Sophy Roberts

Back to Global Conversations 1.12: Sophy Roberts, Travel Writer

Travel writer Sophy Roberts talks with Melissa Biggs Bradley about what she looks for in a destination (“I want meaning, memory, texture—I want real,”); why protecting fragile environments post-COVID matters even more; and why her “anti-bucket list” (and her latest book) have led her to some of the remotest—and most incredible—places on earth.

Episode Guide

Joining Melissa for this episode is travel journalist and author Sophy Roberts, who might be best described as a global nomad or adventurer, or an off-the-beaten-path seeker. Melissa speaks to her from her home in Dorset, England, where she admits that before our world went on pause during COVID 19, she’s never spent as much time. Sophy is an old school journalist with an impressive lineup of schools under her belt. Her B.A. in English comes from Oxford University. Her Masters from the Columbia School of Journalism. And she also holds a postgraduate diploma in photojournalism from the London School of Printing. On paper, she’s traveled the high-end road. She’s been a longtime correspondent for such glossy publications as Conde Taste Traveler and Departures, and she launched the Financial Times “How to Spend It” travel column as the travelista.

But with her refreshing frankness and a lot of humor, she’ll tell you that none of the glitz and glamor of travel that she’s experienced has ever really mattered that much to her; that what has always fueled and inspired her was to get out there to the far corners. Like so many of the world’s best travel writers, she’s really an explorer at heart. Someone who is compelled to get away from the flow and into new territory, very often outside of her own comfort zone. On her many journeys, she’s ventured to some of the world’s most remote and really wild destinations, from Uzbekistan and Senegal and Chad to Mongolia and Siberia. The latter two, in particular, are places, as you will hear, that immediately resonated with her for many reasons, but most of all, because they are both so decidedly off the tourist grid, off any kind of grid in fact.

Suffice it to say that she has drunk vodka out of a carved cup made of the ice covering Lake Bailkal, successfully tracked the wild Siberian tiger, of which there are only some 500 left in the wild, and crisscrossed Siberia, a territory that covers an 11th of the world’s land surface to research her marvelous new book, The Lost Pianos of Siberia, in which she chronicles her three-year search for antique pianos. While huge swaths of Sophy’s story of self-discovery and exploration play in Central Asia, there’s also a special place in her heart that you can imagine is shaped like Africa, for she has journeyed far and wide into the African continent and cannot get enough of it. You will hear her speak with passion and knowledge about conservation and the critical part that tourism plays in eastern and southern Africa, as well as about her exploration of lesser-visited countries in West Africa, including West Ghana, Senegal and Congo.

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