Carmen Roberts, 45, is a travel writer and TV presenter. As one of the hosts of the BBC’s “The Travel Show,” she has won awards for her work and filmed in more than 70 countries. She currently lives in Tokyo, a base that helps her explore all that Japan has to offer.
1. What is your earliest travel memory? It’s probably traveling on a plane from Singapore to Australia. My Dad was a smoker and they still had smoking on planes, it was horrendous!
2. What led you to become a travel journalist? I’ve always loved traveling, and I took my first flight by myself when I was 9 years old, from Australia to visit my grandmother in New Zealand. I think I was hooked from then on. But to be honest, I got my job by being in the right place at the right time.
3. How do you decide which Japanese locales to cover on BBC’s “The Travel Show”? It’s a combination of my suggestions and editorial decisions made from London.
4. What has been your favorite place in Japan you have filmed in? I really enjoyed visiting Wakayama last year. We filmed ikada-kudari (traditional log rafting) on the Kitayama River. Our ski trip to Alts Bandai in Fukushima Prefecture a few years back was pretty fun, despite me not being able to ski. I crashed into my cameraman, which was captured on film. I also ploughed into a tree, which thankfully wasn’t!
5. What was it like to report on the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami from Phuket, Thailand? I arrived a few days after the tsunami hit, closer to the new year. Phuket was devoid of tourists, which was very eerie, and the smell on the streets was just awful. But what really struck a chord with me was the heartache and devastation felt by the locals who worked in the tourism industry, they were so distraught. I remember a hotel worker crying on my shoulder; I too, may have shed a tear.
6. Can you offer any advice for those who aspire to become a travel journalist? Travel journalism has become a very competitive industry and, if you are freelance, you have to be prepared to multitask. For instance, you have to make the most of one destination by writing for multiple publications and tailoring each article, story or film to suit a different audience. That includes social media.
7. How do you think travel will change after the pandemic? I think people will appreciate travel more. They’ll make better holiday choices that are more considered and possibly more sustainable.
8. Where is your favorite place to hang out in Tokyo? Tokyo has so many beautiful gardens. Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden during cherry-blossom season can’t be beat. My local park, Arisugawa, is stunning in the autumn.
9. What do you like most about living in Japan? I love the accessibility to the mountains, particularly in the wintertime. I’ve become an avid skier since moving to Japan, and for the past four years I’ve skied almost every weekend in the winter season. I also love how safe Japan is. When I lived in London, I had a bike stolen every year. In Japan, I could leave my wallet in the front of my bike basket and it would still be there an hour later.
10. Are you able to have fun when you shoot in different destinations, or do you go into “work mode”? Ha ha, yes, there are fun times to be had. But more often than not, I’m in work mode. I often wish my family or friends could be with me at some of these amazing destinations.
11. What stands out as a career highlight? In 2009, I traveled to Scotland to trace my family tree for a story to coincide with the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns. I was awarded Best Television Travel Story by the British Guild of Travel Writers that year. And, as an added bonus, this story led me to discover my long-lost half sister and brother in New Zealand.
12. Is there a place in Japan you really wanted to visit but couldn’t because of the pandemic? No, fortunately. Travel in Japan has remained fairly open. But coming from Tokyo, I’ve found people in other cities are more wary and we’ve had to take added precautions.
13. Is it tricky to juggle parenthood with a job that requires you to travel? Yes! My mom used to come over from Australia to look after the kids each time I went on an extended work trip. That’s come to an end over the past 18 months. But my kids are getting older now, so it is becoming easier.
14. Having lived around the world, in Singapore, London and Australia’s Gold Coast, where would you say is home? I hate this question. Because I don’t honestly know! There are so many facets of life and, of course, friends and family in each country — I get an overwhelming sense of “being home” in all three.
15. What is your go-to comfort food in Japan? I love a good gyōza dumpling and I’ve been known to put wasabi on just about anything.
16. When you’re on a trip, do you load up on music or books? I don’t have a travel playlist, but I never leave home without my Kindle. There’s always a good crime novel loaded on there, I love a good serial killer thriller.
17. What’s trending in terms of travel in Japan? “Glamping” is definitely on the rise in Japan at the moment. I’m not so much of a rustic camper myself, so a good air-conditioned tent with electricity to charge my phone while being “at one with nature” at the same time is a real bonus.
18. What is the most novel segment you’ve ever done for the BBC Travel Show? The “haunted drive-in” we filmed last summer would definitely be the most crazy thing I’ve ever filmed for “The Travel Show”: I was absolutely terrified. I was laughing about it with my editor a few weeks after the program went on air and he was telling me they had to edit a lot of the graphic scenes out of the show. I had no idea what he was talking about because I had my eyes closed!
19. You’ve traveled to many countries, what locations hold a special place in your heart? Thailand definitely will always have a special place in my heart. It’s one of the first places I filmed in when I started out on “The Travel Show” (back then, it was called “Gate 24”). And of course, I traveled there after the tsunami in 2004 and I also got married in Phuket many years later.
20. What is at the top of your travel bucket list? Ah, there are so many destinations on my travel bucket list. I’ve only been to around 80 countries, and there are so many more to see! I’ve been dying to go to Chile, I’ve had a work trip there canceled three times now.
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