ale Straub, BC ’08, was working as a financial accountant at a biotechnology company in Cambridge when her partner suggested they quit their jobs and go on a road trip. After saving for 15 months, putting in their notices, and renovating a van, they did—and in 2014, they spent the year living out of the van and exploring the United States.
Today, Straub is the founder, editor-in-chief, podcast host, and producer of She Explores, a media platform that includes written features, podcasts, and artistry centered around women in nature. Straub grew up in New Hampshire surrounded by nature, but not in the most conventional way.
Instead of camping and hiking, she helped with the sheep and pigs her family owned and tended to the vegetable garden her father looked after. Straub said that she spent most of her childhood outdoors with her two siblings.
“The three of us spent a lot of time playing outside in a way that seemingly kids don’t always have the ability to do, as it’s a lot more structured today,” she said.
When Straub was 16, she and a family member embarked on a road trip traveling from New Orleans all the way up to Idaho. She pinpointed that event as being one of the most important in cultivating the unique relationship she has with nature today.
“That was a big life changing [experience] for me as a 16-year-old to get to see a lot of the expansiveness of the West,” Straub said.
Straub came to Boston College in the fall of 2004. As a freshman, she took great advantage of the variety of course offerings in the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences, experimenting across disciplines, she said.
“I was one of those freshmen that didn’t really know what I wanted to major in,” Straub said. “The beauty of a liberal arts college is that you get to try different things.”
After pondering many different majors—possibly too many, Straub said—she landed on psychology.
hen asked to pinpoint the class with the largest influence on her work today, however, Straub said it was an experimental photography class she took as a sophomore. Specifically, she said, the class shifted her perspective about what it means to photograph nature.
“We learned different methods and just different ways of thinking about how we can use film and photography as an art form versus just getting good at doing techniques in an dark room,” she said. “That class taught me I could think out of the box a bit.”
Straub graduated from BC in 2008 with a psychology degree, the same year as the stock market crash. She then went on to get a master’s in accounting at Northeastern University and took a job at the accounting firm Ernst & Young. The state of the economy, Straub said, had a considerable influence on the career path she chose to take.
“It was something that I did because I felt like it was the right thing to do, but it wasn’t the right thing for me in the long run,” she said.
Straub quickly realized that her job neither was fulfilling her, nor was what she was looking for, and took a different job at a venture capital firm in Cambridge as an accountant and finance analyst.
“I actually had an all-female team and an awesome female CFO that I reported to,” Straub said. “That was really a great learning experience as well, but I was also spending a lot of time inside, so I was kind of dreaming about those times I had getting to go for hikes more often, getting to experience places.”
It was during this time that her partner suggested the two quit their jobs and take a year long road trip around America.
“He suggested that, and I still very much had my accountant finance hat on and I was like, ‘Well, if we do that we can’t be stupid about it,’” she said.
The two planned for over a year before Straub gave her job a notice. Straub also said that, after quitting her job, she knew she wanted to focus her energy into something meaningful to her, and she decided to start She Explores.
Straub started interviewing people before the road trip and launched She Explores the day she and her partner started on the road. Before they set out, Straub interviewed multiple women for a section of her blog called “Women on the Road,” where she wrote about women who were currently traveling and exploring.
“I was interviewing people who were [already] traveling like that, partially because I hadn’t hit the road yet, and I was nervous and wanted to hear from people and also because it’s such a fascinating dynamic,” she said.
hroughout the yearlong road trip, Straub continued interviewing the people she came across on the road, and she wrote blog posts throughout. As she and her partner returned home, they faced the challenge of having to transition from living in a van and traveling the United States to returning to their home back in New Hampshire.
“It was challenging, but at the same time it was really nice,” Straub said. “I was ready to have an oven again, ready to have a couch, ready to have some of the luxuries.”
In the end, she found a unique balance between living at home and still embracing her curiosity to travel and explore, she said.
“People like easy narratives,” Straub said. “They like the idea that you’re on the road or you’re off the road. I was still traveling and getting opportunities to work on different projects, and it wasn’t like I was stuck in New Hampshire or something.”
As She Explores grew in popularity, Straub looked to expand the platform to produce more than blog posts.
“I was feeling a little burnt about what I was doing and feeling like that wasn’t much room for growth with [the current blog],” she said.
That gave Straub the idea to produce podcasts to post on her website. Straub said that as a beginner, she worked a lot with figuring out the small details about podcasts, such as how to create clear audio, but ultimately, she found success and fulfillment.
“I found that it was a great way to deepen the connections I was making with people and also the stories we were able to tell,” she said. “There’s a real connection that can be paid through an audio story.”
Straub partnered with the car company Subaru in 2018 to help create and organize a retreat and invite different women to get together and create a podcast episode.
“It ended up being one of my favorite podcasts we’ve gotten to work on,” she said. “It’s about sometimes feeling like you’re on a path and you have to stick with it to have determination but [there] are those pivot points in your life—when it is right to change the path you’re on and to push for something different.”
The particular podcast episode, called “Are You Allowed to Change your Dream?,” embodies a lot about what She Explores stands for, Straub said.
“It’s something that definitely resonates with the target of She Explores,” she said. “There’s so many different pivot points, whether you’re in your 30s and kind of grappling with whether or not you want to start a family or … if you’re someone who’s a little younger and wants to do a yearlong road trip.”
fter experiencing success with her blog posts and podcasts, Straub was approached by Chronicle Books LLC, who wanted to work with her on creating a book.
Initially, Straub wanted the book to document women in a manner similar to her “Women on the Road” series—throughout the process, though, the book began to take a different direction.
“I felt like that wasn’t what I was doing anymore,” Straub said. “I really honed in on and focused on She Explores in terms of the way women experience and interpret nature.”
A few months from the day the book was due to the publisher, Straub and her team made some major changes to the book and decided to center the book around the stories of 40 women, many of whom Straub had already interviewed for some of her other blog posts and podcasts.
“I made a big spreadsheet and thought about where there [were] gaps in terms of representation and … ‘How can a lot of different people open up this book and either see themselves or feel inspired by what someone’s doing?’” she said.
In addition to having readers be able to relate to women included in the story, Straub also emphasized that she worked to include diverse stories that people could learn from.
“I think it’s important for people to say ‘I want to learn about people who are different from me,’” she said. “If we don’t, we’re closing ourselves off to so many different types of people and also a lot of growth.”
These two values Straub used to write her book, an emphasis on allowing people both to recognize themselves in the included stories and to learn from them, also extend to She Explores today Straub explained.
Today, She Explores has featured more than 500 women’s stories through podcasts, writing, and artwork that embody a sense of curiosity and respect for nature. Straub said the inquisitive nature that drove her to start She Explores and write a book is important to strive toward across all walks of life. When asked what advice she would want to give college students, Straub said that she would urge them to push past their comfort zones academically, as one of her most meaningful college experiences arose from doing just that.
“Take an art class: Push yourself to take something that maybe you thought that you might enjoy doing but you’ve been afraid to,” Straub said. “You’re still in school—take advantage of that.”
Photos Courtesy of Gale Straub