My name is Gale Straub and I’m 28 years old currently on a long term road trip through North America with my boyfriend Jon. We’re in Portsmouth, NH, but I’m not sure where I’ll be tomorrow – though it will definitely be somewhere in New England. Growing up living in New Hampshire, I didn’t have the luxury to travel far distances. My first plane ride was at age 12 to visit relatives in New Orleans, LA for Mardi Gras, where I brought a little plastic camera and snapped photos of the French inspired architecture. The possibility to feel a world away while still in my own country left a lasting impact, and the experience left me inspired by the potential of travel.
What sparked your interest to go on a long term road trip across North America?
I took a long term road trip across the Western United States when I was 16 with an adult cousin, my twin sister, and my cousin’s young daughter. It lasted just a month but it was life changing to go from the subtle beauty of New England to the in-your-face beauty of the West. After that experience, I always wanted to go on another one. At one point between summers in college, my sister and I talked about doing so but we both ended up wimping out. Fast forward five years after graduating and I was working in the finance department of a venture capital firm in Boston, MA. I’ve always been a visual and a logical person (which at times are conflicting attributes) so I found the work interesting work, especially because I was learning all the time; but I had a roving eye. I found myself daydreaming about the Tetons, a sight that stuck with my 16 year old self. My boyfriend Jon and I talked it over (he actually brought it up first) and decided that we wanted to take a long road trip while we were young. No mortgage, no kids, no true commitments. We saved money for 15 months before we quit our jobs, bought a van, and hit the road.
How did you prepare for your journey?
It took over two months to get “prepared” for our road trip. The majority of that time was spent getting the van in shape. It’s a 2004 Mercedes Sprinter van with a diesel engine and 150,000 miles at the time of purchase. It was used as a construction vehicle so it was a bit beat up, but the mileage was low for a diesel engine. We decided to take the upfront time to get it repaired to minimize the chance of breakdowns on the road. Packing was a little like getting dressed in the dark, and I didn’t have a great idea of what I’d need until a month or two into the trip. While we have a relatively good amount of storage space, it’s nothing compared to a typical apartment. For that reason I packed basics in terms of clothing - jeans, tops, outdoor gear, and a couple of skirts and dresses for date nights.
Do you have a set route?
There is really no set route. A lot of ground was crammed into the first five months of the trip; we’ve already driven across the country and traced the majority of the West coast. The route is a bit like a connect-the-dots that is always changing – where the dots are made up of family we want to visit, work-related commitments, and intriguing places.
How has your current adventure impacted your relationship?
I’ve heard from others that it says a lot about your relationship if you can travel with your significant other, so it’s somehow both a surprise and wholly expected that Jon and I are incredibly closer than we were before we moved into the van. We didn’t live together while in Boston so our first “apartment” is quite small. I was really nervous about this beforehand and it’s why I started reaching out to other women who were traveling full-time. While our life on the road is not technically vacation, we've crammed our lives into a small space and we’re a team now.
What is your favorite memory of the trip thus far?
Driving into a National Forest camp spot bordering Grand Teton National Park in the dead of night. In the morning we woke up to a view of the sun soaked Grand Teton Mountains and there wasn’t a person in sight. It was where all our cubicle dreams came to life.
What are some of the most memorable locations you have visited thus far?
I’m a sucker for aesthetics. That said, the locations that get stuck in my brain are those I find the most beautiful.
- Olympic National Park had an incredibly varied landscape - rainforest, mountains, lakes, ocean views - which put it on our list of places to return because it deserves more than the three days we spent visiting. Our days while there in October were spent jumping out of the van to walk stormy beaches in the rain and hiking through the Hoh Rainforest under prehistoric trees. The campsites looked like they’d been dropped from the 1960’s, save the layers of moss covering picnic tables and rooftops.
- The Oregon Coast has a hold on me. I have a family friend in Neskowin, OR so it was not my first time visiting the area. Cape Lookout just North of Pacific City has some of the most beautiful light I’ve ever seen. This area is always changing, so it’s impossible to get bored.
- Bend, Oregon is going to blow up. It’s a craft beer town with easy access to the mountains, resulting in down-to-earth people with a love for the outdoors. I felt extremely comfortable there.
What has surprised you the most about your experience?
My biggest surprise has been how difficult dishes are! It was not anything I thought about before I left and it adds an extra element to cooking that I haven’t encountered before. I don’t like the idea of using paper plates or plastic forks, so dirty dishes pile up when you stay somewhere with no running water. We often use a pump shower as an alternative but that’s definitely not the same as using hot running water.
Travel has a tendency to look glamorous, but that is not always the case. What would you say have been the most challenging parts about mobile living? How have/did you overcome them?
The most challenging aspects of mobile living are (not unexpectedly) the ones people don’t talk about. Going to the bathroom in the middle of nowhere, showering less, budgeting cash flow, and not knowing where you’re going to sleep each night are the trickiest logistical aspects of living in a van. From a relationship standpoint, navigating a small space and seeing your significant other 24/7 are the most difficult. The flip side of these challenges is that they enrich the overall experience and make the little things all the more sweet. I wouldn’t say these are challenges to overcome so much as they have become a small part of everyday life. All lifestyles come with challenges - I don’t see them as that much different from living in an apartment in Boston and problem solving in my cubicle.
What advice do you have for individuals that travel in a similar way, but don’t know how to start?
I think every lifestyle change starts with a goal. If you’re just looking to change your life, but you don’t set specific, attainable milestones you’ll still be where you started. I’ve had people say, “Aren’t you lucky” and “I wish I could retire at 28.” My lifestyle change was a choice and it has taken (and continues to be) a lot of work. If you want to take a long-term road trip, know that it likely won’t happen overnight. Take your time, do some research, and figure out what you need to do to make it a reality. Also, I firmly believe that if you’re looking to escape yourself, you won’t. A road trip shouldn’t be a distraction, everything you like and do not like about yourself is in for the ride.
What’s next for you? Are there any landmarks or locations you are especially looking forward to seeing?
Jon and I are headed south to Florida because New England is a bit too chilly for the level of insulation in our van! From there we’ll likely head West again. I’m looking forward to a return to New Orleans - perhaps I’ll buy a little disposable camera and try to see the city through my 12 year old eyes.
Images Courtesy of Gale Straub