She-Explores with Gale Straub
It took Gale Straub three months to go from Boston accountant to Sprinter Van resident and cross-country traveler. She and her boyfriend Jon spent that time building out their soon-to-be home, and Gale created She-Explores.com to get a taste of what it would be like to live the nomad life.
“I started interviewing other women on the road because, to be quite honest, I was nervous,” she shared. Who wouldn’t be? She was leaving behind a comfortable job and home to follow her love of the visual world on a cross-country trip.
When Gale couldn’t find any websites that shared a women’s perspective on long road trips she decided to start her own. She-Explores.com just had its one-year anniversary and featured its 50th “Women on the Road” story. If you’ve ever contemplated leaving just about everything and hopping in a car, truck or van to explore the country, you should delve into the archives. Gale has interviewed many lady travelers about the trials and tribulations of minimalistic living and working on the go.
Since its start in August, 2014, the site has grown tremendously. Gale writes for She-Explores, featuring other “Women On The Road,” and sharing her beautiful photography. She also goes through the many submissions to see whose work will make it onto the site.
Gale accepts features including photography, essays and more from ladies who understand the aesthetic and spirit of the site. You, too can contribute. She recommends sending along links to writing samples or a portfolio site so she can get a feel for your style and see if your work would be a good match. The stories can be about anything, from your own version of van living to art based in the outdoors or even weekend adventures.
“Every one of them has unique experiences and a point of view,” Gale said of the outdoorsy ladies she interviews for She-Explores. The shy kid she once was is no more – she lives vicariously through her subjects. “They’re often doing amazing things,” she shared. Gale enjoys looking through the women’s portfolios and seeing how they portray the outdoors and capture their excursions – it makes her happy.
Romance and the road
When we asked Gale why people are so interested in the nomadic van lifestyle, she replied, “There is a certain romance to the idea.” The thought of leaving behind a job, people you know and most of your belongings to spend time on the open road is so simple. For some it even seems like running away, which is both appealing and scary. Gale said van life has made her life both more simple and complex.
Now that Gale is embodying the lifestyle herself, she too has become a wealth of knowledge and travel experience. She says the hardest thing about the lifestyle is both living and working in the same space. She told Whoa that finding cell service, doing conference calls and working for 8 hours at a time in coffee shops can be very hard.
Their van is equipped with Goal Zero solar panels which allows them to charge their devices and live basically off-the-grid if they want to. The duo didn’t have their own Internet until halfway through their year of Sprinter travels. They combined their cellphone plans and got a hotspot, which Gale said made working in the van all that much easier. Watch this video by Goal Zero to take a tour of the van and virtually “meet” Gale and Jon.
With the ability to do everything pretty much directly in the van, it’s not easy to find the time or space to have a moment to herself. She said it was difficult to find a separate place for work and non-work time both physically and mentally. That’s when Gale would meditate, go for a walk or spend some solo time in a cafe to recharge. Jon is not just her boyfriend and co-driver, he’s also her business partner. The two started Sap Lines, a small agency that does social media and digital marketing after realizing how much they would love to do these things for some of the companies and people they met while traveling.
In terms of functionality, the Sprinter van is pretty well equipped. Gale uses a two-burner Coleman stove for cooking, and has figured out how to essentially bake items with the use of a cast iron pan. She says their meals are simple and efficient, but they also eat out often as a way to explore the areas and cultures of where they’re passing through. Before they got a truck fridge, it was difficult to keep food fresh and cool so cooking became quite the task. Now they have an energy-efficient fridge that has greatly improved their quality of life and ability to try to eat healthy.
Are you considering trading in a foundation for four wheels? Gale recommends bringing along only what you’ll need. “The solution (to trying to figure out what to bring and how to store it) is to make sure every item has its place, and purge every now and then.” She mentions it’s easy to bring more than you need, even for someone who doesn’t have a huge wardrobe or a lot of possessions in the first place.
We asked Gale what her advice is for ladies looking to get into the van life. “Do research, make a plan, and stick to it,” she said.
When she and Jon left Boston in their van for the beginning of their travels, they didn’t have a source of income. They saved up beforehand and eventually found a way to make money on the road through the creation of their company. Gale recommends saving up beforehand with the help of a budget. She even wrote out an example (complete with spreadsheets) that she shared on She-Explores. It’s a great way to see what it’s like to parse out how much money should go towards savings versus what you need to spend to get by. As for once you get on the road, “Trust your gut and be aware of your surroundings – it’ll keep you safe out there,” Gale said.
In her experience, the best places for camping are National Forest Land areas. Here you can camp for free in remote, beautiful locales where there are often not many people. She does speak highly of the occasional “clandestine parking” on city streets if your van is self-contained. Pop-tops are easily spotted if up on a neighborhood street, but if your vehicle is less-obviously your home it’s a great way to get to know a city.
After only a few film classes in college, Gale fell in love with photography and she clearly has a talent. Her photographs feature many aspects of the wild, from a red canoe on a placid lake with a loon swimming in the background to a mountain range framed by evergreens and clear blue sky. They’re the kind of photographs that make you want to get up and head as far away from civilization as you can, if only to spend one night in a forest under a canopy of stars.
“My favorite part about photography class was when everyone had to show their photographs and talk about why they took each picture,” Gale shared. She enjoys learning what people like and how everyone sees things a little differently. What she notices and captures in her viewfinder while on a hike is likely vastly different from what would catch someone else’s eye and make them want to snap a picture.
“I like when someone can’t tell how many people were around or even where the photo came from,” Gale told Whoa.
She loves playing with texture, repetition and light in her photos. While many people look to capture the entire landscape in front of them, Gale instead often opts to “splice out a section that creates a feeling of remoteness.” She really captures the wildness of the mountains, water and forests through her lens. She uses a Canon 6D DSLR, a Bronica SQ (which shoots photographs in a medium square format) and a couple of 35mm film cameras. She couldn’t live without cameras on the road, as well as a solid backpack, a pair of boots, an iPhone and a camp stove.
Gale and Jon have spent the summer in the East, parking in Maine and New Hampshire to be close to family and places they love the most. They’ve traveled much of the U.S. in their year in the Sprinter Van, and Gale has a few favorite places. She loves Olympic National Park in Washington, Oregon’s Cape Lookout, and the drive along Route 1 in California, just north of San Francisco.
The couple just started renting an apartment in Manchester, New Hampshire, and it’s been quite the change. The space has a lot of character and is near both family and the ocean, two things Jon and Gale insisted on having in order to stay in one place for a while. The van is still very much a part of their lives. Gale and her twin sister hit the road just this week, so you can be sure their home on wheels hasn’t seen the last of its journeys.
“One thing people often don’t mention about road life is how difficult it can be to get to family when you need to,” Gale told us.
Several times over the course of her Sprinter year she had to hop a flight to return home and it was very stressful. Now with their new Eastern location, Gale and Jon are close to family and can still have adventures that are nearer to home. Besides taking photographs, Gale also enjoys hiking, swimming, canoeing and snowshoeing. There are plenty of opportunities for these activities in their new semi-permanent locale.
What’s next for She-Explores? Gale has a lot of big ideas and hopes to see some come to fruition in 2016. The content will continue as Gale meets and interviews more creative, compelling women. She’s interested in art, landscaping and how people see things so it’s a good bet these topics will find their place on She-Explores and in Gale’s photographs.
She doesn’t have a roadmap yet but it’s safe to say you can expect big things.
Feature photo of Gale with the camera courtesy of Jon Gaffney (http://www.instagram.com/thevanman)
You can find Gale on Instagram @she_explores