(#36) GALE STRAUB I SHE-EXPLORES
"I’m a big proponent of incremental change. It adds up over time, but it doesn’t add too much mental stress to your life. So I’d say, no matter what your day job is, fuel your creativity by doing what you love in your spare time - whether it’s baking, painting, writing, or climbing. You don’t have to overhaul your life to inject creativity into it. Odds are you’re already doing it, so feel good about it!"
Where did you grow up? Describe that place and its people…
I grew up in Barnstead, New Hampshire. It’s a small town, close to the lakes region, the coast, and the mountains - which basically describes New Hampshire as a state but it’s true of Barnstead as well. There were no stop lights when I was a kid - now there might be one.
My dad was an amateur farmer in his spare time, so he had a large vegetable garden, sheep, chickens, and pigs. My mom is an artist and used the wool from the sheep to knit us sweaters. It’s funny - sustainability (and living on nothing) was a thing in the late 70’s/80’s when my parents were young. We’ve come full circle.
What were you like as a child? What did you want to do when you grew up?
I haven’t changed that much since I was a kid. I used to play in the barn with my twin sister and brother, creating worlds outside New Hampshire. I was shy and pensive - my interior self sometimes overshadowed my exterior self.
I never knew what I wanted to be. I would make things up to tell other people, though - teacher when I was young because I liked my teachers. My sister always knew she wanted to be a writer, so I thought I needed something, too.
What were you doing before you started She-Explores?
I worked as a financial accountant for a venture capital firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Have I lost you yet?) I learned about how to grow a business and how easy it is to fail. I lived in Somerville (a suburb on the red line of the MBTA) and I took photographs for fun in my spare time, including a pretty compulsive night project. I was (mostly) afraid to show them to anyone.
What inspired She-Explores?
She-Explores’ inspiration is multifold:
1 - I was dissatisfied with ways to share your photography/art on the internet. I wanted to give other women a chance to share their work with other women. I didn’t know if it was possible, but I hoped to grow an audience of like-minded women who care and want to see other women succeed. It’s still a work in process, but I feel like we’re headed in the right direction!
2 - I was really nervous about living in a van with my boyfriend, whom I had never lived with before. I decided that part of She-Explores should be interviews with other women living on the road (with significant other’s or otherwise) because I struggled to find their voices represented. I also hoped to learn from their experiences!
3 - I searched and searched but couldn’t find many online resources for women like me. I had some creative pent-up energy that I’d been harnessing in photos I shared with no one, but I wanted to find a community of other women who loved the outdoors and its beauty. There’s something to be said about how the outdoors inspires us to express ourselves.
Did She-Explores and your cross-country travels begin at the same time...did one inspire the other?
They did. I hoped to share my travels as well as others’. I was also nervous about quitting my full time job and getting bored for the year. I saw the found time as an opportunity to grow and hopefully include others in that growth as well.
What prompted you taking your life on the road? Was there a particular moment when you knew it was something you wanted to pursue?
I’d lived in the same city for years (through college, graduate school and working) and I was looking for a change when I met my boyfriend. I went to through the final stages of working in London, but I realized I’d be doing the same work (public accounting) in a foreign country. I didn’t want the same patterns to arise. I ended up quitting my job in public accounting and finding a finance job with more reasonable hours. My relationship with my boyfriend grew, and when he suggested a long road trip a year in, I was all for it. I’d taken a month long road trip when I was 16 and had always wanted to do a longer one. We decided to go for it, but with a lot of planning - we saved for about 15 months before quitting our full time jobs.
What did living on the road teach you?
Living on the road taught me that I can live anywhere and be happy or unhappy: it’s really up to me and my outlook. I never thought it would be easy, and it wasn’t. It was a fulfilling and beautiful experience, but it was not without its ups and downs.
It taught me that people are welcoming and the country is big and small at the same time. I learned that you can’t see everything when you travel, but you can make mental notes of where to return.
Now that you are off the road, do you find comfort in living in one place? How do you keep yourself always “exploring”?
I’m still travelling a lot, but it is great to have a home base that is close to family. Since getting “off the road” in September, I’ve been to Montana, California, Colorado, Louisiana, & Utah. I’ve found that a lot of people ask binary questions about travel, as if you have to have an all or nothing mentality about being on or off the road. I actually think travel as a lifestyle is about being open minded and curious - there are a lot of places in the Northeast that I want to (re)discover as well.
What do you love about being back in NH after so long? Do you find that place (NH/New England) to be inspiring?
