Phoebe Smith: three minute interview

Phoebe Smith is a seasoned traveler, author and award-winning writer and editor of Wanderlust travel magazine. Find out why she loves wild sleeping and where she gets the inspiration for her books.

How does it feel to have been chosen as a #GetOutside Champion?

Exhilarating! I’ve been passionate about inspiring others to get #GetOutside for years, so to have the power of Ordnance Survey behind me, and the other inspirational champions around me, means we can reach even more people and show them the joy of having adventures in the UK.

What does being a #GetOutside champion mean to you?

For me it acts as an extra shot of motivation. I always tell people – through my books, talks and on social media – that they should #GetOutside, but sometimes, with a busy full-time job, it can be hard to practice what you preach every day. Being a champion means I have a duty to keep doing this and hopefully inspire a few more people too.

What are the benefits to you of being outside?

There are so many – it can be a place to think, to escape, to reconnect with nature, to get fit, to breathe fresh air – in summary to realise that the most important things in life aren’t things.

What do you most enjoy about being outside?

Freedom - plain and simple.

What’s your favourite terrain to get out in? (Mountain / coast / woodland etc)

I love them all - and it really depends on my mood and where I find myself. But if I had to pick one I’d say mountain. If I start with a problem at the bottom by the time I reach the top it’s shrunk significantly. On the top of a mountain the view’s always clear (even when it isn’t!).

What’s your best memory of being outside?

The first time I wild camped, alone, in Wales. Everything was different. The sunset was more intense, the sound of a rabbit jumping past my tent was louder, my camping meal tasted better. The sense of achievement I felt in the morning, knowing I’d been self-sufficient, navigated my own route, carried everything I’d needed and done it all by myself, was palpable. It changed my life. Since then I’ve written books, got my dream job, pushed myself further, learned new skills, and really boosted my confidence in life in general – I’ve never looked back since, and it’s all thanks to the great outdoors.

What’s your worst?

I genuinely believe that every experience outside is one to be treasured. If something goes wrong you learn more about yourself than if it all goes right; you adapt, you think on your feet, you survive and you come out of it a better, stronger person. Plus no one wants to hear about your adventures if everything goes to plan – the worst experiences make the best stories (something I always tell myself if things don’t work out the way I hope).

What’s the most unusual thing to have happened to you outside?

When I was writing my last book – Book of the Bothy – I was headed in to find one of these remote mountain shelters in the Scottish Highlands. The weather become worse every minute, turning from light drizzle to wind whipped hail, paths became streams and the side of the hill I was on began to crumble. The bridge I needed to cross had been ripped apart by the river but I had to cross the water to get to my bothy. When I finally did (a mini epic in itself) I arrived to crash a stag party in full swing – that was pretty unusual! They were lovely though, making space, offering me food and even giving me a lift out the next day on their fishing boat. Proof that the outdoors brings out the best in everyone…

What do you like about Great Britain?

I love our wild spaces. So many people say that there are none – but there are so many, you just have to know where to look. That’s where OS maps come into their own; they unlock the secrets out there waiting for us. And I love that we are just a small country but we have an ever changing landscape – from a sprawling coast to serrated peaks, rolling hills, limestone pavements, hidden caves, all punctuated by villages, towns and city. We couldn’t have designed a place this beautiful.

Where is your favourite place in Great Britain to be outside?

I genuinely love so much of Britain it would be hard to pick one. But if I must, I’d say the summit of Tryfan in Snowdonia. For me, arriving at the giant stones of Adam and Eve that stand on its top is like coming home.

What are your favourite outdoor pursuits?

Walking and sleeping… it’s what I do. And the best thing? Anyone can do it; you don't need any special skills or superhuman strength.

In one line, how would you describe the feeling being outside gives you?

It’s not about being macho, it’s not about a physical challenge, it’s about allowing myself the freedom to just be me.

When you’re outside – how do you change as a person?

