A courageous story about the power of nature travel to ease the trials of pregnancy won judges’ hearts in Travel Blogger of the Year.
Conservationist and National Geographic Kids contributor Kate Stephenson of Kate On Conservation took a risk when she wrote candidly about her experience of pregnancy while visiting Saint Lucia. But her honesty was rewarded when her story ‘Saint Lucia: the birds and the baby’ was awarded Judges’ Choice First Runner Up.
“This moving piece shows how important it is for our wellbeing to connect with nature. Kate wrote with a clear purpose right from the start and I thought this piece gave us a refreshing and brave angle on the power of travel”, said wildlife and conservation filmmaker and Travel Blogger of the Year judge Eilidh Munro.
“A great blog providing a different perspective and highlighting both the difficulties of being pregnant and the joys of being on travels, having respite and finally seeing the parrot”, said naturalist, author and tour leader Ed Drewitt, another Travel Blogger of the Year judge. It’s hearing from a perspective we may not usually hear from, helping to break down barriers and assumptions”.
We spoke to Kate Stephenson, an avid campaigner for wildlife and the environment who believes passionately educating and empowering future generations to help understand environmental issues and tackle the global climate crisis, about her story and the power of storytelling.
What prompted you to write about the topic of pregnancy? How is this topic normally dealt with and what can/should we do better?
I don’t think I’ve ever really read a travel piece about the challenges and benefits of visiting somewhere new during pregnancy, and that’s why I wanted to incorporate that experience in my tale of visiting the incredible island of Saint Lucia. The reality of living through a tough pregnancy was not something I could disentangle from those memories.
Saint Lucia is a wonderful place to visit, full stop, but having the opportunity to go there six months into my pregnancy meant that preparing for the experience was probably very different from if I had have visited at any other time. Your usual holiday planning of; ‘What shall I take to wear?’; ‘What shall I do first when I get there?’ and ‘Where’s the best place to grab a cocktail in the Sun?’ Is completely turned on its head.
Instead, you find yourself wondering: are there any risks to the baby – such as the threat of Zika virus? Will there be rest stops on the tours? Will the local food make me feel sick? But once you’ve got your head around swapping mojitos for mosquito spray, that’s where focusing on ecotours and engaging with nature really comes into its own.
I was initially apprehensive about travelling at this time in my life – but I had work commitments and realised I could actually get a lot from it. In the end, it was a very healing experience.
I think the idea of a ‘babymoon’ is becoming ever more popular, but this ‘last chance of a getaway before the baby arrives’ doesn’t have to be centred around sleeping by the pool or last minute pram shopping, if you don’t want it be.
Every pregnancy is different, but mine was tough, and I felt like I was losing myself in it all. Stepping outside in a new place, discovering news things for myself again, and remembering to swap anxiety for fresh air, sunshine and exercise gave me a little bit of myself back.
Although it took a few days before my body was ready to catch up with my refreshed state of mind, I’d quickly realised that my son wasn’t going to have these memories; only I was – and maybe it was ok to use it as an opportunity to do some of the things that I’d have wanted to do if I wasn’t pregnant. For me, that meant hiking, snorkeling and birdwatching.
I’ve never been one to sit in a sun lounger all day.
When did you first become interested in travel and travel writing?
I had my first taste of travel at the age of 16, when my brother got married in Montego Bay, Jamaica – I already knew I was going to be a journalist one day and had just started my English, Photojournalism and Media Studies A-Levels (subject-based qualifications in the UK that can lead to university). It was the first and last time I had visited the Caribbean until my trip to Saint Lucia 12 years later, and I caught the travel bug then.
At 18 years old, I spend 3 months of my gap year volunteering at Game Reserve in South Africa; and documented the experience in a series of travel journals; which I’ve recently returned to, revised and published on my blog. By the time I was 21, I took a study abroad year and attended a university in Western Australia on a Journalism scholarship, and a few years after that I landed my dream job at National Geographic Kids. Travel for me has always had to serve two purposes – to tell the stories of the people who live in these places, and to engage with the local wildlife.
What positive role do you think travel writing (and storytelling in general) can play?
I live for storytelling. I spent a lot of time reading Bill Bryson in my late teens and dreamed of going to new places. As I got older, I realised that with good writing, photography or filmmaking, I was already visiting these faraway lands.
You don’t really have to get on a plane and travel to the four corners of the globe to understand what’s out there – I have a house full of books, paintings and artefacts (some purchased, some inherited, some homemade and some acquired from junk shops) that remind me of the bigger world that I’m a part of.
More than ever, we’re understanding the natural world and having it accessible to us in our own homes. I love things like ‘vEcotourism’ VR apps, flicking through travel mags and watching David Attenborough documentaries. I see my role as a writer to ignite other people’s imaginations, in my work with National Geographic Kids, that’s been to inform and to inspire children about the world they’re growing up in.
I have a map of the World hung over my daughter’s bed and every night I trace my finger over it, let her stop me on a country and make up an adventure story about my knowledge of that place. I hope it inspires her to want to protect these places, like I do – and to believe in the power of imagination.
What do you most hope that readers will take away from your story?
That nature and travel are entwined, and that wherever we are in life, there’s much that we can learn by embracing that. And to not be afraid to go and explore.
I hope that my son reads it one day, and knows that that’s where his first travel destination was pinned.
To learn more about Kate Stephenson and find research, discussion and informed opinion on some of the top global issues effecting wildlife and environmental conservation in the world today, visit her blog Kate on Conservation.