Growing up, I loved the small beauty of New Hampshire. I loved the potential I saw in the woods, the old houses and farmland. I grew up in a 200 year old Colonial house and was always searching for secrets with my sister. Once we found an old skeleton key and buried it in the backyard for others to find years later. I guess I still see New England the same way - full of history and beauty that creeps up on you.
What would you suggest to someone wanting to hit it road for an extended period? Any advice on what to have in place? how to work on the road? small space living?
I’m emailed this question lot actually. Here is an excerpt from a response I sent a woman who successfully ended up traveling solo!
Before you leave, pay attention to your rituals. What do you do daily that makes you feel great? Maybe it's coffee (find a small french press to bring with you) or yoga (don't forget your mat). These are the things you'll miss on the road.
easy to set up tent
warm sleeping bag
physical atlas - you'd be surprised where you don't get cell service
a way to record your experience (journal, iPhone, camera)
lots of reading material! now you get to catch up on everything you missed while working at a finance office
day hike backpack
I could go on and on here. The good thing? You'll never be too far from civilization to make quick purchases.
Try not to travel too fast. It's easy to get excited and fly through places
It'll take you a few weeks to get used to traveling and find a rhythm. That's OK!
You can camp on BLM and National Forest land for free for up to 14 days (more common in the West than the East). There is often National Forest land bordering National Parks.
Download AllStays for your iPhone, it's a great app for finding campsites on the fly. It includes BLM and National Forest
www.freecampsites.net is also great for free camping
HotelTonight is an app we just found out about - you can get relatively nice hotels for cheap if you book day of.
Don't feel like you need to have a plan - head over to the Forest Ranger and he/she'll give you advice on day hikes
Make sure you tell someone (forest ranger and family member) before you head off on a long hike or out of cell range.
Most everyone I've talked to says that you don't know what to expect until you do it, and that's how you learn! As for working on the road, a lot of women that I’ve interviewed have done or do it. They do a wide range of work, just like in everyday life. Some are freelance writers and photographers, but that is truly the minority for making a sustainable living on the road. I’ve met computer animators, artists, web designers and developers. Some are campground hosts or seasonal workers.
What are you working on right now? anything that you are excited about?
Right now I’m working on a bunch of projects! I’m continuing to build She Explores and take on new talented writers and photographers. I’m really passionate about the intersection between creating and the outdoors. Going outside has inspired so many people to make such beautiful artwork. It’s at the center of She Explores and I’m excited to see it develop.
I’m also in the ideation stage of a documentary project with Jessie Davis, founder of Siren Vid. We’re aiming to tell the story of female entrepreneurs in the outdoor industry. It’s a small but growing group and it will have a huge impact on the ever-evolving industry.
What is the biggest risk you’ve taken that you feel has paid off?
Quitting my finance job and moving out of the Boston area was the biggest risk I’ve taken in my life and it’s paid off in the sense that I feel much more confident in my abilities than I did before. I hadn’t had a lot of change in my life - I’d (essentially) lived in the same city since undergrad and shaking things up made me braver.
What are your biggest challenges? Do you have an achilles heel?
I have lots of ideas, but I’m not always great with the follow-through. So I’ll take on too much and get overwhelmed and/or discouraged when the execution doesn’t match my vision. That sounds a bit conceited, but I really can’t say whether they’re actually “good” ideas. I’m always looking for ways to streamline and focus, as well as collaborate with others to make better work a reality.
What are the things that you want to fill your days with? What are the things that are most important to you?
Family, relationships, fresh air, movement, and beauty. Those are the things that are most important in my life. When I don’t have them, I’m pretty grumpy!
Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to live a more creative life?
I’m a big proponent of incremental change. It adds up over time, but it doesn’t add too much mental stress to your life. So I’d say, no matter what your day job is, fuel your creativity by doing what you love in your spare time - whether it’s baking, painting, writing, or climbing. You don’t have to overhaul your life to inject creativity into it. Odds are you’re already doing it, so feel good about it!
Also, if you’re a creative person, you’re probably hard on yourself when you’re not feeling productive. Embrace the downtime. Think of it as a recharge because you never know when inspiration will hit.
Do you have a morning ritual to you get you ready for the day?
I wish I did, but I really don’t. Usually it involves coffee and food as quickly as possible!
Any badass women you admire? Is there any woman dead or alive that you would want to have dinner with/make dinner for? Anyone from She-Explores that you feel is embodying an authentically badass approach to life?
I’ve met (virtually and offline) so many wonderful women through She Explores. I sometimes wish we all lived in the same town instead of spread out all over the country. It would take too long to list them all out here, but I can honestly say that I would like to have dinner with each and every one of them!