Phoebe Smith’s Wander Woman: ‘Quirk and Circumstance’ podcast was named Broadcast Programme of the Year at the 2021 Travel Media Awards. We spoke to her about gathering material, travel as a force for good and how to get listeners to perceive a destination differently.
What did it mean to you win a Travel Media Award?
In a word — everything. These last 18 months have been the hardest in my life. From contracting Covid to finding out I was pregnant (when all the doctors thought it was Long Covid!), to juggling motherhood with being self-employed — I’ve worked non-stop to try and keep getting good quality travel content out there, as I really believe in its power. And to have that recognised by my industry peers makes me feel all the blood, sweat and tears was worth it.
What have been your biggest challenges of the past year?
The constant back and forth from the government with travel restrictions, coupled with the massive uncertainty for both the short and long term. As a result, knowing where to cover and what’s even possible has been a complete guessing game. For my written work, I’ve relied on my previous trips, short-haul features and my expertise on British adventures. For my Wander Woman podcast, the challenge has been getting enough material. My listeners have been very understanding and supportive and that’s meant the world in these difficult times.
Why is working in travel media important to you?
I strongly believe travel can be a force for good. In my early career, I worked in news, which had its rewards, but it’s the in-depth features and being able to capture the essence of a place, its people and wildlife that keeps me firmly rooted in travel. There’s innovation here on a scale not seen in other industries, the chance to highlight hidden heroes who are doing remarkable things on the ground that you’d never hear about without travel media; such as the woman who moved a shipping lane to save the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale; the first female diver to inspire other Muslim women to try sport; and the man tirelessly working to perfect coral IVF to save the Great Barrier Reef. I believe that our words have the power to make people care and really make a difference.
What makes a really good travel story?
For me, it’s one that gets people to see a place differently — whether it’s opening their eyes to see a different side to a destination they thought they knew really well or showing them a country they never would have considered visiting. When you hear a good travel story, you just know it — it’s like all my senses get heightened and I can even hear how a podcast episode would sound, how an article would read or a photograph would look like.
Do you think travel reporting will change over the next few years?
I think it already has. Sustainability has truly become key and at the forefront of travel stories, which is brilliant. It’s not saying we shouldn’t travel, but to consider how we can do it better. That’s been the one good thing about the pandemic – it’s forced us all to take stock and look at what we do. From paying for the flight that uses less carbon to taking the train when possible and demanding greener accommodation even if it costs more — all these changes have already happened. Once editors would dismiss stories I pitched because of an environmental angle — now they’re asking for them.
Where’s on your travel list for the next year?
I had a whole six months planned pre-pandemic, including going to Arctic Canada to photograph narwhal at the edge of the ice floe in Nunavut, a couple of months in Australia getting stories from across all the states and leading a trip to Antarctica with my #WeTwo Foundation (we’ll be taking 10 underprivileged young people there and working with them in Britain to give back to their local communities). I’m still hopeful they’ll happen, but I’m also focusing on UK stories, sustainable and wildlife conservation initiatives from across Europe and, where possible, visiting countries accessible by boat or train from Britain.