With no passport required, a new bi-weekly podcast series called Women On The Road (an extension of the She Explores interview project created by Gale Straub) take listeners on exclusive adventures across the U.S. featuring candid, compelling, and vulnerable conversations with female travelers in different stages of life on the road.
Amplifying voices like Morgan Brown who (after the tragic death of her mom) travels with a collapsible phone booth in her 1970 VW van for people to use to share stories of loss to how Bionca Smith decided to leave her boxed world to live a more connected life with her 9-yr old son in their vintage Ford van, Women On The Road (WOTR) explores the struggles, joys, and freedom of real women on mobile adventures.
Behind the microphone is Laura Hughes, a writer, van-lifer, freelance photographer, and now host of Women On The Road podcasts. Hughes not only hosts WOTR, but actually produces the podcast from her Ford Transit Van named “Vanna White” where she lives full-time with her boyfriend Shane. The journey to this moment in her life and this podcast has in her words, “really taken its own shape in a beautiful way I could never have predicted.”
Rogue Habits caught up with Laura Hughes to discuss how she came to host WOTR, why the podcast resonates with so many women across the nation, and some of Hughes all-time favorite interviews to date.
RH: Share how you came to work with She Explores and Women On The Road.
LH: I’ve known about She Explores for just over a few years now, drawn in by an inspiring written interview series crafted by Gale Straub titled, “Women On The Road”– the series that the WOTR podcast is strongly influenced by. I found She Explores during a time I was working a 9-to-5 office job and hustling my creative work on the side, dreaming of hitting the road someday. Back then, She Explores was a smaller online community producing strictly editorial and social content, but full of just as much heart as it is today. I myself was on my own journey to being on the road, and really resonated with the content and incredible people Gale was cultivating, and I wanted to be involved in any way possible.
RH: Describe the genesis of the Women On The Road podcast? How did this special community begin?
LH: It was just over a year ago Gale and I discussed the potential of creating a podcast series, and I immediately thought of the Women On The Road interview project. The written interviews brought so much to my life, especially during a chapter of uncertainty as we [Laura and her boyfriend Shane] were first building out our camper, so bringing these stories and conversations into an audio story series seemed really exciting to me. I was elated when Gale and I decided to give it a go! A little bit more on the origin story can be found here. Because there was already some community identity around the series as written interviews, there were already community members out there who identified specifically with the podcast when it first launched, which was very humbling and reassuring. That said, the podcast has only continued to attract more incredible community members, and I feel extremely thankful for everyone who is a part of Women On The Road in some way—from interviewees to those who ask and answer questions in our Facebook group, to listeners and people who share the podcast with their friends. It’s really taken its own shape in a beautiful way I never could have predicted.
RH: You list a “Top 3 Must-Listen” Episodes of WOTR— what made them stand out?
LH: Oof. This is a tricky question because I truly love each interview we’ve aired to date. Every relationship and interaction I’ve had with all of these women travelers is unique and special on its own. That said, the three must-listen episodes were chosen as stand-outs because they were either some kind of breakthrough for the podcast or the community:
LH: Morgan Brown’s episode, for instance, stood out as our first in-person interview (the majority of our interviews take place over the phone as everyone moves around so often!). It was also incredibly heartfelt and I really loved how vulnerable she chose to be with our audience.
WOTR also reveals, “Brown lives in a 1970 VW bus named “Bessie” and at the age of 22 her mother was killed in a car accident by a truck driver on Meth, and ever since then, she’s been looking for ways to give people permission to share their hard stories. She spoke with Laura Hughes in person about her “Conversations I Wish I Had” collapsible phone booth – an art installation and project she began after her mother’s death. She drives this phone booth to communities looking to share stories of loss and to disrupt the notion “that death is a dirty word.”
LH: Our episode on romantic relationships continues to draw connectivity and resonance in the community, and it’s one that listeners really seem to appreciate for its truth around the natural challenges of traveling full-time with a significant other.
According to WOTR, “There’s a lot to traveling on the road with a romantic partner that is hard to explain with a social media post– things like navigating tight living quarters, the special type of intimacy that comes with keeping a similar sleep schedule and buying all of the same groceries, and the behavioral change that happens when you know that there’s nowhere to retreat in the heat of a disagreement.” Hughes highlights the realities of traveling with a significant other by giving a voice to three different couples living on the road.