I don’t change, I’m always me, but I’m a happier, more relaxed me.

Why should people #GetOutside more often?

Because even just being outside a little will make you feel better. Whether it’s a 5-minute stroll or you’re climbing a mountain – it doesn’t matter. Next time you’re feeling stressed or worried try it – I promise it will help.

What would you say to someone who never goes outside to get them outside?

Don’t do it because I tell you it's amazing, do it because you want to see for yourself. Don’t #GetOutside so that the world can see you, #GetOutside so that you can see the world.

Why as a nation are we not getting outside as much as we could?

We’re all so busy, with so much responsibilities, with problems that used to wait for us at the office now following us around on our smartphones (in our pockets) that we always have something we NEED to do that stops up getting outside. There is never a good time to escape, which is why we need to stop wasting time saying we don’t have any, stop wasting energy looking at others who do and feeling envious, stop making excuses and #GetOutside now.

What are the most important things a person should do or take when they #GetOutside?

An OS map always helps! But otherwise – don’t worry too much about what you take in, it’s what you’ll get out of the experience that matters.

What tips or pieces of advice would give to someone who wants to get more out of being #Outside?

Do some planning before you go to find new and exciting places. Pick up a map, ask some friends, ask some strangers – start small with a short walk, run or cycle, then increase as you up your fitness and your confidence. And consider taking a navigation course or ask someone who can use a map and compass to teach you – it truly opens up the possibilities.

Before you became a #GetOutside Champion, describe your relationship with Ordnance Survey?

I am a map geek. I love to pick them up wherever I travel and, as a travel editor, all I can say is that we have the best mapping in the entire world. And that mapping is all thanks to OS. I’ve loved them since I have known them, I have old maps in my collection that my dad gave me, and have several copies of the same map when I’ve been out and forgot one and so brought another! They’ve helped me explore parts of the country I’ve never been to before and when I’m back home, if I take them out and look at the contour lines, square kilometres and trig points marked on them, I’m instantly transported back to that mountaintop, waterfall or valley. I couldn’t do what I do without them.

What music do you listen to when you get outside / does music inspire you?

I prefer not to listen to music when I get outside. I go to escape the noise and distraction and reconnect myself with nature rather than stay disconnected – it's the reason I like to sleep wild. Before I go I listen to music of course – Lord Huron currently makes me feel like I’m walking a trail when I’m stuck in the city – but once there the only music I want to hear is the babble of a stream, the swish of grass in the wind or the sound of stones crunching under my boots.

What are your backpack essentials?

As I mainly head out to wild camp, my tent is the obvious one, that and my sleeping mat and bag, an extra warm layer, my camping stove, waterproofs, OS map, compass, a waterbottle and lots of food. I keep a bag packed and ready to go at all times, either in the boot of my car or by my front door so that if I get the time or the chance to escape I have no excuses – I call it my ‘go bag’.

What’s your favourite food when you are outside?

I eat constantly when outside – it’s all guilt free! So chocolate always puts in an appearance in some shape or form as do Marmite cashews (a particular weakness) and I always have a stash of Jelly Babies on hand for when energy is running low.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I’m not superhuman, I’m not an athlete, I have a full-time stressful job and yet I still manage to find time to #GetOutside – and if I can do it, I know that everyone can do it too. Stop making excuses – let the adventure begin…

If you fancy trying wild sleeping, check out Phoebe's books for some tips:

Wild Nights: Camping Britain’s Extremes (Summersdale; 2015)

Wilderness Weekends: Wild Adventures in Britain’s Rugged Corners (Bradt; 2015)

Book of the Bothy (Cicerone; 2015)

Joy of Camping (Summersdale; 2015)

Irresponsible traveller: Tales of Scrapes and Narrow Escapes (Bradt, 2014)

Extreme Sleeps: Adventures of a Wild Camper (Summersdale; 2013)

The Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path (Cicerone, 2013)

The Camper's Friend (Summersdale, 2012)

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