or nothing, that I’m going to travel forever, or never travel again. …There are all different ways to get into writing, traveling, or having a different lifestyle.”