LH: Emily Pelland’s episode also turned out to be an amazing resource for the community. As a good portion of the Women On The Road listeners aspire to travel or live on the road at some point (either full or part-time), I wanted to hear from Emily because she chose to travel in her 4-door sedan as opposed to waiting for the perfect circumstances.
WOTR states, “If you don’t have means to buy a van, Emily Pelland suggests to “Just Try” the mobile life, even if it means doing it in a 4-door Sedan. Pelland travels with her boyfriend in their sedan, tent camping most nights of the week, and hiking every trail possible along the way. It’s not exactly a comfortable life, but Emily’s desire for long-term road travel is driven by passion, not by comfort.”
Another recent podcast stand-out is with mom, author, entrepreneur, and adventurer Bionca Smith and her 9yr-old son Carter: Podcast 13 – Success, My Son, And Escaping The Boxed Life: Bionca Smith. Smith was living a fairly comfortable life that most people would define as successful. But according to WOTR, “She still felt boxed in – by her environment, by debt, and by the constraints of a more traditional lifestyle. She gave herself 30 days to move out of her apartment with her son with one goal in mind: travel the world together and get out of debt.
In under a year, this vision has led them to several continents and now into a vintage Ford conversion van as they travel the States. In her zeal for a more connected life with her son, Bionca let go of many things – but what she gained in return is her own definition of success.”
RH: Why do you think Women On The Road resonates so well with your audience? Do you feel it inspires/empowers more women to travel alone?
LH: Good question. This is something I ponder on frequently because I want to make sure we’re delivering content the community cares about! That said, I think Women On The Road appeals to listeners for a variety of reasons, including travel inspiration, uncovering some of the unknown about living on the road, and feeling a part of a community who has similar values and interests. One of our biggest objectives with delivering WOTR podcast content is to show the wide diversity of ways women can travel on the road. You can be single. You can have a partner or family. You can live in a bus, truck, van, trailer, sedan, or something else entirely. You can do it every day for years, or you can do it on your summer break or over your weekends. There is always another aspect of living on the road we feel like we could be covering, but I think our intention resonates with the community and has given permission to share how it is they travel, which in turn inspires other travelers to get out there.
RH: Greatest challenges/rewards of doing podcasts from your van?
LH: One of the greatest rewards is by far the messages we get online from women who have felt less alone in listening to the episodes. When you put your voice on something, it’s difficult for it to not feel personal. And as a host/co-producer, I want to make sure every woman who graces our show feels like she was presented in the best, most accurate light possible. So, knowing there’s a true connection formed when a new interviewee shares her story – it’s really special. We don’t use our voices as often in this text-driven culture, but our voices hold so much power to bring people together. I truly appreciate every person who has ever told me that the voices on Women On The Road did just that.
One of the biggest challenges–by far–is finding a quiet place to record! The van is well-insulated, but I’ll be honest that we didn’t build the van as a mobile podcast studio, as we were already done with the build when the opportunity to co-create Women On The Road came up. I have a running joke that every time I go to set up my mic to record, there’s someone rolling up next to the van and blasting music, or someone’s running a leaf-blower just a few feet away. It’s been a practice of patience and humility, understanding that the world goes on regardless of what I’m trying to get accomplished, and an increased motivation to spend more time out on public lands camping where it’s lots quieter.
RH: What other projects are you working on?
LH: In addition to Women On The Road, I spend a lot of time writing, taking photos for women’s retreats, and honing my craft in audio! I also run a blog called The Vanna Project, which provides tips for living on the road.
Find “Women on the Road” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, She Explores or wherever you listen to a podcast. Episodes air bi-weekly on Fridays. You can also follow along with Laura Hughes on Instagram and learn more about her on her portfolio site.
// Feature photo courtesy of Rogue Habits. Rogue Habits is a space to document the curious and creative. It’s an investigative journey into the seeking mind and wandering soul. More than a place, it’s best described as a feeling and the constant drive to get back to that impassioned sphere; roguehabits.com.